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A Social experiment in Crime Purr-vention

A Social experiment in Crime Purr-vention

Funder:  What Works Centre for Crime Reduction, College of Policing

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Earlier this year, researchers at the Universities’ Police Science Institute (UPSI) conducted a large-scale social experiment with members of the public about their attitudes and behaviours in relation to Crime Prevention.   The experiment was introduced by a cartoon cat, an animated character designed to be both funny and engaging, but whose presence also allowed researchers to test how far these are salient qualities for people as they take on board new information on the subject of preventing crime.

Each film was purposively designed to test a number of behavioural mechanisms that may be relevant to understanding what kinds of preventative message most resonate with people as a precursor to behavioural change. These mechanisms are associated with Nudge theory (see Thaler, R& Sunstein, C, 2008 ‘Nudge’: Penguin Books), draw on evidence from behavioural economics and social psychology and allow, for example, a study of the role played by humour, emotion and norms of behaviour. 

Having watched the films, participants answered some survey questions about their reactions to the information they saw.   This data was collated and analysed for over 1,000 people aged between 16 and 96.    The results shed light on the relative effectiveness of adopting different types of message, messengers and mechanisms for conveying crime prevention information with different publics.  They formed the basis of principles of Behavioural Crime Prevention, a number of which were subsequently tested in a real-life setting as a field research trial with the Metropolitan Police Service on public campaigns to prevent the snatch theft of mobile phones [http://content.met.police.uk/Campaign/theftsnatch]

The experimental phase was part of a wider project called ‘Nudges, Tugs and Teachable Moments,’ funded by the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction. Its overall purpose is to create an evidence-base for understanding how far people can be persuaded to adopt more preventative crime behaviours, must be compelled to do so by law or sanction or if there exists an optimal time when they are most receptive to Crime Prevention advice from the police or other agencies.

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