When you're the victim of a crime, you might think "Why did this happen to me? Did I do something wrong? Was I cursed by an evil leprechaun?" Well, if science is to be believed, leprechauns don't exist, and if they did, they'd definitely be Chaotic Neutral. But the reality might not be far off. Criminal behavior can be influenced by some very weird, seemingly random factors. Like how ...
We've all heard about riots and spikes in domestic violence when a sports team loses (and it turns out that happens when they win as well), but watching sports can in fact prevent other types of crime. A 2018 study by the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program found that during important games in Chicago, violent and property crime go down 25%. It doesn't matter whether it's the Bulls, the Cubs, or even the stupid Bears.
Unlike the studies on domestic violence, this has nothing to do with aggression or stress. Potential criminals just like watching sports more than doing crime, and their potential victims like watching sports too. Everyone is inside, not out doing or being the victim of a crime. There's a similar drop immediately before and after games as well, presumably because everyone is busy preparing and destroying the last of the hot wings, respectively.
This effect is the same across all sports, and it's a lot more pronounced when local teams are playing. For example, during one of the Bears' godawful games, crime in Chicago went down 15% more than when the team wasn't playing. During a Super Bowl, it can drop more than 25%. So in Chicago that meant, for a few precious hours, crime was at an all-time low of 117%!
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You could be forgiven for thinking that more dudes equals more crime. However, the opposite appears to be true, although, uh ... it's still kind of the dudes. Let's explain. Scientists from the University of Utah looked at data from all 3,082 U.S. counties, comparing the ratio of men and women of reproductive age with crime data, and found that areas where women outnumbered men had higher rates of crime.
Are these areas teeming with roving bands of women literally smashing the patriarchy? Sadly, no. It's still the men committing the crimes, but the researchers think it has to do with the women. After all, who among us hasn't tried to impress a woman (or been impressed) with some romantic jaywalking? Violent crimes were also more prevalent -- murder, assault, rape, etc. -- and those are ... less likely to make the ladies swoon.
So what gives? Well, when there are fewer women, men have to be on their best behavior to "win" a partner. On the other hand, when men are swimming in an ocean of boobs, they apparently feel free to be as terrible as they like, up to and including serial killing.
Before you let that make you too cynical about men, know that this seems to be a distinctly Western phenomenon. In rural China, for example, men heavily outnumber women because of the old "one child per family" law and the preference for boys over girls, but the rates of crime and violence don't seem to have been affected. We'll let you draw your own conclusions there.
Have you ever hated someone solely because they had a punchable face? Of course, you have. We all instinctively know what an untrustworthy face looks like, and that's because oftentimes people who have untrustworthy faces really are untrustworthy. "Often" isn't "always," of course. Feel free not to buy a car from a guy with broad cheekbones, but maybe don't kill him?
Some people actually need that advice. According to new research, people whose faces have features that we normally relate to untrustworthiness are more likely to be sentenced to death. In an experiment, volunteers had to judge the trustworthiness of convicted felons by looking at their pictures. Among these felons were people who had been convicted of murder and received a life sentence, gotten the death penalty, or spent time on death row but were later exonerated. In the end, felons who were perceived as untrustworthy were the ones more likely to have been sentenced to death, guilty or not.
But how do you rate the trustworthiness of a face? Scientists identified several factors, such as the presence of glasses or tattoos, and we can probably guess how those traits respectively influenced participants. However, men with a higher facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR), a trait previously observed to predict untrustworthiness, were conclusively more likely to be both rated as untrustworthy and sentenced to death.
Rezlescu, Et. Al./PLOS One
Just something to keep in mind if a series of wacky circumstances ends with you being wrongly accused of murder. We're not saying plastic surgery is a better use of your money than a lawyer, but it's worth a shot.
New research has found that the way a city's population thinks of God -- punishing vs. forgiving -- can have a direct impact on crime rates in that city. So if most people in your area believe in Hell or some kind of punishment in the afterlife involving a demon and toasty sodomy, the streets will be safer.
It makes sense. If you believe in the kind of god that would ask you to sacrifice your son because Tuesday has been kind of boring so far, of course you don't wanna piss off the guy. But if you like the idea of a cool-dad god, you know you'll be forgiven after a stern but heartfelt lecture. He might even let you try beer!
Michelangelo, via Wikimedia Commons
It isn't only crime. Moral behavior in everyday situations is affected. For example, university students with stronger beliefs in God's cranky nature are less likely to cheat on exams. Christian volunteers who were first instructed to write about a forgiving God rather than a punitive one were more likely to lie about how many math puzzles they solved in order to get more money. Plus the group that wrote about a forgiving God stole more than other groups who were instructed to write about a forgiving or punitive human.
The best theory scientists have about why this happens is that supernatural punishment is a lot more effective at regulating moral behavior than human punishment. It's a matter of scale. God can see you being a jerk all day, no matter where you are -- something that a human punisher would never be able to do. Except the NSA agent who watches you through your webcam, of course.
Nobody wants to live in a polluted city. It looks and smells bad, it makes you feel gross, and it means you're going to be one of the first to take up the flaming guitars when the world becomes a Mad Max hellscape. Smog is an unfortunate reality of most population centers, however, and that's bad news. Especially since it also affects your mood, maybe even enough to turn you violent. In 2016, scientists measured pollution variation in Los Angeles and Chicago, and they found that when pollution was worse, violent crime rose.
It gets worse. That study found no correlating rise in property crime, indicating that people's tempers were flaring, but their overall moral character wasn't affected. However, a follow-up experiment tells a different story. Two groups of American volunteers were shown pictures of Beijing on different days. One group saw the clear Beijing, and the other saw the polluted one. Both groups then had to write a journal entry describing a day living in the city they saw and then roll some dice, which would tell them the amount they would get paid. The group that saw the dirty Beijing wrote more anxious journal entries, and lied to researchers about their dice roll more often to get more money.
So it seems that merely looking at pictures of pollution can turn us into Purgers. Maybe we should do something about that?
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