Stapel and Lindenberg find that environmental signs of disorder, such as uncollected trash at a train station or cars parked askew on a sidewalk, are sufficient to induce bystanders to desire orderliness. The consequences are that these bystanders elect to sit further from minorities when asked to fill in a survey and donated less of their payments (for participating in the survey) to help immigrants and the homeless. The desire for order is fulfilled by an increased propensity toward classification, which includes stereotyping. [One field study used the Utrecht train hub in the middle of the Netherlands, where thousands of travelers pass through on a daily basis. During a cleaners’ strike, the train station quickly turned into a dirty and disordered environment. After the station had not been cleaned for a few days in a row, the authors asked 40 travelers who were waiting for their train to participate in their study in return for a candy bar or an apple. They were asked to judge the extent to which they thought certain traits applied to a particular group (in their case, Muslims, homosexuals, and the Dutch). The laboratory experiments, where behaviors after pictures of order versus disorder were used, employed 40-70 subjects.]. Here is their abstract:
Being the victim of discrimination can have serious negative health- and quality-of-life–related consequences. Yet, could being discriminated against depend on such seemingly trivial matters as garbage on the streets? In this study, we show, in two field experiments, that disordered contexts (such as litter or a broken-up sidewalk and an abandoned bicycle) indeed promote stereotyping and discrimination in real-world situations and, in three lab experiments, that it is a heightened need for structure that mediates these effects (number of subjects: between 40 and 70 per experiment). These findings considerably advance our knowledge of the impact of the physical environment on stereotyping and discrimination and have clear policy implications: Diagnose environmental disorder early and intervene immediately.