Reducing Bias in Citizens’ Perception of Crime Rates: Evidence From a Field Experiment on Burglary Prevalence

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Martin Vinæs Larsen, Asmus Leth Olsen

Citizens are, on average, too pessimistic when assessing the trajectory of current crime trends. In this study, we examine whether we can correct this perceptual bias with respect to burglaries. Using a field experiment coupled with a large panel survey (n=4,895), we explore whether a public information campaign can reduce misperceptions about the prevalence of burglaries. Embedding the correct information about burglary rates in a direct mail campaign, we find that it is possible to substantially reduce citizens’ misperceptions. Importantly, the effects are not short lived: they are detectable several weeks after the mailer was sent, but they are temporary and eventually the perceptual bias re-emerges. Our results suggest that if citizens were continually supplied with correct information about crime rates they would be less pessimistic. Reducing bias in citizens’ perception of crime rates might therefore be a matter of adjusting the supply of (dis)information about crime.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Politics
Number of pages20
ISSN0022-3816
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2019

ID: 219129158