"Seeing" minorities and perceptions of disorder: Explicating the mediating and moderating mechanisms of social cohesion

Rebecca Wickes, John R. Hipp, Renee Zahnow, Lorraine Mazerolle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Research shows that residents report high levels of disorder in places with greater concentrations of minorities even after controlling for objective indicators of crime or disorder. Less understood, however, are the mechanisms that explain this relationship. Drawing on a survey of nearly 10,000 residents nested within 297 neighborhoods across two cities, we use a multiple indicators-multiple causes model to examine the cues that lead individuals to distort the presence of minorities in neighborhoods. We then employ multilevel models to test whether these distortions influence perceptions of disorder. Furthermore, we assess whether living in a socially cohesive neighborhood mediates and/or moderates the relationship between "seeing" minorities and perceiving disorder. We find that when residents overestimate the proportion of minorities living in their neighborhood, perceptions of disorder are heightened. Yet social cohesion moderates and partially mediates this relationship: Residents living in socially cohesive neighborhoods not only report less disorder than those living in less cohesive communities, but also they "see" fewer minorities when compared with residents living in less socially cohesive neighborhoods. These results suggest that social cohesion is an important mechanism for explaining how residents internalize the presence of minorities in their neighborhoods and how this then leads to perceived neighborhood disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-560
Number of pages42
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Disorder
  • Minorities
  • Neighborhood
  • Social cohesion

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