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Neighborhood unity offers behavioral protection for poor kids

In deprived areas, youngsters’ misconduct declines when community members know one another well.

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11:01am, July 16, 2009

From a child’s perspective, not all low-income neighborhoods are alike. Though opportunities for youthful fighting and law breaking abound in impoverished areas, good neighbors can nudge youngsters toward the straight and narrow, according to a five-year study led by psychologist Candice Odgers of the University of California, Irvine.

When a low-income community has a high level of a trait known as collective efficacy, 5-year-olds are less likely to fight, steal and engage in other misconduct, Odgers and her colleagues report in the July Developmental Psychology. Members of communities with high collective efficacy are close-knit and willing to intervene on behalf of the common good, say to prevent children from spraying graffiti on a local building or to prevent city officials from closing a nearby fire station.

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