Graffiti and perceived neighborhood safety: a neuroimaging study

Russell James, Michael O’Boyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to uncover the neural basis underlying the negative impact of graffiti on evaluations of neighborhood safety. Design/methodology/approach: While in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, participants rated the perceived safety of neighborhood scenes shown in photographic images. Some scenes were systematically altered to include graffiti, surveillance cameras or framed public art. Findings: Consistent with previous research, the average safety rating for each scene including graffiti was significantly lower than for every other non-graffiti scene presented. The powerful salience of graffiti (as demonstrated by increased activation of the left fusiform gyrus) accompanied a decreased salience of other built environment scene elements (as demonstrated by reduced activation in the right parahippocampal gyrus). It appears as though the presence of graffiti causes the cognitive impact of other scene elements to fade. This redirection of cognitive focus may help to explain the dominant impact of graffiti on neighborhood safety evaluations. Practical implications: Because of these basic perceptual tendencies, graffiti will necessarily dominate neighborhood safety evaluations. In any attempts to improve neighborhood safety evaluations, combating graffiti should be accorded a position of great importance, in keeping with these cognitive realities. Originality/value: This is the first neuroimaging study of graffiti and perceived neighborhood safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalProperty Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 12 2019


  • Graffiti
  • Neighbourhood safety
  • Neuroimaging
  • Residential satisfaction
  • fMRI


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