Affective Architecture: Isolating the Influence of Physical Environment on Perceptual and Behavioral Attitudes toward Police

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Principal investigators:

Andrea Headley

Georgetown University



Kwan-Lamar Blount-Hill

Borough of Manhattan Community College



Victor J. St. John

John Jay College of Criminal Justice



Sample size: 732

Field period: 8/13/2019-12/16-2019

The architectural design of justice edifices is an area garnering renewed attention from researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and stakeholders. Nonetheless, empirical investigations into the impact that architectural edifices have on the public is scant and heavily skewed towards the design of penal institutions. This study uses a survey experiment to investigate the impact that welcoming and hostile police station designs have on public perceptions and behavioral intent. Findings reveal that architectural design becomes a significant predictor of perceptions depending on an individual’s self-identified racial or ethnic group. Specifically, the findings revealed significant differences between White, Black and Latinx respondents in the emotional responses elicited by police architecture, but there was no impact of building design on behavioral intent to report crime. The results of this study have potential implications for impacting public perceptions about policing and improving service delivery experiences.
How does the design of a police building influence (i) civilians' affective orientations toward police, (ii) their behaviorally relevant perceptions, and (iii) differences in these across racial and ethnic groups?
(H1) “welcoming” police station designs will lead to greater positive affect (e.g., evoke feelings of calmness);
(H2) “hostile” police station designs will lead to greater negative affect (e.g., evoke feelings of nervousness);
(H3) “welcoming” com- pared to “hostile” police station designs will yield more positive or co- operative behaviorally relevant perceptions (e.g., perceptions that influence crime reporting); and
(H4) when compared to White respondents, Black and Latino respondents will be more influenced by hostile architecture leading to decreased positive affect, increased negative affect and less positive or cooperative behaviorally relevant perceptions.
Experimental Manipulations
Our design features manipulated one factor (“type of building”) where half of the participants were randomly assigned to view an image of one of three hostile buildings and the other half were assigned to view one of three welcoming buildings.
To assess the impact of building design on affective outcomes and behaviorally relevant perceptions, we ran three separate models with distinct dependent variables. The first two dependent variables were positive and negative affect respectively. Using exploratory factor analysis (EFA), we found that the affective states that loaded highly unto the first factor were safe, confident, optimistic, calm, content, and relaxed (i.e., positive affect), whereas the affects that loaded highly on the second factor were jittery, nervous, and worried (i.e., negative affect). The final dependent variable of interest, behaviorally relevant perceptions, was also created using EFA. We combined three variables asking respondents to report their (i) level of confidence in their criminal complaint being taken seriously, (ii) perceptions of the level of professionalism that individuals in the building possess, and (iii) likelihood of entering into the police building to report the crime.
Summary of Results
We ran ordinary linear squares regressions to explain the impact of condition and race/ethnicity on each of the outcomes of interest. When examining positive affect, the main effect of a hostile building was negative and statistically significant. This indicated that when presented with a hostile building (i.e., one that appears to be more isolated, cold, secretive, threatening, unsafe and oppressive), all respondents were less likely to agree with positive affective statements (inclusive of feeling safe, confident, optimistic, calm, content, and relaxed) compared to when presented with a welcoming building. However, interactions between the hostile image and a Black and Latino respondent were both positive and statistically significant. This suggests a reversed trend from the prior finding in that Black and Latino respondents in the hostile condition were more likely to agree with positive affective statements compared to White respondents in the hostile condition (contrary to our hypothesized expectations). When examining the outcomes of negative affect and behaviorally relevant perceptions, there were no statistically significant main or interactive effects of building type with race and ethnicity.

Figures and Table


Headley, A. M., Blount-Hill, K. L., & St. John, V. J. (2020). "The psychology of justice buildings: A survey experiment on police architecture, public sentiment, and race." Journal of Criminal Justice, 101747.