Does it look safe? An eye tracking study into the visual aspects of fear of crime

Freya Crosby, Frouke Hermens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of fear of crime often focus on demographic and social factors, but these can be difficult to change. Studies of visual aspects have suggested that features reflecting incivilities, such as litter, graffiti, and vandalism increase fear of crime, but methods often rely on participants actively mentioning such aspects, and more subtle, less conscious aspects may be overlooked. To address these concerns, this study examined people's eye movements while they judged scenes for safety. In total, 40 current and former university students were asked to rate images of day-time and night-time scenes of Lincoln, UK (where they studied) and Egham, UK (unfamiliar location) for safety, maintenance, and familiarity while their eye movements were recorded. Another 25 observers not from Lincoln or Egham rated the same images in an Internet survey. Ratings showed a strong association between safety and maintenance and lower safety ratings for night-time scenes for both groups, in agreement with earlier findings. Eye movements of the Lincoln participants showed increased dwell times on buildings, houses, and vehicles during safety judgements and increased dwell times on streets, pavements, and markers of incivilities for maintenance. Results confirm that maintenance plays an important role in perceptions of safety, but eye movements suggest that observers also look for indicators of current or recent presence of people.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1747021818769203
Pages (from-to)599-615
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date1 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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