How neighbor-sharing apps can skew your view, cause unnecessary worry

HOUSTON – Neighborhood apps make it easy to be plugged into your community by sending notifications on what is happening in your neighborhood or alerting you to an issue.

A recent study from the University of Houston revealed that higher usage of neighborhood apps can correlate with a higher perception of crime rates.

“If they are constantly hearing of crime in the area, it biases them to think that crime is higher than it actually is,” said University of Houston Psychologist Adam Fetterman.

Fetterman said that there was a total of 800 participants from 43 states included in the study. In the two studies conducted, Fetterman found people who used neighborhood apps perceived local crime rates to be higher than people who didn’t use the apps, independent of the neighborhood’s actual crime rate.

Some are skeptical of the findings.

“The people who are posting on next door are posting what happened to them or their family members-- how can that perception be skewed?” said Tomaro Bell.

Bell is a part of Super Neighborhood Alliance MacGregor. The volunteer organization relies heavily on apps to alert community members. She said it has been instrumental during emergencies or helping community members locate lost pets and spurred people into action following a rash of thefts.

“You read and see and choose what you believe and what you don’t,” said Bell.

Fetterman said there are a lot of benefits to the apps.

“These neighborhood apps are great for community building and great for informing each other of what is going on in your local community, including crime.”

He added that staying up to date on what is going on is helpful but cautioned that perception isn’t always reality.

“A good way to think about it is just to be aware that this can have a biasing effect,” said Fetterman.

Fetterman said there’s more extensive research that can be done on the topic and potentially looking at demographic differences.

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