Aggravating Conditions: Cynical Hostility and Neighborhood Ambient Stressors

Katherine King, University of Michigan

Extensive sociological theories discuss the impact of the urban environment on adult personality over the lifecourse, yet empirical evidence of contextual effects on adult personality is limited. This paper tests Simmel’s hypothesis that sensory overstimulation in the urban environment leads to antagonistic mistrust (Cook-Medley cynical hostility). The analysis first documents considerable variation in cynicism by neighborhood and between social groups, and that holding local context constant explains about one-third of the black-white disparity. The strongest ecological correlate of cynicism is a scale of ambient stressors, most importantly noise. Measures of the physical environment show stronger relationships with cynicism than do measures of the social environment, consistent with Simmel’s theory rather than an alternate hypothesis that cynicism is a rational response to observed norms violations. Neighborhood selection is likely responsible for some of the observed patterning, results suggest possible causal mechanisms which should also be explored further.

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Presented in Session 103: Environmental Impacts on Health and Mortality