Research Debriefed: Rosenda Murillo - University of Houston
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Research Debriefed: Rosenda Murillo A series highlighting articles published by University of Houston College of Education faculty

Posted April 4, 2019


“The Association of Seeing People Walk and Neighborhood Social Cohesion”

Author: Rosenda “Rosie” Murillo, assistant professor, Psychological, Health & Learning Sciences
Co-authors: Darleesa Doss, Jocelyn Yanez, Lily Ortega
Journal: Health Behavior and Policy Review
Publication date: March 2019
Topic: physical activity

Overview: A look at the relationship between the frequency of seeing people walk in a neighborhood and the feelings of connectedness in the neighborhood


Q: What was the main question you were trying to answer? 

A: We wanted to see if there was an association between frequency of seeing people walk and neighborhood social cohesion, and whether it varies between race and ethnicity.  

Rosenda “Rosie” Murillo
Assistant Professor Rosenda Murillo

Q: What do you mean by social cohesion?  

A: Social cohesion is the connectedness that one feels to other individuals, particularly within one’s neighborhood.

Q: How did you go about answering your question?

A: We used data from a national survey called “The National Health Interview Survey.” We particularly used data from the 2015 cycle, which included questions trying to get a better understanding of how where you live is related to your health.

Q: What measures were used to collect the data?  

A: They asked participants to agree or disagree to questions like “People in this neighborhood can be trusted” or “This is a close-knit neighborhood.” They also asked participants how often they saw people walk within sight of their home.

 Q: What were your most significant or interesting findings?

A: Individuals who reported a higher frequency of seeing people walk within their neighborhood were significantly more likely to report higher levels of neighborhood social cohesion. Our findings also showed that this association varies by race/ethnicity.

“These findings point to the importance of walkable neighborhoods [with] sidewalks, crosswalks and parks that can create more opportunity for physical activity within a neighborhood.” — Rosie Murillo

Q: What about those who reported that their neighborhoods lacked social cohesion?

A: We were interested in learning if higher frequency of seeing people walk was associated with medium to high levels of neighborhood social cohesion, so those reporting low neighborhood social cohesion were the reference group in our study.

Q: How would you improve neighborhoods with low levels of social cohesion?

A: In order to see greater social cohesion, we would need to promote safe, walkable neighborhoods through physical and social aspects.

Q: How else does this research tie into practice?

A: These findings point to the importance of walkable neighborhoods, which can be linked to policies around built environments. These policies can help provide the physical aspects needed to promote walkable neighborhoods, such as sidewalks, crosswalks and parks that can create more opportunity for physical activity within a neighborhood to support more equitable communities.

Q: What initially interested you in this topic?

A: I am very interested in physical activity. Through my work, I’ve seen that there are a lot of factors that influence physical activity at the individual level, as well as at the neighborhood level.

Although literature has shown that neighborhood social cohesion is related to health behaviors, there is limited research on factors related to neighborhood social cohesion outcomes. I thought our study was something that could contribute to the gap in the literature.

Q: What are you looking at researching next?

A: From this research, there have been a few ideas that have come about. One of the things we’re looking at next is frequency of seeing people walk in their neighborhoods and physical activity, and whether or not neighborhood social cohesion plays a role in that association.

—By Alberto Huichapa