Why do people rely more on intuition in periods of rising crime?
The various social, cultural, and biological changes that accompany rising crime rates -- and their opposites that accompany falling crime rates -- come as a big bunch. * Some of their links can get complicated, such as a rising crime rate and an optimal level of ornamentation in the arts, neither minimalist nor overly encrusted.
However, for the greater reliance on intuition, the effect appears directly tied to the rising crime rate itself. You might think that when people sense a greater and greater threat to their security, especially from active agents like human beings rather than random flukes like natural disasters, they should go into rational-analytical mode. That might help them to better assess the threat, generate a list of possible responses, evaluate them according to some criteria, and execute the one that wins out in the ranking.
But then, why don't any animals other than us have such rational-analytical skills, when they're far more shaped by the struggle for survival against violence and predation than we are? While they may not simply be following blind instinct or reflex, they are operating mostly on a gut level.
Intuition serves us well in situations that our ancestors faced over and over. Whatever worked becomes more built-in through the "Baldwin Effect". Even within our own lifetimes, intuition works better when we've had lots of experience in that kind of situation, and the right response comes more automatically. Reason and analysis are more for highly unfamiliar obstacles, like estimating the circumference of the Earth, deciding whether to set the marginal tax rate at X percent vs. Y percent, and so on. None of our ancestors faced those problems, and most of us have no experience dealing with them within our own lifetimes.
Where does the threat of crime come from? Well, it's not from industry, hi-tech, big government, or other unfamiliar modern threats. It's the weirdo down the street who's been peeping and may escalate to rape. Or the teenage thrill-seekers who'd rather break in and rip off some stuff than work for a living. Or troops of low-status males looking for something fun to do that would earn them respect -- like, say, ambushing some random pedestrian. All familiar threats to the ancestors of those living today.
So, when one of the main national issues becomes the soaring crime rate, we shouldn't over-think things, just like we shouldn't be able to consciously control our heartbeat or breathing patterns -- too important at the most fundamental level of survival. It's better to trust your instincts, not only for how you ought to respond individually but also in your relationships with others, since striving for greater security in such a topsy-turvy world will require group effort and mutual aid.
There are indirect effects too. For example, one of the strongest intuitions that people have about dealing with the threat of crime and predation is that you shouldn't go out alone, you should hang out with others instead. That makes you a harder target to isolate. Now that you're spending more time socially connected to others, you rely even more on intuition because people and social interactions are part of our evolutionary heritage. It's artifacts, civilization, etc., that is so wholly unfamiliar and in need of a rational-analytical approach.
Even in areas that don't seem to require an intuitive style to deal with, I think you see "spill-over" effects from the pressure to be intuitive when dealing with crime and social relationships. Your brain doesn't want to be pulled in opposite directions all day long, every day of your life. So it picks one general direction to go in, and tries to cope with the demands made on it when it "should have" gone in the other. Personality traits are like that, where a person is generally introverted or extraverted, although somewhat flexible according to the situation.
When different domains make opposite demands of your personality, you go toward whichever one seems to satisfy the most pressing issues. Crime, security, and social relationships within a rising-crime context (relying on others for support after and as a deterrent beforehand) -- those are way more important than being able to think your way through your math homework, optimize your family's finances, and so on. So despite opposing demands toward reason, intuition wins out in a rising-crime environment.
I should look into whether rising or falling-crime periods produce more technological innovation, after accounting for the overall rapid rise since the industrial revolution. Falling-crime periods are nerdier and more rational, but rising-crime periods are more risk-taking and team-oriented. It'll be interesting to see if the social-cultural zeitgeist makes any difference in the material domain of inventing technology.
* Periods of rising homicide rates -- ca. 1580 to 1630, ca. 1780 to 1830, ca. 1900 to early '30s, and ca. 1960 to 1990. Elizabethan-Jacobean, Romantic-Gothic, the Jazz Age, and the New Wave Age.
Periods of falling homicide rates -- the remainder. The Age of Reason-Enlightenment, Victorian, Mid-20th century, and Millennial.