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Rational Choice Theory and Deterrence Theory . Rational Choice Theory Deterrence Theory Prisoner’s Dilemma. Personal Choice?. Personal choice?. Personal choice?. Personal choice .

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Rational Choice Theory and Deterrence Theory

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rational choice theory and deterrence theory

Rational Choice Theory and Deterrence Theory

Rational Choice Theory

Deterrence Theory

Prisoner’s Dilemma

personal choice5
Personal choice
  • In seeking an answer to the question, "Why do people engage in deviant and/or criminal acts?", many researchers have begun to focus on the element of personal choice
  • An understanding of personal choice is commonly based in a conception of rationality or rational choice
  • These conceptions are rooted in the early classical theorists, Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham.
the central points of this theory are
The central points of this theory are:
  • (1) The human being is a rational actor
  • (2) Rationality involves an end/means calculation
  • (3) People (freely) choose all behaviors, both conforming and deviant, based on their rational calculations
  • (4) The central element of calculation involves a cost benefit analysis: Pleasure versus Pain,
  • (5) Choice, with all other conditions equal, will be directed towards the maximization of individual pleasure
should i commit a robbery cost benefit analysis

Risk (victim might have a weapon)


Public humiliation


Abusive treatment in prison

Be away from family for uncertain time


Fast cash

Easy to do

Masculinity Status

Can buy drugs/alcohol

Excitement and thrill

Public/Media attention

Should I commit a robbery? (cost/benefit analysis)
main assumptions of rational choice theory
Main Assumptions of Rational Choice Theory
  • Individuals are seen as motivated by the wants or goals that express their 'preferences‘
  • They act on the basis of the information that they have about the conditions under which they are acting
  • Rational choice theories hold that individuals must anticipate the outcomes of alternative courses of action and calculate that which will be best for them
  • Rational individuals choose the alternative that is likely to give them the greatest satisfaction
the model
The model










limited rationality
Limited Rationality
  • Accurate assessment of situation and anticipation of all possible outcomes is impossible
  • Limited rationality refers to the best possible decision under the circumstance
  • Burglar cannot calculate the value of property he/she expects to take away
  • Most of them do not know the extent of the punishment
deterrence theory
Deterrence Theory
  • Rational choice theorists recognize that the threat of punishment may discourage people from illegal behavior
  • That is where deterrence theory comes from….
deterrence theory s assumption
Deterrence Theory’s assumption
  • Choice can be controlled through the perception and understanding of the potential pain or punishment that will follow an act
  • The state is responsible for maintaining order and preserving the common good through a system of laws
deterrence theory13
Deterrence Theory
  • If legal penalties are certain, severe, and swift crime will be deterred
  • Certainty of punishment is defined as the ratio between the number of admissions to the state prisons for a given crime and the number of those crimes known to the police
deterrence theory14
Deterrence Theory
  • Severity is defined as the mean number of months served by all persons convicted of a given crime who were in prison for that year
general deterrence
General Deterrence
  • General deterrence theory focuses on reducing the probability of deviance in the general population
  • Norms and laws are designed to produce and maintain the image that "negative" and disruptive behaviors will receive attention and punishment
  • Examples of control activities reflecting the concerns of this concept include: Drunk-driving crackdowns, publication and highly visible notices of laws and policies
  • Signs like ”Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”
  • Death penalty
specific deterrence
Specific Deterrence
  • General deterrence strategies focus preventing individuals from engaging in crime
  • Specific deterrence focuses on punishing known deviants in order to prevent them from ever again violating the specific norms they have broken
research on deterrence theory
Research on Deterrence Theory
  • Sherman (1990) asked people about their perception of the risks of being punished for specific offenses and about whether they have actually committed those offenses
  • Findings: Consistent association b/w offending and the perception of the certainty, but no association b/w offending and the perception of severity
  • Tunnell (1992) found that repeat property offenders were unable to make reasonable assessment of the risk of arrest, did little planning for crime, and were uninformed about the legal penalties in the state where their crimes were committed
research on deterrence theory19
Research on Deterrence Theory
  • The deterrence hypothesis suggests that states with the death penalty should have lower homicide rate
  • Tittle (1992): states with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without it
  • The reason is that death penalty in implemented in those states where the murder rate is higher (unclear causation)
death penalty
Death Penalty
  • Bonner, Fessenden (2000) found that death penalty actually increases homicides
  • Death Penalty has a “brutalization” effect that tends to devalue human life and thereby increase homicide
prisoner s dilemma
Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • Two prisoners committed a crime together
  • They are both under arrest and unable to communicate with each other
  • In order to force a confession, the authorities offer each prisoner separately, the following deal:
prisoner s dilemma22
Prisoner’s Dilemma



Doesn’t confess

5 years

9 years


Total -10

Total -9

Goes free

5 years


Goes free

2 years

Doesn’t confess

Total -9

Total -4

9 years

2 years

paradox of the prisoner s dilemma
Paradox of the Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • Both prisoners end up by defecting even though they both know that they would be better off cooperating
  • Each of them thinks that non confessing is very risky
  • If one confesses, he may strike lucky (goes free) or get 5 years, at worst.