Beyond Stafford and Warr's Reconceptualization of Deterrence: Personal and Vicarious Experiences, Impulsivity, and Offending Behavior

Alex R. Piquero, University of Florida
Greg Pogarsky, University at Albany

Deterrence is a process consisting of two links -- one by which information known to the actor becomes a judgment about the sanction risk, and another by which such judgments influence behavior. Deterence research focuses nearly exclusively on this latter link, with the exception of the recent "re-conceptualization" of deterrence by Stafford and Warr. These authors identify four categories of experiences hypothesized to underlie judgments about the risk of legal sanctions: personal punishment experience, personal punishment avoidance, vicarious punishment experience, and vicarious punishment avoidance. We report here the first test of Stafford and Warr's model with measures explicitly designed for this purpose. Several findings emerge from our effort. First, both personal and vicarious avoidance experiences relate positively to offending. Second, punishment and avoidance experiences affect behavior by influencing sanction risk perceptions. Third, the combination of low personal and vicarious punishment avoidance strongly dissuades offending. Fourth, prior offending conditions the influence of punishment and avoidance experiences in a manner consistent with Stafford and Warr's theory. Fifth, while impulsive individuals are influenced primarily by their own experiences, individuals who are not as impulsive tend to attend more to the experiences of others. Finally, contrary to deterrence theory, punishment experiences appear to encourage rather than discourage future offending. We discuss how several judgmental biases from the psyhchology, economics, and decision-making literatures -- the self-seving bias and the gambler's fallacy -- may help explain this latter, seemingly anomalous result.

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Updated 05/20/2006