Costs and Benefits of Crime: Examining the Traditional Scenario Design in Rational Choice Research

Jeffrey A. Bouffard, University of Maryland at College Park

Many studies of rational choice theory over the last two decades have employed a design which asks subjects to consider their hypothetical likelihood of offending. These studies have used one of two hypothetical "intentions to offend" designs. While these measurement approaches have substantial benefits relative to longitudinal analyses, they still suffer important methodological shortcomings. The difficulty presented by asking subjects to consider the impact of theoretically or researcher-derived consequences (as opposed to subjects developing and reporting on their own list of potentially influential costs and benefits) is examined in this study. While the types of consequences developed by subjects in this sample behaved as the theory would predict (costs were negatively correlated with hypothetical offending and benefits were positively associated with self-reported offending likelihood), the consequence categories themselves did not always reflect the types of items commonly presented to subjects in previous studies. Implications for future tests of rational choice theory using scenario designs are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006