Individual Difference and Subject-Generated Consequences in Rational Choice Research Using Hypothetical Offending Scenarios

Jeffrey A. Bouffard, North Dakota State University

Recently, research has demonstrated that using "subject-generated consequences" (SGC) of hypothetical offending behavior is a viable alternative to the traditional use of "researcher-derived consequence" (RDC) items in studies of Rational Choice theory that employ hypothetical scenarios. In fact these SGC behave similarly to the results of past rational choice studies of hypothetical offending which have relied on RDC, while arguably providing more accurate reflections of an individual's decision-making process. However, the use of SGC raises the possibility that individual characteristics may influence the type of potential cost and benefit items to which subject's attend. While Rational Choice theory has traditionally assumed that diverse individuals attend to and are influenced by similar consequences, independent of individual or group level characteristics, the current study examines whether this assujption is tenable. Approximately 200 undergraduate students were presented with four hypothetical offending scenarios. Comparisons are made between the types of consequences they developed and various demographic and other individual-level factors. Implications for future tests of rational choice theory are discussed, as are policy considerations stemming from this line of inquiry.

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Updated 05/20/2006