A Rational Choice Model of Deterrence, Intentions, and Drug Use

Ross L. Matsueda, University of Washington - Seattle
Derek Kreager, University of Washington - Seattle

This paper examines a rational choice theory of deterrence and drug use. It begins by testing a simple experiential learning theory of the formation of risk perceptions, in which standing beliefs about the probability of arrest are updated based on experience with offending and arrest. It then specifies a rational choice theory of drug use, emphasizing three factors: (1) the perceived risk of formal punishment weighted by subjective assessments of the severity of the punishment; (2) the perceived likelihood of psychic rewards drug use, including getting excitement and being seen as cool, weighted by subjective assessments of the value of those returns; and (3) the subjective assessments of drug use opportunities. We estimate models of drug intentions, and then, drawing on social psychological research on attitudes, intentions, and behavior, link intentions to behavior. We test these hypotheses using longitudinal data on 1,527 youth from the Denver Youth Survey. We estimate two equations. The first uses a random-effects tobit model to predict perceived risk of sanctions, which is measured on probability scale, bounded by zero and one. The second uses a random-effects negative binomial model to predict counts of delinquent behavior.

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Updated 05/20/2006