If there is agency and some decision-making process entailed in criminal behavior, then what are the incentives for crime and for conformity, and what is their role in offending decisions? Incentives have long been the province of economics, which has wide influence in criminology (e.g., Becker 1968). However, economics has evolved considerably since Becker's influential model. An important development has been the advent of behavioral economics, which some consider a branch of economics on par with macroeconomics or econometrics (Dhami 2016). Behavioral economics integrates empirical departures from traditional microeconomic theories into a rigorous and more descriptively accurate economic model of choice. This review explains how behavioral economic applications on offender decision-making can help refine criminological theories of choice and identify innovative possibilities for improving crime-control policies.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Agnew R, Messner SF. 2015. General assessments and thresholds for chronic offending: an enriched paradigm for explaining crime. Criminology 53:571–96 [Google Scholar]
  2. Anwar S, Loughran TA. 2011. Testing a Bayesian learning theory of deterrence among serious juvenile offenders. Criminology 49:667–98 [Google Scholar]
  3. Apel R. 2013. Sanctions, perceptions, and crime: implications for criminal deterrence. J. Quant. Criminol. 29:67–101 [Google Scholar]
  4. Ariely D, Loewenstein G, Prelec D. 2003. “Coherent arbitrariness”: stable demand curves without stable preferences. Q. J. Econ. 118:73–106 [Google Scholar]
  5. Baumer EP, Lauritsen JL. 2010. Reporting crime to the police 1973–2005: a multivariate analysis of long-term trends in the national crime survey (NCS) and national crime victimization survey (NCVS). Criminology 48:131–85 [Google Scholar]
  6. Becker GS. 1968. Crime and punishment: an economic approach. J. Political Econ. 76:169–217 [Google Scholar]
  7. Bernoulli D. 1738. Exposition of a new theory on the measurement of risk, transl. L. Sommer, 1954. Econometrica 22:23–36 from Latin [Google Scholar]
  8. Blanchette I, Richards A. 2010. The influence of affect on higher level cognition: A review of research on interpretation, judgment, decision making and reasoning. Cogn. Emot. 24:561–95 [Google Scholar]
  9. Burt CH, Sweeten G, Simons RL. 2014. Self control through emerging adulthood: instability, multidimensionality, and criminological significance. Criminology 52:450–87 [Google Scholar]
  10. Bushway SD, Owens EG. 2013. Framing punishment: incarceration, recommended sentences, and recidivism. J. Law Econ. 56:301–26 [Google Scholar]
  11. Camerer C, Weber M. 1992. Recent developments in modeling preferences: uncertainty and ambiguity. J. Risk Uncertain. 5:325–70 [Google Scholar]
  12. Casey JT, Scholz JT. 1991a. Beyond deterrence: behavior decision theory and tax compliance. Law Soc. Rev. 25:821–43 [Google Scholar]
  13. Casey JT, Scholz JT. 1991b. Boundary effects of vague risk information on taxpayer decisions. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 50:360–94 [Google Scholar]
  14. Cialdini RB. 2009. Influence: Science and Practice Boston: Pearson, 5th ed.. [Google Scholar]
  15. Clarke RV. 1997. Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies New York: Harrow and Heston, 2nd ed.. [Google Scholar]
  16. Clotfelter C. 1983. Tax evasion and tax rates: an analysis of individual returns. Rev. Econ. Stat. 65:363–73 [Google Scholar]
  17. Cyert RM, DeGroot MH. 1974. Rational expectations and Bayesian analysis. J. Political Econ. 82:521–36 [Google Scholar]
  18. Delaney TK. 2013. Presumptive collection: a prospect theory approach to increasing small business tax compliance. Tax L. Rev. 67:111–48 [Google Scholar]
  19. Dhami S. 2016. Behavioral Economics Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  20. Dhami S, al-Nowaihi A. 2012. Behavioral economics. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior VS Ramachandran 288–300 Amsterdam, Neth.: Elsevier [Google Scholar]
  21. Dugan L, Chenoweth E. 2012. Moving beyond deterrence: the effectiveness of raising the expected utility of abstaining from terrorism in Israel. Am. Sociol. Rev. 77:597–624 [Google Scholar]
  22. Einhorn HJ, Hogarth RM. 1985. Ambiguity and uncertainty in probabilistic inference. Psychol. Rev. 92:433–61 [Google Scholar]
  23. Ellsberg D. 1961. Risk, ambiguity, and the Savage axioms. Q. J. Econ. 75:643–69 [Google Scholar]
  24. Frederick S, Loewenstein G, O'Donoghue T. 2002. Time discounting and time preference: a critical review. J. Econ. Lit. 40:351–401 [Google Scholar]
  25. Gächter S, Orzen H, Renner E, Starmer C. 2009. Are experimental economists prone to framing effects? A natural field experiment. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 70:443–46 [Google Scholar]
  26. Geerken MR, Gove WR. 1975. Deterrence: some theoretical considerations. Law Soc. Rev. 9:497–513 [Google Scholar]
  27. Gigerenzer G, Gaissmaier W. 2011. Heuristic decision making. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 62:451–82 [Google Scholar]
  28. Gonzalez R, Wu G. 1999. On the shape of the probability weighting function. Cogn. Psychol. 38:129–66 [Google Scholar]
  29. Gottfredson MR, Hirschi T. 1990. A General Theory of Crime Redwood City, CA: Stanford Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  30. Gould SJ. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man New York: Norton [Google Scholar]
  31. Guerette RT, Bowers KJ. 2009. Assessing the extent of crime displacement and diffusion of benefits: a review of situational crime prevention evaluations. Criminology 47:1331–68 [Google Scholar]
  32. Heller SB, Shah AK, Guryan J, Ludwig J, Mullaintathan S, Pollack HA. 2017. Thinking fast and slow? Some field experiments to reduce crime and dropout in Chicago. Q. J. Econ. 132:1–54 [Google Scholar]
  33. Hobbes T. 1957 (1651). Leviathan Oxford: Basil-Blackwell [Google Scholar]
  34. Homans G. 1964. Bringing men back in. Am. Sociol. Rev. 29:809–18 [Google Scholar]
  35. Jacobs BA. 2010. Deterrence and deterrability. Criminology 48:417–41 [Google Scholar]
  36. Jacobs BA, Cherbonneau M. 2017. Nerve management and crime accomplishment. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 54:617–38 [Google Scholar]
  37. Johnson EJ, Tversky A. 1983. Affect, generalization, and the perception of risk. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 45:20–31 [Google Scholar]
  38. Johnson EJ, Tversky A. 1984. Representations of perceptions of risks. J. Exp. Psychol. 113:55–70 [Google Scholar]
  39. Jolls C, Sunstein CR, Thaler R. 1998. A behavioral approach to law and economics. Stanford Law Rev 50:1471–550 [Google Scholar]
  40. Kahn BE, Sarin RK. 1988. Modeling ambiguity in decisions under uncertainty. J. Consum. Res. 15:265–72 [Google Scholar]
  41. Kahneman D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow New York: Macmillan [Google Scholar]
  42. Kahneman D, Tversky A. 1979. Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47:263–92 [Google Scholar]
  43. Kamerdze AS, Loughran TA, Paternoster R, Sohoni T. 2014. Role of affect in intended rule breaking: extending the rational choice perspective. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 51:620–54 [Google Scholar]
  44. Katz J. 1988. Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil New York: Basic Books [Google Scholar]
  45. Keynes JM. 1921. A Treatise on Probability London: Macmillan & Co. [Google Scholar]
  46. Klepper S, Nagin DS. 1989. Tax compliance and perceptions of the risks of detection and criminal prosecution. Law Soc. Rev. 23:209–40 [Google Scholar]
  47. Kreager DA, Matsueda RL. 2014. Bayesian updating and crime. Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice G Bruinsma, DL Weisburd 116–25 New York: Springer-Verlag [Google Scholar]
  48. Lattimore P, Witte A. 1986. Models of decision making under uncertainty: the criminal choice. The Reasoning Criminal, Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending DB Cornish, RV Clarke 129–55 New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publ. [Google Scholar]
  49. Laub J. 2004. The life course of criminology in the United States: the American Society of Criminology 2003 Presidential Address. Criminology 42:1–26 [Google Scholar]
  50. Laub J, Sampson R. 2003. Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives: Delinquent Boys to Age 70 Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  51. Loewenstein G, Nagin DS, Paternoster R. 1997. The effect of sexual arousal on expectations of sexual forcefulness. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 34:443–73 [Google Scholar]
  52. Loewenstein GF, Weber EU, Hsee CK, Welch N. 2001. Risk as feelings. Psychol. Bull. 127:267–86. [Google Scholar]
  53. Louderback ER, Antonaccio O. 2017. Exploring cognitive decision making processes, computer-focused cyber deviance involvement and victimization. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 54:639–79 [Google Scholar]
  54. Loughran TA, Paternoster R, Chalfin A, Wilson T. 2016a. Can rational choice be considered a general theory of crime? Evidence from individual-level panel data. Criminology 54:86–112 [Google Scholar]
  55. Loughran TA, Paternoster R, Piquero AR, Pogarsky G. 2011. On ambiguity in perceptions of risk: implications for criminal decision making and deterrence. Criminology 49:1029–61 [Google Scholar]
  56. Loughran TA, Paternoster R, Weiss D. 2012. Hyperbolic time discounting, offender time preferences and deterrence. J. Quant. Criminol. 28:607–28 [Google Scholar]
  57. Loughran TA, Reid JA, Collins ME, Mulvey EP. 2016b. Effect of gun carrying on perceptions of risk among adolescent offenders. Am. J. Public Health 106:350–52 [Google Scholar]
  58. Maimon D, Antonaccio O, French MT. 2012. Severe sanctions, easy choice? Investigating the role of school sanctions in preventing adolescent violent offending. Criminology 50:495–524 [Google Scholar]
  59. Mamayek C, Loughran TA, Paternoster R. 2015. Reason taking the reins from impulsivity: the promise of dual-systems thinking for criminology. J. Contemp. Crim. Just. 31:426–48 [Google Scholar]
  60. Mamayek C, Paternoster R, Loughran TA. 2016. Self-control as self-regulation: a return to control theory. Deviant Behav https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2016.1206730 [Crossref] [Google Scholar]
  61. McGloin JM, Thomas KJ. 2016. Incentives for collective deviance: group size and changes in perceived risk, cost, and reward. Criminology 54:459–86 [Google Scholar]
  62. Mislavsky RA, Simonsohn U. 2016. When risk is weird: unexplained transaction features lower valuations. Manag. Sci. In press [Google Scholar]
  63. Nagin D. 2007. Moving choice to center stage in criminological research and theory: The American Society of Criminology 2006 Sutherland Address. Criminology 45:259–72 [Google Scholar]
  64. Nagin DS. 1998. Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the twenty-first century. Crime and Justice 23 M Tonry 1–42 Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press [Google Scholar]
  65. Nagin DS, Pogarsky G. 2001. Integrating celerity, impulsivity, and extralegal sanction threats into a model of general deterrence: theory and evidence. Criminology 39:865–92 [Google Scholar]
  66. Parsons T. 1937. The Structure of Social Action NY: McGraw Hill [Google Scholar]
  67. Pascal B. 1995 (1670). Pensées New York: Penguin Classics [Google Scholar]
  68. Paternoster R, Pogarsky G. 2009. Rational choice, agency, and thoughtfully reflective decision making: the short and long term consequences of making good choices. J. Quant. Criminol. 25:103–27 [Google Scholar]
  69. Paternoster R, Pogarsky G, Zimmerman G. 2011. Thoughtfully reflective decision making and the accumulation of capital: bringing choice back in. J. Quant. Criminol. 27:1–26 [Google Scholar]
  70. Pickett JT, Bushway S. 2015. Dispositional sources of sanction perceptions: emotionality, cognitive style, intolerance of ambiguity, and self-efficacy. Law Hum. Behav. 39:624–40 [Google Scholar]
  71. Pickett JT, Loughran TA, Bushway S. 2015. On the measurement and properties of ambiguity in probabilistic expectations. Sociol. Methods Res. 44:636–76 [Google Scholar]
  72. Pickett JT, Loughran TA, Bushway SD. 2016. Consequences of legal risk communication for sanction perception updating and white-collar criminality. J. Exp. Criminol. 12:75–104 [Google Scholar]
  73. Pickett JT, Roche SP. 2016. Arrested development: misguided directions in deterrence theory and policy. Criminol. Public Policy 15:727–51 [Google Scholar]
  74. Pickett JT, Roche SP, Pogarsky GP. 2017. Toward a bifurcated theory of emotional deterrence Work. Pap., Sch. Crim. Justice, Univ Albany, SUNY: [Google Scholar]
  75. Piquero AR, Paternoster R, Pogarsky G, Loughran TA. 2011. Elaborating the individual difference component of deterrence theory. Annu. Rev. Law Soc. Sci. 7:335–60 [Google Scholar]
  76. Pogarsky G. 2009. Deterrence and decision-making: research questions and theoretical refinements. Handbook on Crime and Deviance MD Krohn, AJ Lizotte, GP Hall 241–58 New York: Springer [Google Scholar]
  77. Pogarsky G, Piquero AR. 2003. Can punishment encourage offending? Investigating the “resetting” effect. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 40:95–120 [Google Scholar]
  78. Pogarsky G, Roche SP, Pickett JT. 2017. Heuristics and biases, rational choice, and sanction perceptions. Criminology 55:85–111 [Google Scholar]
  79. Pratt TC, Cullen FT, Blevins KR, Daigle LE, Madensen TD. 2006. The empirical status of deterrence theory: a meta-analysis. Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory FT Cullen, JP Wright, KR Blevins 367–96 New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publ. [Google Scholar]
  80. Raaijmakers EAC, Loughran TA, de Keijser JW, Nieuwbeerta P, Dirkzwager AJE. 2017. Exploring the relationship between subjectively experienced severity of imprisonment and recidivism: a neglected element in testing deterrence theory. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 54:3–28 [Google Scholar]
  81. Rafter N. 2004. The murderous Dutch fiddler: criminology, history and the problem of phrenology. Theor. Criminol. 9:65–96 [Google Scholar]
  82. Samuelson W, Zeckhauser R. 1988. Status quo bias in decision making. J. Risk Uncertain. 1:7–59 [Google Scholar]
  83. Savage LJ. 1954. The Foundations of Statistics New York: Wiley [Google Scholar]
  84. Sawyer RK. 2001. Emergence in sociology: contemporary philosophy of mind and some implications for sociological theory. Am. J. Sociol. 107:551–85 [Google Scholar]
  85. Schepanski A, Shearer T. 1995. A prospect theory account of the income tax withholding phenomenon. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 63:174–86 [Google Scholar]
  86. Sherman LW. 1990. Police crackdowns: initial and residual deterrence. Crime Justice 12:1–48 [Google Scholar]
  87. Slovic P. 2010. The Feeling of Risk: New Perspectives on Risk Perception New York: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  88. Slovic P, Finucane ML, Peters E, MacGregor DG. 2004. Risk as analysis and risk as feelings: some thoughts about affect, reason, risk, and rationality. Risk Anal 24:311–22 [Google Scholar]
  89. Sunstein CR, Kahneman D, Schkade D. 1998. Assessing punitive damages (with notes on cognition and valuation in law). Yale Law J 107:2071–153 [Google Scholar]
  90. Thaler RH. 2015. Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics New York: Norton [Google Scholar]
  91. Thomas KJ, Loughran TA. 2014. Rational choice and prospect theory. Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice G Bruinsma, D Weisburd New York: Springer Reference [Google Scholar]
  92. Thomas KJ, Hamilton BC, Loughran TA. 2017. Testing the transitivity of reported risk perceptions: evidence of coherent arbitrariness Work. Pap., Dept. Criminol. Crim. Justice, Univ. Mo., St. Louis: [Google Scholar]
  93. Thomas KJ, McGloin JM. 2013. A dual systems approach for understanding differential susceptibility to processes of peer influence. Criminology 51:435–74 [Google Scholar]
  94. Tittle CR, Rowe AR. 1974. Certainty of arrest and crime rates: a further test of the deterrence hypothesis. Soc. Forces 54:455–62 [Google Scholar]
  95. Tversky A, Kahneman D. 1981. The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science 211:453–58 [Google Scholar]
  96. van Gelder JL. 2013. Beyond rational choice: the hot/cool perspective of criminal decision making. Psychol. Crime Law 19:745–63 [Google Scholar]
  97. van Gelder JL, de Vries RE. 2012. Traits and states: integrating personality and affect into a model of criminal decision making. Criminology 50:637–71 [Google Scholar]
  98. van Gelder JL, de Vries RE. 2014. Rational misbehavior? Evaluating an integrated dual-process model of criminal decision making. J. Quant. Criminol. 30:1–27 [Google Scholar]
  99. van Gelder JL, de Vries RE, van der Pligt J. 2009. Evaluating a dual process model of risk: affect and cognition as determinants of risky choice. J. Behav. Decis. Mak. 22:45–61 [Google Scholar]
  100. van Gelder JL, Nee G, Otte M, Demetriou A, van Sintemaartensdijk I, van Prooijen JW. 2017. Virtual burglary: exploring the potential of virtual reality to study burglary in action. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 54:29–62 [Google Scholar]
  101. Vazsonyi A, Ksinan AJ. 2017. Understanding deviance through the dual systems model: converging evidence for criminology and developmental sciences. Pers. Individ. Differ. 111:58–64 [Google Scholar]
  102. von Neumann J, Morgenstern O. 1944. Theory of Games and Economic Behavior Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  103. Weisburd D, Einat T, Kowalski M. 2008. The miracle of the cells: an experimental study of interventions to increase payment of court-ordered financial obligations. Criminol. Public Policy 7:9–36 [Google Scholar]
  104. Whichard C, Felson RB. 2016. Are suspects who resist arrest defiant, desperate, or disoriented. ? J. Res. Crime Delinq. 53:564–91 [Google Scholar]
  105. Wilson T, Paternoster R, Loughran TA. 2017. Direct and indirect experiential effects in an updating model of deterrence: a research note. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 54:63–77 [Google Scholar]
  106. Wright R, Decker SH. 1997. Creating the illusion of impending death: armed robbers in action. Harry Frank Guggenheim Rev 2:10–18 [Google Scholar]
  107. Wübben M, von Wangenheim F. 2008. Instant customer base analysis: managerial heuristics often get it right. J. Market. 72:82–93 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error