This chapter explores how integrating the science of criminal decision making and contemporary biosocial criminology can benefit our understanding of why people make criminal action decisions and the role of biological factors. It reviews relevant biosocial findings but argues that efforts to link them to criminal decision making are limited by the lack of a strong model of the action process. It then compares how key components of this process—motivation, perception, and choice—are portrayed in models of criminal decision making with what is currently known about their biomechanics. It concludes that models of criminal decision making would benefit from the integration of evidence from the biological sciences and that some common assumptions may need to be reconsidered. It argues that biosocial criminology would benefit from a stronger, more biologically informed model of criminal decision making, which could better explain the role of biological factors in crime causation.
This chapter examines burglary event decisions, decisions leading up to the burglary, and the burglary characteristics that provide insights into them. It critically reviews the evidence on burglary decisions; highlights gaps in knowledge, methodologies, and aspects of theory; and discusses the potential for additional research. It draws on studies based on interviews and experimental research with imprisoned offenders and, less commonly, active burglars, as well as research on targeting patterns and burglary target characteristics. Topics are ordered to consider theories, targeting strategies, and selection decisions; decisions at the scene relating to entering, while inside, and leaving premises; decisions about which goods to steal and their disposal; and the evaluation of successful and unsuccessful decisions. The extent to which selected theories help explain key decisions is critically assessed.
Sarah B. van Mastrigt
A notable proportion of crime is committed in company, particularly during youth, but relatively little attention has been paid to the influence of co-offenders on criminal decision making. This chapter reviews current theory and research on co-offending as it relates to three aspects of offender decision making: the decision to (co)-offend, the selection of accomplices, and choices shaping the characteristics of the criminal event (planning, target selection, and seriousness). Both implicit and explicit decision making are considered, as well as situations in which the offense is premeditated and collaboration is explicitly sought after a plan has been made and situations in which the motivation to offend develops in a group of preformed individuals who become co-offenders by committing the act. The chapter concludes with a discussion of gaps in the current evidence base and directions for future research.
Gabriel T Cesar and Scott H. Decker
Carjacking is a bold crime characterized by unpredictability and danger. Media reports have identified carjackings throughout the world, and estimates suggest 34,000 occur annually in the United States alone. Research with active offenders has examined carjacking in the context of US street crime, but official reporting inconsistencies and a focus on instrumental motivations hinder a more comprehensive understanding of this crime. The lack of a theoretical framework to analyze the decision-making behaviors of carjackers further complicates the development of effective means to deal with carjacking. With this in mind, this chapter synthesizes the current literature about carjacking and then integrates that synthesis with van Gelder’s “hot/cool” approach to offender decision making. It concludes with a discussion of the implications of this framework for carjacking policy and prevention, and it suggests directions for future research.
Crime requires the simultaneous presence of offenders and targets. This essay reviews what is known about how offenders come to intersect in time and space with their targets. It addresses their motivations, destinations, routes, distances, directions, modes of transportation, and travel companions, if any. Rational choice theory has been applied widely to organize and interpret empirical observations. Space-time geography and crime pattern theory emphasize the role of habitual behavior and routine activities. Previous research used police records and offender interviews, mainly to assess how far from home offenders committed crimes. Contemporary research utilizes time-use diaries and geographic tracking devices to measure multiple aspects of crime journeys. Future studies will profit from the advance of smartphones and similar devices.
Crime is unevenly distributed in space. This chapter discusses the uneven spatial patterns in crime from an offender decision-making perspective. It describes the main theoretical perspectives in environmental criminology (the rational choice perspective, routine activity approach, and crime pattern theory) and reviews the empirical research with an emphasis on studies that have used a discrete spatial choice framework for analyzing individual crime location choices. The strength of the discrete spatial choice framework, several of its assumptions, and its link with random utility maximization theory are discussed. The chapter concludes with several challenges for future crime location choice research, including challenges regarding temporal aspects of criminal decision making, planned versus opportunistic crimes, and solved versus unsolved crimes.
Nadine Deslauriers-Varin, Patrick Lussier, and Stacy Tzoumakis
Crime specialization is one of the most researched and often-debated criminal career parameters. To date, the concept of specialization has been approached mainly from a static viewpoint whereby crime specialization and criminal versatility have been conceptualized as two opposite end of a continuum. Emerging research based on longitudinal data, however, has led to the emergence of a dynamic-oriented perspective where specialization and versatility can occur during one’s career. In this essay, the evolution of the concept of crime specialization is highlighted along with associated theoretical, conceptual, methodological, and empirical issues stemming from this gradual change. Policy implications and directions for future research on the development of criminal careers are highlighted.
This article explores the impact of psychiatric theories and practices in the administration of criminal justice systems, largely in the Anglophone West. It focuses on the increasing use of psychiatric testimony in criminal trials, the struggle by doctors to expand the utility of this testimony beyond the strictures imposed by the M’Naghten Rules governing the insanity defense, and the increasing resort to psychiatric assessments at both the pretrial and posttrial stages to stream those deemed patients out of the prison system. By the interwar years psychiatric assessments and treatments were also being used extensively in prisons in some jurisdictions to govern decisions about parole and release. By the 1960s, however, a backlash against psychiatry and a loss of faith in rehabilitative strategies had curtailed its impact, although it remains an important element within most Western criminal justice systems.
Fiona Brookman and Michelle Wright
This chapter examines the cognitive, affective, and situational factors that influence the decision-making processes of those who kill. With little existing research that specifically focuses on homicide offender decision making, this chapter brings together criminological and psychological research on violence-related cognition, affect, and the situational dynamics of violent encounters. The authors make the case for combining these three perspectives in order to better understand decision making and homicide. Four case studies, two cases of homicide and two of sublethal encounters, illuminate offenders’ thoughts and feelings prior to and during the commission of the offense and illustrate the complex interplay of cognitive, affective, and situational factors in lethal and near-lethal events. The chapter concludes with proposed avenues for future research.
Jean-Louis van Gelder
This chapter discusses the application of dual-process and dual-system models to offender decision making. It is argued that these models offer a more accurate account of the decision process than the traditional choice models in criminology, such as rational choice and deterrence models, and can overcome their various limitations. Specific attention is devoted to the hot/cool perspective of criminal decision making, which takes the dual-process hypothesis as a point of departure. This model is rooted in the idea that both “cool” cognition and “hot” affect, or thinking and feeling, guide behavior and that understanding their interaction is fundamental for understanding how people make criminal choices.
Wim Bernasco, Henk Elffers, and Jean-Louis van Gelder
Decision making is central to all human behavior, including criminal conduct. Virtually every discussion about crime or law enforcement is guided by beliefs about how people make decisions in one way or another. This interdisciplinary handbook integrates insights about the role of human decision making as it relates to crime. It contains reviews of the main theories of offender decision making and also reviews of empirical evidence on topics as diverse as desistance, crime locations, co-offending, victimization, and criminal methods and tools. It further includes in-depth treatments of the principal research methods for studying offender decision making and a series of chapters on specific types of crime.
M. Lyn Exum, Lauren A. Austin, and Justin D. Franklin
Consequentialist theories of criminal decision making assume crime is a choice that one undertakes if the perceived benefits of the act outweigh its costs. This a priori assessment of costs and benefits involves the use of several neurological components, including the amygdala–striatal system and the prefrontal cortex. Crime is commonly committed by individuals under the influence of alcohol and/or experiencing heightened states of emotional arousal. Both alcohol and arousal impact neurological functioning, including that of the amygdala–striatal system and prefrontal cortex. This chapter examines the influence of alcohol and arousal on criminal decision making from a neuroeconomic perspective. It discusses the neurological effects that alcohol and arousal may have on the identification and evaluation of criminal consequences. These effects bound one’s rationality and increase the likelihood of criminal/aggressive behavior. Empirical research on alcohol, arousal, and criminal decision making is summarized, and suggestions for future research are presented.
Jean-Louis van Gelder
This chapter examines the influence of emotions on offender decision making. It reviews the empirical and theoretical criminological literature on the role of emotions in crime causation but also draws from other disciplines in the behavioral and cognitive sciences that have examined the influence of emotions on human decision making. Specific attention is devoted to appraisal theories of emotion, which, it is argued, provide a useful theoretical framework for studying and understanding emotions in criminal contexts. In doing so, it is shown that criminal decision-making research and theorizing may have so far failed to fully acknowledge the influence of emotions on offending behavior.
This chapter seeks to enrich and extend thinking about the rational choice perspective to offender decision making and its pivotal application in situational crime prevention by taking an evolutionary approach, which is still uncommon in crime science and criminology. The chapter introduces basic concepts of evolution, covering the brain and behavior, levels and types of explanation, the strained relationship with social science, and the evidencing of evolutionary processes. The focus then shifts to rationality, covering decision making; the wider suite of processes needed to understand rationality in action; and specific discussions of cooperation, humans’ wider “sociocognitive niche,” and development. Although evolutionary issues are addressed throughout, the penultimate section discusses how rationality in the broadest sense has unfolded over evolutionary history and the significant connection between maximization of utility in contemporary rational choice and maximization/optimization of fitness in evolution. The conclusion raises practical, empirical, and theoretical questions for crime science.
Jeffrey A. Bouffard and Nicole Niebuhr
Research on offender decision making has utilized experimental designs and has often coupled these strong designs with the use of hypothetical vignettes that describe specific offending circumstances for the would-be offender to consider. In some cases, these studies have experimentally manipulated situational elements of the imagined setting. In others, researchers have experimentally manipulated the context in which the participants make the decision. Other researchers have utilized randomized designs with behavioral analogues within the research setting. This research has found that various situational and individual-level factors influence the content and process of offender decision making in important ways. Future research should further explore how offenders form risk perceptions and how these influences may interact with one another, and it should continue to refine these methods to more closely approximate real-world settings.
Tony Ward and Anthony Beech
This essay focuses on four core issues and their normative implications associated with the “theory problem” as it relates to sexual offending. First, a critical task is to build multi-level and interfield theories that are directly responsive to the complex nature of human functioning and psychological architecture. Second, an important cognitive task is to take seriously the level of human agency and mental state psychological explanations of action. This requires accepting the significance of values and personal meanings, and appreciating that social and cultural practices causally influence a person’s sense of self and purpose in life. Third, we need to shift our attention from construct validity procedures and look to understand underlying causal processes. A preoccupation with measurement may trap us into surface-level explanations. Finally, some degree of integration should be attempted between research and conceptual work on dynamic risk factors and that on aetiological theories.
Game theory analyzes strategic decision making of multiple interdependent actors and has become influential in economics, political science, and sociology. It provides novel insights in criminology because it is a universal language for the unification of the social and behavioral sciences and allows deriving new hypotheses from fundamental assumptions about decision making. This chapter first reviews foundations and assumptions of game theory, basic concepts, and definitions. This includes applications of game theory to offender decision making in different strategic interaction settings: simultaneous and sequential games and signaling games. Next, the chapter illustrates the benefits (and problems) of game theoretical models for the analysis of crime and punishment by providing an in-depth discussion of the “inspection game.” The formal analytics are described, point predictions are derived, and hypotheses are tested by laboratory experiments. The chapter concludes with a discussion of theoretical and practical implications of results from the inspection game.
Iain R. Brennan
This chapter describes the contradictory roles that weapons play in offender decision making as mechanisms that can both increase the physical harm to a victim of violence and also reduce the need for physical harm in victims of robbery. Because weapons serve simultaneously offensive and defensive purposes, the way in which offenders carry and use weapons is subject to a complex decision-making process. This process is presented and interpreted from a rational perspective, incorporating an offender’s calculation of potential benefits and costs as well as the uncertainty of a victim’s response. A rational analysis of weapon carrying and use is presented along with research evidence suggesting that culture and availability are important influences on weapon of choice and weapon-related behavior. The chapter concludes with a review of the effectiveness of weapons in reducing victim resistance and retaliation showing that weapon use is a high-reward/high-cost activity.
Ralph B. Taylor
This chapter discusses research and theorizing about the crime impacts of the physical environment, relating it to past reviews of scholarship in this area, and highlighting the crucial question of causality. It introduces key stumbling blocks in community criminology that must be addressed before scholarship can advance on the crucial causality question. Environmental criminology in a deep sense represents a field within a broader field of community criminology. The chapter underscores just a few of the most important recent works in four select areas within the physical environment-crime scholarship: space syntax, facilities and land use, accessibility/permeability, and crime prevention through environmental design/defensible space. The final section sketches one possible avenue for future research which can address these concerns.
Danielle M. Reynald
Research has demonstrated that informal guardians affect offender decision making in a variety of crime contexts. This chapter highlights what can be learned from empirical research about the way offenders perceive informal guardianship and how it affects criminal choices. Focusing specifically on studies that elucidate the offenders’ perspective on guardians, this chapter reviews what is known from studies on burglars, armed robbers, and sex offenders about how guardianship factors into their criminal decision making. Based on these offender accounts, the chapter reveals the patterns that emerge around (a) the stages of the crime event process in which guardianship is most likely to influence various types of offenders and (b) what form of guardianship is most effective in discouraging different offenders at different stages of the crime event.