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Modelling a rational choice theory of criminal action: Subjective expected utilities, norms, and interactions


  • Guido Mehlkop

    (Dresden University of Technology, Germany,

  • Peter Graeff

    (Universitaet der Bundeswehr Muenchen, Germany)


Referring to classic rational choice models of criminal behaviour (Becker 1968), this paper presents an extended Subjective Expected Utility model that is more in line with the requirements of theorizing and empirical testing than former models. In our model, the decision of an actor is influenced by the expected utility of the crime and the norms that prohibit the delinquent action. It is suggested that there is an interaction between utility and norms which reflect different patterns of decision making leading to different probabilities for the occurrence of crimes. The model is tested by using survey data from Germany. Applying a new technique to uncover interaction effects reveals that in one pattern, internalized norms that label criminal action as not appropriate take effect instead of deliberation. In another pattern, the recognition that certain actions are connected to societal norms increases deliberation about costs and benefits of criminal behaviour.

Suggested Citation

  • Guido Mehlkop & Peter Graeff, 2010. "Modelling a rational choice theory of criminal action: Subjective expected utilities, norms, and interactions," Rationality and Society, , vol. 22(2), pages 189-222, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ratsoc:v:22:y:2010:i:2:p:189-222

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