Rational Choice Theory Examples in Real Life

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Review of Literature
  • Rationality
    Culturally biased
  • Emotion and Choice
  • Age Appropriate
  • Type of Crime
  • References


Today’s United States criminal justice system can be compared to the classical school theory of the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment Age as a structure of criminal behavior. This theory can be found in our U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence (Robinson, 2014). The U.S. Constitution, eighth Amendment, 'cruel and unusual punishment' is one of the numerous models (Robinson, 2014). The contrast between today 21st century and eighteenth century, other than various timeframes, was their techniques, investigation, and experimentation (Hemmens and Tibbetts, 2019).

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The classical school of thought was known for emphasizing the ideas that people make choices to commit crimes and that punishment should beset to prevent others from committing the same crime. Jeremy Bentham and Cesare de Baccaria wanted to prove the classical theory to change eighteenth century cruel and irrational criminal worth structure (Hemmens and Tibbetts, 2019). Bentham's duty to 'classical' theory relies upon how he was an utilitarian, propelled by the rapture and flourishing of the people and along these lines tolerating that order, as the discipline of pain, should reliably be upheld to the extent a progressively conspicuous extraordinary. At the center of Bentham's writings was the likelihood that human behavior is planned for increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. Beccaria acknowledged that the punishment should be consistent and fit the crime. He acknowledged that crime prevention was based on three things 1) certainty, swiftness, and severity of the crime. Beccaria envisioned that the punishment should fit the severity of the crime and show others not to commit the crime. With this school of thought multiple other theories came up like different deterrence theories but most importantly rational choice theory.

Rational choice theory grew out the same utilitarian philosophy associated with the classical school of criminological. Rational choice theory concludes that people freely make their own choices based on cost and benefits. The foundation of rational choice theory states that when people commit crimes they weigh out the benefits and the costs if the benefits outweigh the cost a person will commit the crime. The decision making process that one will used to weigh out the good and bad will be considered the rational choice. Rational Choice Theory has been used by many scientists and others to put a reason to why humans behave the ways they do. Over the past thirty years it has gained influence in politics and sociology. The rational choice theory to crime expands on Beccaria's and Bentham's establishing standards and the centrality of personal responsibility for behavior. Beccaria's and Bentham's methodology to manage crime and order from the start was related with the 'classical school'. Their complex but yet opposite views of crime stress the individuality and over the top idea of criminal conduct. They argue that crime occurs considering that individual characteristics play out, which include but are not limited to mental or social conditions that convince people to commit crimes. The classical school also remerged with Gary Becker's (1968) anticipated utility model of criminal fundamental administration, the work on 'thinking criminals' by criminologists Derek Cornish and Ronald Clarke (1987), and humanist Jack Gibbs' structures on social control.

This literature review will discuss the criticisms to rational choice theory. This study will further advance policy implications and further research by helping people determine the definition of rationality. In a culture where crimes are high it is crucial to conduct studies that will help further the knowledge on how and why people commit crimes.

Review of Literature


People make decisions in their everyday lives countless times a day. Some people do not actually make a list of pros and cons to do so either. Most people just know that you have to make a just decision based on the risk and benefits. Derick Cornish and Ronald Clarke were criminologist who critiqued the rational choice theory that Beccaria and Bethman discovered as lacking realness. Cornish and Clarke claimed that their reasoning was basic and needed a complex theory. They focused on specific factors that influence the decisions to commit crime like what type of cost and benefits matter and what factors affect perception of crime of those cost and benefits. They suggested that a different crime had a different decision making process. They also stated that there were several stages in decision making. The first question that has to be asked will be are you willing to commit a crime to satisfy your own needs. If the person answers yes then we are into what Clarke and Cornish call the “initial involvement phase.” Cornish and Clarke suggested that a offenders make rational choices too because it takes some level of decisions making to commit a crime it does not mean it has to be correct but it is still rational. Criminal decision making is crime specific, which means that “specific offenses bring particular benefits to offenders and are committed with specific motives in mind” (Cornish and Clarke, 2003). Instead of saying everyone is rational Cornish and Clarke suggested that individuals only act within their bounds, with information given and time being a pressure. This means individual make decisions based on how they perceive as well circumstantial. Besides, on the off chance that a choice is completely seen, at that point rationale could hypothetically be applied to change comparable future decisions. At the point when the theory is applied to real people, and real offenders, it is hard to accept that decisions are made in this completely educated way and that any individual might process and know about each factor that may influence the result.

To describe rationality one must not only look at decision making but also the psychological influences which can also affect rational decision making. Maroney (2006) has suggested that mental and emotional factors also play a role on making a rational decision. Specifically, she argues that “severe psychiatric mood disorder and organic brain damage” interfere with insight, handling, and communication, and that we should move away from rationality and more toward the mental and emotional factors on decision making which offers another view (Maroney, 2006). Others suggest that an emotion especially, fear or anger, will cause you to undermine control and reasoning especially when with violent peers. In all the theorist listed one can agree that it takes more than just freewill to make a rational choice many things can effect it from emotional to mental.

Culturally biased

Many theorists do not agree with the original development of rational choice theory because it was written in modern days. While some believe that history has repeated itself and will continue to do that. One cannot solely base behavior on the way people behaved in Western countries. Time has changed significantly and so has the way people behave. Non-western societies with different institutions use different decision making process making the rational choice theory just fit Western countries. One of contemporary theory of science's fundamental purposes of understanding has been that causal convictions about the world can't be created by opinion and root alone, that there must be some arrangement of prior sorting out apparatus to change these into speculations. And still, at the end of the day, there will consistently be numerous hypotheses that fit any arrangement of opinions, as exemplified by the 'new issue of utilization '. Hence any basic suspicion that a scientist can 'watch 'a specific causal connection among activities and results would be seen as either unsound or containing understood presumptions about a need convictions.

Emotion and Choice

If we think back in time when we were children how many times have we let our emotions get the best of us. Some critiques took the time to see that emotions play a role on decision making. In an examination on this issue, Forgas confirmed that negative mind-set states regularly prompted decreased impulsivity and unsafe basic leadership, though positive disposition states prompted expanded impulsivity and hazardous basic leadership. 10 years afterward, Gordon and Arian found out that situational factors assumed a conceivably significant job in the connection among feelings and basic leadership. In this examination, basic leadership was ruled by feeling under states of high danger in any case. Under states of low risk, basic control was adjusted by mixing of feelings and rationale. In another study, psychological regulation of feeling was proven to lessen impulsivity and unsafe decision making contrasted with members who were instructed not to psychologically control their feelings (Martin and Delgado, 2011). Emotions not just meddle with rational thinking, they likewise encourage it. Damasio created the substantial marker speculation to outline how individuals use feeling to decide. The establishing reason of the physical marker theory is that notwithstanding gauging the apparent expenses and advantages of substitute approaches, individuals to gauge the passionate nature of every potential result.

Age Appropriate

The decision-making procedure can likewise be seen as an age appropriate context. For example, we would not anticipate that a 6-year old kid should have the same decision making capacity of a 19 year old adult. Nineteen-year olds have more understanding and mature brain activity and cannot determine if his decisions are morally or legally right at that age. They have also already went through puberty in most cases so their though process is definitely different. Blakemore and Robbins (2012), stated that youth are bound to take part in dangerous decision-making than adults or the other hand, particularly when feelings are high, peers are available, and confidence is in question. These 'hot' circumstances seem to meddle with the decisions and increment the person's odds of making an unsafe decision. Little kids regularly report feeling upbeat after submitting an ethical offense (Arsenio, Adams, and Gold, 2006), while young people, especially more seasoned young people, are increasingly able to encounter constructive sentiments following an ethical choice (Malti, Keller, and Buchmann, 2012). This might be halfway the consequence of a creating feeling of compassion. A few formative undertakings that add to the arrangement of compassion, however one of the most significant is an early 'theory of brain' in which the youngster figures out how to credit contemplations, sentiments, information, and aims to other people (Premack and Woodruff, 1978). Studies show that 'theory of brain' has subjective and full of feeling components and that the emotional components keep creating through the span of puberty furthermore, may realize changes in the orbitofrontal cortex (Blakemore and Robbins, 2012; Sebastian et al., 2011; Shamay-Tsoory et al., 2010). In addition the brain of a male stops maturing at the age of 25 so shouldn’t that be age of meaningful decision making.

Type of Crime

Clarke and Harris (1992) found that car theives are specific in their selection of targets, choosing various sorts of vehicles relying upon the motivation behind the burglary. This recommends the choice as for an objective and opportunity is rational. This basis of basic leadership is likewise found to remain constant for prostitutes Maher (1996) recommends that ladies judiciously pick whom to request, whom to draw in with and what dangers they are eager to take to satisfy a communication. For drug users, the choice to utilize has been accounted for as being identified with the advantages related with use. In particular, as indicated by Petraitis (1995), this implies the advantages of expending illicit substances exceeding the potential costs related with use. As far as the drug dealing, MacCoun and Reuter (1992) saw it as identified with the financial matters of the exchange; street pharmacists frequently refer to the longing for a strengthening salary as a helper for engaging in the medication exchange.

Matsueda et al. (2006) likewise found that demonstrations of violence and robbery adjust to a rational choice. Seen hazard is shaped to a limited extent by data gathered from 'street informants', just as from direct involvement in the criminal justice system. Status inside peer groups, as showed by the significance of being viewed as 'cool,' is a key segment of the choice to annoy. Burglary and violent crimes are a component of the apparent danger of capture, emotional mystic prizes and saw openings. The apparent danger of discipline has a little yet noteworthy impact. Thus, Honkatukia (2006) found that outrage and sentiments of weakness impact how reasonable choices take place, with brutality being utilized as a methods for shielding oneself from savagery. The prevalence of instrumental viciousness, and utilization in circumstances where youth feel they need control, underpins the idea that crime rises out of a level-headed point of view.

Additionally, concerning violence research shows that perpetrators are particular in their decision of target; they select individuals who seem helpless, without the way to secure themselves. By method for instance, Wright and Rosi (1983) found that vicious offenders keep away from victims who might be furnished and risky, wanting to choose all the more exposed victims who are more averse to stand up to. All the more as of late, Siegel and McCormick (2006) infer that albeit a few demonstrations of deadly viciousness are the aftereffect of irate hostility, others appear to give indications of discerning arranging. Along these lines, albeit savage acts give off an impression of being nonsensical, they do appear to include a few computations of the hazard and rewards. Collectively, all of these things show that there is a component of judgement in the choice to take part in a criminal activity.

Policy Implications

Rational choice theory holds that crime rates are a result of criminal opportunity. This is why policy makers think that by expanding the police force, increasing the means to commit crime, the crime rate should decrease. First and foremost the criminal justice system has to be fit to control crime, enforcing the law and giving harsh sentences should stop criminal from breaking the law, which in turn should stop the prosecutions of criminals. The inquiry, be that as it may, still makes one think: Is the decision to commit a crime a rational one? The trouble with these speculations is they are started on the presumption that offenders are logically figuring people. In spite of the fact that there is some help for the precepts of this theory, the essential shortcoming in its relevance is the presumption that offenders think before acting, that they direct a money saving advantage examination before choosing to take part in crime. In spite of the presence of rationality in culpable, the ramifications of expecting this rationality, as far as discouragement, isn't emphatically upheld by look into.

Individuals don’t think rational about carrying out a crime because that overestimates the way humans think. They do not think about the lawful results of their criminal activities. This theory centers on people and their decisions and disregarding any other conditions or social requirements. Some people care about the consequences while others don’t or ignore the possible consequences and would thus for make a decision based on the right now circumstances. Participating in crime isn't just a rational choice. Various factors and impact influence rational decisions. Making punishments tougher makes the offender not want to commit the crime because it is no longer worth it to them but when the old laws are still implemented and people are not getting a lot of time because of the crime it is more worth it the. This, once more, is only efficient if the offender knows the time involved. Since this supposition that isn't bolstered by the writing, both explicit and general discouragement techniques have not yielded the outcomes anticipated by rational decision theorist.

Another way to control crime would be by the use of technology similar to e-mapping. This is where you use technology to map areas in the community that are high risk and the most suitable for crime. With this technology police can detect crime better and set up a means or a way to help. This means can be community policing, prevention programs that teach education and activities for the kids in the communities that are high risk. One can believe you can deter crime by making the environment safer and having better communication with law enforcement and their partnering agencies.


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