What is Rational Choice, It's Examples and Applications in Theory a Case Study

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Social learning theory, considered one of the core theoretical perspectives in the field, believes that behavior is learned through socialization. It consisting of four main concepts, differential association, differential reinforcement, imitation, and definitions, social learning theory is capable of explaining both delinquent behavior and expected behavior. Social learning theory is not only about how behavior is acquired for the first time; but also speaks to a general process and set of variables in acquiring, maintaining, and changing behavior. The correlates of crime, age, race, and social class can also be explained by social learning theory. Social Learning Theory integrated behavioral and cognitive approaches of learning to provide a comprehensive model that could account for the full range of learning experiences that occur in the real world. Rational choice theory adopts a utilitarian belief that humans are reasoning actors who weigh means and ends, costs, and benefits, to make a sensible choice. This method was designed by Cornish and Clarke to assist in thinking about situational crime prevention.

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Introduction and Thesis Statement

There are a vast number of theories and explanations that have been proposed to explain criminal and delinquent behavior. Whereas some theories and explanations focus solely on the process of engagement in negligent behavior, social learning involves the actual techniques of crime, in addition to the psychological aspects of criminality (Akers, 1985).

Social learning theory is a theory of learning process and social behavior which proposes that new behaviors can be acquired by observing and imitating others. It states that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or immediate reinforcement. In addition to the representation of behavior, learning also occurs through the observation of rewards and punishments, a process known as vicarious reinforcement. When a particular behavior is rewarded regularly, it will most likely persist; conversely, if a specific behavior is punished continuously, it will most likely cease. The theory expands on traditional behavioral approaches, in which behavior is governed solely by reinforcements, by emphasizing the important roles of various internal processes in the learning individual.

Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or intelligent action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. The basic premise of rational choice theory is that aggregate social behavior results from the behavior of individual actors, each of whom is making their personal decisions. The approach also focuses on the determinants of its own choices. The rational choice theory then assumes that an individual has preferences among the available choice alternatives that allow them to state which option they prefer.

Social learning theory has been used to refer to several behavioral approaches with social-psychological elements (Bandura, 1977; Andrews and Bonta, 2003). Within the fields of criminology and criminal justice, social learning theory has been extensively developed by the work of Ronald Akers and colleagues. The argument has been referred to as a general theory of crime and delinquency, and happens to be one of the foundational and central methods that is empirically tested and validated within the field of criminology (Ellis and Walsh, 1999; Cullen, Wright and Blevins, 2009). It provides a more robust explanation of criminal and delinquent behavior than Sutherland's differential association theory. When social learning concepts are empirical. It is the theory that human behavior is learned from observing others, is one basis for understanding the etiology of some forms of interpersonal violence: having seen trauma and then subsequently being aggressive.

Differential Association One of the foundational concepts of differential association is the peer group of the juvenile. Edwin Sutherland (1947) originally developed the differential association theory to explain how group membership and associations impact people's attitudes, behaviors, and values. Sutherland defined nine propositions to addressabroadrangeofcrimes. Sutherland stated that the association with different groups varies

in frequency, priority, duration, and intensity. For juveniles, Sutherland indicates that the influence of peers is most significant when interactionsoccurfrequently, early in life,forlongperiodsoftime, and when the bonds to those peers are strong. As discovered by Akers et al. (1979), and also reported by Lee, Akers, and Borg (2004) and described in most prior literature, differential association is typically measured through peer associations and peer involvement in delinquency.

Differential reinforcement refers to a process of learning behavior that includes both rewards and punishments (Akers, 1985; Akers and Sellers, 2013). These rewards and punishments may occur in the form of social or nonsocial experiences and be either experienced or anticipated (Akers and Sellers, 2013; Wood et al., 1997). The inclusion of behavioral psychology concepts such as punishment, reinforcement, and operant conditioning assists in explaining the mechanisms of learning. The likelihood of a behavior reoccurring is increased through rewarding experiences and outcomes of the behavior (Akers, 1985). For example, obtaining approval or receiving a monetary payment is seen as a rewarding experience and result of the behavior. These rewarding outcomes that maintain or aid in the repetition of the behavior are known as favorable reinforcement.

The rational agent is assumed to take account of available information, probabilities of events, and potential costs and benefits in determining preferences, and to act consistently in choosing the self-determined best choice of action. In simpler terms, this theory dictates that every person, even when carrying out the most mundane of tasks, perform their cost and benefit analysis to determine whether the action is worth perusing for the best possible outcome. And following this, a person will choose the optimum venture in every case. This could culminate in a student deciding on whether to attend a lecture or stay in bed, a shopper determining to provide their bag to avoid the five pence charge or even a voter deciding which candidate or party based on who will fulfill their needs the best on issues that have an impact themselves especially.

Rational choice theorists do not claim that the theory describes the choice process, but rather that it predicts the outcome and pattern of choices. An assumption often added to the rational choice paradigm is that individual preferences are self-interested, in which case the individual can be referred to as a homo economicus. Such an individual acts as if balancing costs against benefits to arrive at action that maximizes personal advantage. Proponents of such models, particularly those associated with the Chicago school of economics, do not claim that a model's assumptions are an accurate description of reality, only that they help formulate precise and falsifiable hypotheses. In this view, the only way to judge the success of a belief in empirical tests. To use an example from Milton Friedman, if a theory that says that their rationality explains the behavior of the leaves of a tree passes the empirical test, it is seen as successful. Without specifying the individual's goal or preferences, it may not be possible to test empirically or falsify the rationality assumption. However, the predictions made by a specific version of the theory are testable. In recent years, the most prevalent version of rational choice theory, expected utility theory, has been challenged by the experimental results of behavioral economics. Economists are learning from other fields, such as psychology, and are enriching their opinions of choice to get a more accurate view of human decision-making.

The concept of rationality used in rational choice theory is different from every day and most judicious use of the word. Colloquially, 'rational' behavior typically means 'sensible,' 'predictable,' or 'in a thoughtful, clear-headed manner.' The rational choice theory uses a narrower definition of rationality. At its most basic level, the behavior is reasonable if it is goal-oriented, reflective (evaluative), and consistent (across time and different choice situations). This contrasts with behavior that is random, impulsive, conditioned, or adopted by (nonevaluative) imitation.

The premise of rational choice theory as a social science methodology is that the aggregate behavior in society reflects the sum of the choices made by individuals. Each individual, in turn, makes their choice based on their preferences and the constraints or choice set they face. At the individual level, rational choice theory stipulates that the agent chooses the action or outcome they most prefer. In the case where actions or results can be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits, a rational individual chooses the effect or consequence that provides the maximum net profit, that is, the maximum benefit minus cost. The theory applies to more general settings than those identified by fees and interest. In general, rational decision making entails choosing among all available alternatives, the alternative that the individual most prefer. The 'alternatives' can be a set of actions ('what to do?') or a collection of objects ('what to choose/buy'). In the case of conflicts, what the individual cares about are the outcomes that result from each possible action. Actions, in this case, are only an instrument for obtaining a particular issue.

In the case of Mr. David Hernandez, negative reinforcement is where a behavior continues to occur so that the individual can avoid unpleasant events or aversive stimuli. Positive and negative reinforcement indicates that the behavior is followed by either the addition or removal of incentives (Akers,1985). Punishment can consist of negative or positive discipline (Akers, 1985). Positive punishment means that the behavior decreases because it is followed by an aversive consequence, such as receiving a speeding ticket when exceeding the speed limit. Negative punishment is when the behavior falls owing to the termination of an enjoyable state, such as when a juvenile is grounded for engaging in substance use.

Another concept that Akers included from differential association theory is the definition of the law as favorable or unfavorable, and these definitions are learned through social interaction (Sutherland, 1947). These definitions, which are acquired from others, will still that laws are either rules to be obeyed or rules to be broken. The delinquent peer group is a critical reference group for juveniles and provides a context for which youths may learn definitions favorable to violation of the law (Sutherland, 1947; Akers, 1985). Sutherland believed that the peer group is much more important than the family. Delinquent peers provide a primary group context in which delinquency is learned (Sutherland, Cressey, and Luckenbill, 1992). According to Akers (1985), attitudes, beliefs, and values that support criminal and delinquent acts are learned through imitation and reinforcement. Delinquent definitions could also be neutralizing where the juvenile learns to justify or excuse the negligent behavior in which they engage. In the continuation of delinquent behavior, neutralizing attitudes are more likely to be found than positive attitudes (Akers, 1985).

An imitation is a form of learning where the behavior is copied from a model in the individual's life (Akers, 1985). The modeled/copied behavior may either be a maintained behavior or a newly learned behavior (Akers, 1985). The characteristics of the model and behavior observed will impact whether that behavior is imitated (Bandura, 1977). Bandura (1977) also posited that the rewards/punishment experienced by them odel willing to influence whether or not that behavior will be imitated. Models could be in primary groups, or in secondary groups that include the media, and these groups could influence both delinquent and prosocial behavior (Bandura, 1977; Akers, 1985). Akers (1985) posited that imitation is essential for learning how to use drugs.

For example, in the case of Mr. David Hernandez, seeing a fellow peer take drugs and experience the fact of that drug provides a central first step into drug use. Models of delinquent behavior and typical behavior will most likely be found within the primary group, particularly family and peers (Akers, 1985; Akers and Sellers, 2013). The likelihood of delinquent behavior increases when exposure to admired criminal role models exceeds exposure to other prosocial models (Akers, 1985).

Siblings may be a more influential factor than parents or peers for engaging in delinquent behavior (Bullock and Dishion, 2002). Siblings, in the case of Mr. David Hernandez, his brothers and sisters at the foster home as past research has indicated, influence those around them in the family unit. Siblings create opportunities and open the door for seeing the benefits of engaging in delinquent behavior, imitating risky behaviors, denying crime as acceptable, and teaching other youth in the family about the values and enjoyment of participating in risky or delinquent behavior (Bullock and Dishion, 2002; Craine et al., 2009; Ardelt and Day, 2002).

These come from having shared interests with older siblings (Farrington et al., 2001; Craine et al., 2009). The opportunity introduced to the delinquent lifestyle increases as the number of siblings increases; it is likely the sibling will and a shared interest with an older sibling who engages in negligent behavior. A large family that includes a lot of siblings means that there are more antisocial behavioral models to which a sibling could be introduced.

Typical stimulus-response theories rely entirely upon direct experience (of the stimulus) to inform behavior. Bandura opens up the scope of learning mechanisms by introducing observation as a possibility. He adds to this the ability of modeling – a means by which humans 'represent actual outcomes symbolically'. These models, cognitively mediated, allow future consequences to having as much of an impact as actual consequences would in a typical S-R theory. An important factor in Social Learning Theory is the concept of reciprocal determinism. This notion states that just as an individual's behavior is influenced by the environment, the environment is also influenced by the individual's behavior. In other words, a person's behavior, environment, and personal qualities all reciprocally affect each other. For example, in the case of Mr. David Hernandez, a child who plays violent video games will likely influence their peers to play as well, which then encourages the child to play more often.

Social Learning Theory has been used to explain the emergence and maintenance of deviant behavior, especially aggression. Criminologists Ronald Akers and Robert Burgess integrated the principles of Social Learning Theory and operant conditioning with Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory to create a comprehensive theory of criminal behavior. Burgess and Akers emphasized that criminal behavior is learned in both social and nonsocial situations through combinations of direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement, explicit instruction, and observation. Both the probability of being exposed to certain behaviors and the nature of the support are dependent on group norms.

Social learning theory has been used to prevent and treat crime and delinquency. A basis of social learning theory is that both delinquent and conventional behavior can be learned. Based on this premise, behavior modification has been used to treat juveniles with delinquency problems (Akers and Sellers, 2013). As the primary reference group is a critical component of learning for delinquent youths, programs that focus on this group will help prevent delinquency among minors. These programs could include gang interventions, peer or family counseling, and mentoring. Mentoring would provide a prosocial model with which the youth can interact and associate. Examples of programs include the Oregon Social Learning Center Adolescent Transition Program (Akers and Sellers, 2013). The goal of the program is to prevent delinquency among at-risk youth through parent- and peer-focused groups (Patterson, 2002).

Both the assumptions and the behavioral predictions of rational choice theory have sparked criticism from various camps. As mentioned above, some economists have developed models of bounded rationality, which hope to be more psychologically plausible without altogether abandoning the idea that reason underlies decision-making processes. Other economists have developed more theories of human decision-making that allow for the roles of uncertainty, institutions, and determination of individual tastes by their socioeconomic environment (cf. Fernandez-Huerga, 2008).

Critics of the theory say that no delinquent-related learning occurs in peer groups, preferably that differential association is always preceded by one's delinquent behavior (Hirschi, 1969; Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990; Sampson and Laub, 1993). According to these theorists, exposure to delinquent peers is not required for negligent behavior to occur. Social learning theorists believe that group relations still influence behavior, even if delinquency occurs before the individual becomes a member of the group (Akers and Sellers, 2013).


It is important to remember that by including the word 'learning,' social learning theory is not only about how behavior is acquired for the first time; instead, the approach speaks to a general process and set of variables in acquiring, maintaining, and changing behavior (Andrews and Bonta, 2003). Social learning can be used to explain substance use, several types of delinquent behavior, suicide, and even mental illness (Akers, 1985). While explaining negligent behavior, it is also able to explain the behavior of juveniles engaging in typical behavior. Social learning theory continues to be a core theory in the field of criminology and to be tested empirically by various scholars.

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