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Crime as risk taking

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Engagement in criminal activity may be viewed as risk-taking behaviour as it has both benefits and drawbacks that are probabilistic. In two studies, we examined how individuals' risk perceptions can inform our understanding of their intentions to engage in criminal activity. Study 1 measured youths' perceptions of the value and probability of the benefits and drawbacks of engaging in three common crimes (i.e. shoplifting, forgery, and buying illegal drugs), and examined how well these perceptions predicted youths' forecasted engagement in these crimes, controlling for their past engagement. We found that intentions to engage in criminal activity were best predicted by the perceived value of the benefits that may be obtained, irrespective of their probabilities or the drawbacks that may also be incurred. Study 2 specified the benefit and drawback that youth thought about and examined another crime (i.e. drinking and driving). The findings of Study 1 were replicated under these conditions. The present research supports a limited rationality perspective on criminal intentions, and can have implications for crime prevention/intervention strategies.
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Keywords: crime; drinking and driving; drugs; forgery; probability; risk; shoplifting; subjective expected utility

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Criminology,University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK 2: Thinking, Risk, and Intelligence Group,Defence R&D Canada-Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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