On ambiguity in perceptions of risk: Implications for criminal decision making and deterrence

Thomas Loughran, Raymond Paternoster, Alex R. Piquero, Greg Pogarsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Deterrence theorists and researchers have argued that the critical dimension of sanction certainty is its level-increasing the certainty of punishment from a lower to a higher level will inhibit criminal conduct. However, the true certainty of punishment is rarely known with much precision. Both Sherman (1990) and Nagin (1998) have suggested that ambiguity about the level of punishment certainty is itself consequential in the decision to commit or refrain from crime. Here, we investigate this proposition. We find some evidence that individuals are "ambiguity averse" for decisions involving losses such as criminal punishments. This finding means that a more ambiguous perceived certainty of punishment is a greater deterrent of some crimes than a nominally equivalent but less ambiguous one. However, this effect depends on how large an individual's risk certainty perception is initially. That is, we find evidence for "boundary effects" (Casey and Scholz, 1991a, 1991b) in which this effect holds for lower probabilities but reverses for higher ones. For higher detection probabilities, individuals become "ambiguity seeking" such that a less ambiguous detection probability has more deterrent value than a nominally equivalent but more ambiguous detection probability. Results are presented from two distinct, but complementary, analysis samples and empirical approaches. These samples include a survey to college students with several hypothetical choice problems and data from the Pathways to Desistance study, a longitudinal investigation of serious adolescent offenders transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1029-1061
Number of pages33
JournalCriminology
Volume49
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

Fingerprint

Punishment
deterrence
penalty
Decision Making
decision making
Crime
offense
sanction
adulthood
adolescence
evidence
Longitudinal Studies
offender
Research Personnel
Students
adolescent
Values
student

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

Cite this

Loughran, Thomas ; Paternoster, Raymond ; Piquero, Alex R. ; Pogarsky, Greg. / On ambiguity in perceptions of risk : Implications for criminal decision making and deterrence. In: Criminology. 2011 ; Vol. 49, No. 4. pp. 1029-1061.
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On ambiguity in perceptions of risk : Implications for criminal decision making and deterrence. / Loughran, Thomas; Paternoster, Raymond; Piquero, Alex R.; Pogarsky, Greg.

In: Criminology, Vol. 49, No. 4, 01.11.2011, p. 1029-1061.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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