, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 523-543

Self-Reported Intentions to Offend: All Talk and No Action?

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Abstract

To study criminal decision making, researchers commonly present hypothetical offending scenarios to participants and record their self-reported intentions to offend (SRIO). These SRIO scores are treated as an indicator of participants’ predisposition to commit the act described in the scenario. Drawing from the field of clinical measurement, the current study examines the diagnostic accuracy of SRIO scores by comparing participants’ intentions to acquire illegal music files from a designated distributor to their actual attempts to acquire such files. Approximately 7% of participants who read about a (bogus) music piracy opportunity reported strong—and at times definitive—intentions to seek out the illegal files. However, in actuality, no one in the study engaged in this behavior. Clinimetric indicators suggest that SRIO scores are better at predicting abstention from crime than actual criminal participation.

We are grateful to Dr. Jeffrey Bouffard for his comments on an earlier version of this paper. All errors remain our own.