Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 75–103 | Cite as

Simulation for Theory Testing and Experimentation: An Example Using Routine Activity Theory and Street Robbery

  • Elizabeth R. GroffEmail author
Original Paper


Achieving a better understanding of the crime event in its spatio-temporal context is an important research area in criminology with major implications for improving policy and developing effective crime prevention strategies. However, significant barriers related to data and methods exist for conducting this type of research. The research requires micro-level data about individual behavior that is difficult to obtain and methods capable of modeling the dynamic, spatio-temporal interaction of offenders, victims, and potential guardians at the micro level. This paper presents simulation modeling as a method for addressing these challenges. Specifically, agent-based modeling, when integrated with geographic information systems, offers the ability to model individual behavior within a real environment. The method is demonstrated by operationalizing and testing routine activity theory as it applies to the crime of street robbery. Model results indicate strong support for the basic premise of routine activity theory; as time spent away from home increases, crime will increase. The strength of the method is in providing a research platform for translating theory into models that can be discussed, shared, tested and enhanced with the goal of building scientific knowledge.


Theory testing Simulation Agent-based models Geographic information systems Experiment 



This research was supported in part by the Grant 2005-IJ-CX-0015 from the National Institute of Justice. The author wishes to thank Ronald Clarke and Marcus Felson for reviewing the validity of the conceptual representations of their respective theories. Discussions with Jochen Albrecht, Catherine Dibble, and Tobi Glensk contributed to the formalization of theory in conceptual model and the choice of implementation strategy. David Weisburd, Ned Levine, Tom McEwen and the anonymous reviewers provided illuminating comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Law and JusticeAlexandriaUSA

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