Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 215–236 | Cite as

Individual Differences in the Deterrence Process: Which Individuals Learn (Most) from Their Offending Experiences?

  • Sonja SchulzEmail author
Original Paper



To test whether individuals differ in deterrability by studying whether the effect of criminal experiences on perceived detection risk varies by criminal propensity.


Data from the British “Offending, Crime and Justice Survey”, a four-wave panel study on criminal behavior and victimization, are analyzed. Two subsamples for analyses are constructed: one of non-offenders at first measurement, to analyze the effect of gaining first offending experiences during the time of study (n = 1,279) and one sample of individuals who have committed offenses within the past year (n = 567), to analyze the effect of police contact among active offenders. Fixed-effects regressions of perceived detection risk on criminal experiences and interactions between criminal experiences and measures of criminal propensity (risk-affinity, impulsivity) are estimated.


Analyses support learning models for the formation and change of risk perceptions, but individual differences by criminal propensity are present in the deterrence process: After gaining first offending experiences, impulsive individuals as well as risk-averse individuals are more likely to lower their perceptions about the probability of detection than less impulsive or risk-affine individuals are. A positive effect of police contact on expected detection risk is restricted to risk-averse individuals.


Findings support claims that deterrence works differently for crime-prone individuals. The differential effects of impulsivity and risk-affinity underline the importance of not combining constituent characteristics of criminal propensity in composite indices, because they might have differential effects on deterrence.


Deterrence Perceptions Learning Individual differences Criminal propensity 



The Offending, Crime and Justice Survey was commissioned by the UK Home Office ( Data for analyses in this paper were obtained via the UK Data Archive ( Neither the original data creators nor the UK Data Archive bear responsibility for the present analysis or interpretation. I am grateful to Clemens Kroneberg, Harald Beier and the anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES)University of MannheimMannheimGermany

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