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Rational Misbehavior? Evaluating an Integrated Dual-Process Model of Criminal Decision Making

Abstract

Objectives

Test the hypothesis that dispositional self-control and morality relate to criminal decision making via different mental processing modes, a ‘hot’ affective mode and a ‘cool’ cognitive one.

Methods

Structural equation modeling in two studies under separate samples of undergraduate students using scenarios describing two different types of crime, illegal downloading and insurance fraud. Both self-control and morality are operationalized through the HEXACO model of personality (Lee and Ashton in Multivariate Behav Res 39(2):329–358, 2004).

Results

In Study 1, negative state affect, i.e., feelings of fear and worry evoked by a criminal prospect, and perceived risk of sanction were found to mediate the relations between both dispositions and criminal choice. In Study 2, processing mode was manipulated by having participants rely on either their thinking or on their feelings prior to deciding on whether or not to make a criminal choice. Activating a cognitive mode strengthened the relation between perceived risk and criminal choice, whereas activating an affective mode strengthened the relation between negative affect and criminal choice.

Conclusion

In conjunction, these results extend research that links stable individual dispositions to proximal states that operate in the moment of decision making. The results also add to dispositional perspectives of crime by using a structure of personality that incorporates both self-control and morality. Contributions to the proximal, state, perspectives reside in the use of a new hot/cool perspective of criminal decision making that extends rational choice frameworks.

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Notes

  1. We checked whether our sample differed significantly from the total student sample and found no significant differences between the two groups, except for emotionality (msample = 3.28 (sd = .55) vs mtotal = 3.40 (sd = .55), t(575) = 2.54, p = .01). Furthermore, psychology students tend to score relatively high on emotionality; the scores on emotionality of the subsample was more in line with the (lower) mean scores derived from a norm group from the wider population.

  2. Emotionality and Agreeableness are rotational variants of the Neuroticism and Agreeableness dimensions of the Big Five model (see: Lee and Ashton 2004).

  3. The four items of the fairness facet of the Honesty-Humility dimension, which is also represented in the HEXACO self-control scale (see below), showed predictor-criterion overlap (e.g., “I would never accept a bribe, even if it were very large”), which raises questions regarding the tautological nature of this facet. While we think this kind of overlap is best avoided, for several reasons we decided to retain the items in both the Honesty-Humility and HEXACO self-control scales. Most importantly, excluding the four items would eliminate the entire facet from the analyses, which may lead to erroneous conclusions regarding the direct and indirect effects of both personality variables on criminal choice. Furthermore, it should be noted that the items are attitudinal, not behavioral in nature and the measurement of personality was independent from the measurement of the mediator and outcome variables which reduces the peril of tautology. Note too that excluding them led to weaker effects, but both Honesty-Humility and HEXACO Self-Control remained significant predictors of criminal choice. Future research is advised, however, to use the 200-item version of the HEXACO personality inventory which includes additional Fairness items that do not show this overlap.

  4. To ensure comparability between the two scenarios, we examined the correlations between the same variables of both scenarios and between the correlations between the predictor and outcome variables for each scenario separately. Results indicate significant correlations between the same variables of each scenario (all r’s ≥ .31, p < . 001) and highly similar correlations between the predictor and outcome variables of both scenarios.

  5. The ML estimation for this model gave rise to one Heywood case (i.e., negative error variance) which was dealt with by setting its variance to zero as suggested by Dillon et al. (1987).

  6. One Heywood case was dealt with by setting its variance to zero.

  7. In the ML estimation for this model, three Heywood cases were dealt with by fixing their variances to zero.

  8. Please note that this is dependent on the measure of self-control used. This statement applies in particular to the measure based on the General Theory of Crime (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990).

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Correspondence to Jean-Louis van Gelder.

Appendix

Appendix

  1. 1.

    Just go with your feeling/brain

  2. 2.

    He is a[n] emotional/rational boy

  3. 3.

    He shared his deepest feelings/thoughts

  4. 4.

    She went to the bakery

  5. 5.

    You should really experience/analyze it

  6. 6.

    You must train your intuition/brains

  7. 7.

    She could really sense/understand it

  8. 8.

    The television brings the news

  9. 9.

    This does influence my mood/thinking

  10. 10.

    It is all about emotions/knowledge

  11. 11.

    She talks about her mood/logic

  12. 12.

    They sat at the table

  13. 13.

    He is a sensitive/sensible person

  14. 14.

    She made an affective/analytical impression

  15. 15.

    I had a certain sensation/insight

  16. 16.

    I took out the trash

  17. 17.

    My gut-feeling/calculation says it’s correct

  18. 18.

    He spoke from his heart/conviction

  19. 19.

    I could experience/understand it myself

  20. 20.

    Discussing the matter once again

  21. 21.

    According to his own experience/reasoning

  22. 22.

    Our choice was very impulsive/reasoned

  23. 23.

    He listened to the sentiment/analysis

  24. 24.

    They did the dishes later

  25. 25.

    It keeps engaging our emotions/minds

  26. 26.

    I sensed/realized it very quickly

  27. 27.

    They shared a certain temper/understanding

  28. 28.

    He wrote in his agenda

Note. In bold are the words related to emotion/cognition respectively. Note that the original sentences were phrased in Dutch. An attempt was made to translate literally into English while preserving the original meaning of the sentences as much as possible. Translation may have caused some changes in meaning and syntax.

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van Gelder, JL., de Vries, R.E. Rational Misbehavior? Evaluating an Integrated Dual-Process Model of Criminal Decision Making. J Quant Criminol 30, 1–27 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-012-9192-8

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Keywords

  • Delinquency
  • Deterrence
  • Negative affect
  • Dual-process
  • Rational choice