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IBS Speaker Series: “Structural Predictors of Individual Perceptions and Preferences: Testing a Multilevel Rational Choice Theory of Offending”

September 14, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Zoom link: https://cuboulder.zoom.us/j/98876839061 – email ibs-contact@colorado.edu for password.

Kyle Thomas

Presentation Video

Abstract: Several scholars have argued that rational choice theories offer an individual theory of action well-suited to link macro and micro determinants of behavior (e.g., Coleman, 1990). The argument is that selected structural characteristics influence individual behavior by affecting subjective expectations (i.e., perceptions) of potential outcomes resulting from an action, as well as individuals’ preferences (the weight that individuals place on those expectations when making behavioral choices). In this presentation, I discuss and empirically test a rational choice model that links objective and perceived structural characteristics at the macro level to the (dis)incentives thought to be considered in a potential offender’s choice calculus. I argue that characteristics associated with structural disadvantage are associated with information that “signals” to individuals that the risks and costs associated with arrest are low, while the potential rewards to crime are high. Further, I predict that those residing in areas characterized by structural, economic and educational disadvantage can shift individuals’ preferences associated with crime, leading individuals to be more tolerant of the risks and costs, and more responsive to the social and intrinsic rewards associated with offending. Using data from the Pathways to Desistance study, the results largely support the hypotheses: block group concentrated disadvantage is associated with lowered perceptions of arrest risk and informal social costs, but higher perceptions of anticipated social rewards. These effects, however, are almost entirely accounted for by individuals’ perceptions of neighborhood disorder and access to employment opportunities. The perceptual neighborhood measures are also associated with a greater tolerance for arrest risk and social costs, and a greater preference for the rewards associated with crime.

Bio: Kyle Thomas is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland in 2015. His research focuses on offender decision making, the influence of peers on offending, and testing criminological theories.


September 14, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Prevention Science Program