Testing Theories of Criminal Decision Making: Some Empirical Questions about Hypothetical Scenarios

  • M. Lyn Exum
  • Jeffrey A. Bouffard


To study criminal decision making, researchers often present participants with a written vignette describing a hypothetical offense.Participants are then asked to self-report their likelihood of engaging in the offense, as well as their perceptions of the certainty and severity of various consequences. In this chapter, we examine two criticisms of the hypothetical scenario methodology. First, we consider whether self-reported intentions to offend are valid proxies for real-world criminal behavior. Second, we explore the possibility that researchers are inadvertently influencing perceptions of the costs and benefits of crime by providing participants with a predetermined list of consequences to consider. Using original datasets collected to examine these issues, we find that measurement error and methodological artifacts emerge when using hypothetical scenarios. Throughout the chapter, we balance the advantages to using hypothetical scenarios against the limitations of the methodology and the need for future research to better understand the validity of this technique.


Hypothetical Scenario White Collar Crime Rational Choice Theory Endorsement Rate Academic Cheat 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Lyn Exum
    • 1
  • Jeffrey A. Bouffard
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Criminal Justice & CriminologyUniversity of North Carolina CharlotteCharlotteUSA
  2. 2.College of Criminal JusticeSam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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