In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rational Choice Theories

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Sources
  • Classical Theory
  • Economic Models
  • Psychological and Neurobiological Factors
  • Deterrence
  • Routine Activity Theory
  • Criminal Decision Making
  • Applications of Routine Activity Theory and Rational Choice
  • White-Collar Crime

Criminology Rational Choice Theories
John Paul Wright
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0007


Rational choice theory and its assumptions about human behavior have been integrated into numerous criminological theories and criminal justice interventions. Rational choice theory originated during the late 18th century with the work of Cesare Beccaria. Since then, the theory has been expanded upon and extended to include other perspectives, such as deterrence, situational crime prevention, and routine activity theory. The rational choice perspective has been applied to a wide range of crimes, including robbery, drug use, vandalism, and white-collar crime. In addition, neuropsychological literature shows that there are neurobiological mechanisms involved in our “rational choices.”

General Overviews

Cornish and Clarke 1986 includes numerous theoretical and empirical essays that describe the process of criminal decision making. Piquero and Tibbetts 2002 includes scholarly chapters that address a number of issues relating to rational choice theory, such as the methodological issues associated with rational choice and the integration of rational choice theory into other theories (such as feminist theory). This book also contains chapters that describe how rational choice can be applied to a number of criminal behaviors, such as organized crime, corporate crime, and violent behavior. Clarke and Felson 1993 includes a series of essays that apply rational choice to different types of crimes, and that discuss the integration of rational choice with other theories. In addition, this volume includes essays that discuss how opportunity structures and rational choice come together to create a criminal offense. Ariely 2008 discusses how human decision-making processes are more irrational than rational.

  • Ariely, Dan. 2008. Predictably irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions. New York: HarperCollins.

    Covers decision making from a general standpoint. Provides numerous examples of how people’s decisions are often more irrational than rational. In addition, the author discusses how various factors, such as sexual arousal and relativity, shape decision-making processes.

  • Clarke, Ronald V., and Marcus Felson, eds. 1993. Routine activity and rational choice. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

    Discusses how rational choice and routine activity theory can be applied to victimology, corporate crime, gun crimes, violent offending, political violence, and kidnapping. The second part of the book discusses how routine activity, opportunity structures, and decision-making processes lead to the commission of specific types of crimes.

  • Cornish, Derek B., and Ronald V. Clarke, eds. 1986. The reasoning criminal: Rational choice perspectives on offending. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    Contains a number of essays that are relevant to decision-making processes regarding crime. In particular, there is a chapter on Cornish and Clarke’s rational choice model, while other chapters discuss theoretical issues regarding rational choice theory. Further, the book includes chapters that empirically evaluate offenders’ decision-making processes for a variety of offenses, such as shoplifting and robbery.

  • Piquero, Alex R., and Stephen G. Tibbetts, eds. 2002. Rational choice and criminal behavior: Recent research and future challenges. New York: Routledge.

    Contains essays regarding the integration of rational choice with traditional criminological theories. In addition, there are chapters that apply rational choice to a host of antisocial behaviors at a theoretical, empirical, and practical level.

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