Rational Choice Theory & Latent Trait Theory

Published: 2021-06-18 10:45:05
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Similarities and Differences a. Rational Choice Theory & Latent Trait Theory History of Criminology In the middle ages people who sullied common models were viewed as sorceresses or mad of an evil spirit. The methods used to ascertain a confession were torture, corporal punishment or execution. By the mid-eighteenth century, social academics began to reason for a more rational method to reprimand. They desired to quell the cruelty in punishment by matching crime and the punishment that came with it. As a result many different scientific experts are involved in the study of criminality.
This is why criminology is considered an interdisciplinary field of study. These diverse disciplines include psychology, economics, political science, natural science, biology and the evolution and development of people. Criminology got its start in Europe around 1700s-1800s. What birthed during this time was classical belief of criminality. The founder of classical criminology, Cesare Beccaria, believed that criminals made a rational choice to commit a crime and that the punishment should fit the crime that was committed. This approach was to stave off the amount of torture going on in this time period.
It was a way to level the playing field of crime and punishment. Then came positivist criminology with the belief that certain traits within a person can determine criminal behavior—either biosocial or psychological traits. “Criminology combines social action data with criminal activity to understand motive and determine appropriate consequences. As such, criminology is necessary for the proper development and execution of criminal justice systems. From the case development to long after the verdict, criminologists are responsible for understanding why criminals do what they do.
Through this information people will be safer, better understood and justly punished for crimes. The ultimate motive behind criminology though, is the prevention of crime” (Sanders). Rational Choice Theory Rational choice theory is derived from the classical criminology model in that it holds the similar belief that criminals choose criminality cognitively. “…criminals are rational actors who plan their crimes, can be controlled by the fear of punishment, and deserve to be penalized for their misdeeds” (Siegel 2011).
According to this theory, these people purposely violate the law after well-planned schemes devised aforetime. They act these crimes out with little regard for the possible punishment they would receive should they get caught. Several factors come into place when choosing to commit their crime. The personal ones consist of making money from the act, pay back against someone they think may have wronged them or someone close to them or just for the shear excitement and arousal they get from it. The joy they get from committing crime can be equated to a drug or alcohol induced high.
In situations like this in their mind the reward far outweighs the punishment if caught. To the rational choice theorist, these decisions are cognitive in nature and done out of an impulsive mind; but one that is sound though criminal. “Rational choice theory and its assumptions about human behavior have been integrated into numerous criminological theories and criminal justice interventions… 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” (Wright). Evaluating the Risks of Crime An assessment is made by the criminal before the act of criminality is committed. Some in society have a misconception about criminals—some not all. Those who believe that criminals are just blithely ignorant people who just can’t do anything else, but violate the law are quite ignorant themselves. Rational choice theorists examine the mind or rationale of these criminals by how they prepare.
There are checks and balances to every crime as believed by choice theorists. Cerebral criminals cautiously select objects, and their actions is methodical and discerning. For example a burglar is in this case is going to choose something that is not only worth money, but worth his/her time to even contemplate. For them the reward has to outweigh the risk. The risks that do come into play or the measures by which crime has to be weighed against are the likelihood of getting caught and the punishment for this particular crime. Embarrassment by their circle of friends and family or fellow criminals.
Their reputation as a thief among those of ill repute. “People who decide to get involved in crime compare the chances of arrest (based on their past experiences) with the subjective psychic rewards of crime (including the excitement and social status it brings and perceived opportunities for easy gains)” (Siegel 2011). Offense- and Offender-Specific Crime Rational choice theorists view crime in two specific ways. One is offense-specific—this when criminal has a discriminatory response to physiognomies of a certain illegal deed.
For example a burglar, in this case, will take into consideration how well the target is lit if at night; are there police nearby on patrol; is there a neighborhood watch or can the neighbors see the target house well; are there any dogs; or is it still occupied. These are just some the risk assessments these cognitive choice criminals make before committing a criminal act. It is very important for them to not get caught. They have already figured in the cost of getting caught by either the cops or the owner being home and possibly armed.
The other is offender-specific—this is an offender’s self-evaluation of their abilities, reasons, desires, and qualms before determining to act out criminally. These offenders takes an introspective look to assess varying aspects like do they the necessary skills to even pull off the crime; do they really need the money they could get from this particular crime (does the benefit overshadow the cost); do they have the right tools to successfully commit the crime; will they be able to turn a profit from the items; are they physically fit enough to complete the crime; would they be able to outwit the police in a getaway?
Careful examination goes into consideration and evaluation for cognitive choice criminality is executed. Latent Trait Theory Latent trait theorists believe that in some criminals there is an intrinsic predisposition resident either from birth or early in their childhood that possibly is the reason for their criminal or deviant behavior. They further believe this disposition increases the propensity for criminal behavior rather than civil behavior either by some mental deficiency or chemical defect in the brain or maybe even a physical abnormality in the brain.
Moreover, they include drug usage, maybe by the parents or a possible injury of sorts. In any case latent trait theorists hold this belief that these traits influence criminality in these individuals. “regardless of gender or environment, those who maintain one of these suspect traits may be predisposed to crime and in danger of becoming career criminals; those who lack the traits have a much lower risk” (Siegel 2011). Crime and Human Nature Social scientists, James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein, believe that “all human behavior whether criminal or non-criminal is based upon perceived consequences” (Siegel 2011).
This means that people who aren’t necessarily governed by criminality can, if the opportunity presented itself, commit a crime. Conversely, they say that people with a criminal bent don’t always commit crime, especially if the high risk involved. In essence, these choices to commit a crime comes from a latent character trait within these individuals and maybe you and me. People how wouldn’t ordinarily commit a crime might find an opportunity to do so too irresistible to pass up. These latent trait theorists believe that’s when the latent trait takes over cause one to act impulsively at an opportunity.
General Theory of Crime According to Hirschi and Gottfredson, the general theory of crime is believed that most criminality is impulsive; and with a lack of self-control (Siegel 2011). Their studies show that people with low self-control have propensity to act out impulsively. It doesn’t necessarily mean they become criminal as much as it means that most criminals operate should an opportunity present itself. Compulsive desire is a major contributor to deviant behavior and criminal acts. They believe that delinquents do not simply commit crime on a whim, but rather choosing to take advantage of an opportunity.
They are not necessarily career criminals as much as they are individuals, typically males, with low self-control. It is also believed these tendencies can either be learned or caused by some sort of biology or socialization. Children of parents with the same low character can be greatly influenced into deviant behavior. This doesn’t mean they automatically become criminals, but it can lead to this type of acted out behavior if not dealt with at an early age. Children learn to cope by watching how their parent or authority figure in their lives copes with life.
The learned behavior can seemingly be purported by deviant parents who display a deviant or criminal lifestyle in front of their children or maybe the child is born with some sort of mental deficit. “General theory assumes that self-control is a function of socialization and parenting, but some criminologists maintain it may also have a biological basis” (Siegel 2011). What they learn they repeat. It is also true of the community in which they live have an effect, whether positive or negative, on the formation of their character choices.
“They observed as the self-control is formed by the nurturing method of the parents when juveniles were younger, and emphasized on the roles of parents in childhood by observing as the continuous tendency would be made after the adolescence, once self-control is formed” (Jaejung). At this point it is an intrinsic nature that is passed from one generation to the next. Unless the cycle is broken a member of the either this society or a particular family it will continue. However, the greatest influence or impressions do come from the parents of these deviant persons.
These are the people they see and admire or for whom they have disdain—parental or guardian sway has the most control. The community in which they live only stands to compound that sway. “…how juveniles were raised in what kind of environment from the parents, which is, the internal factors have the biggest effect on juvenile delinquencies and the external factors are the additional influences” (Jaejung). Society’s Response to Criminal Behavior – General Deterrence Criminals who choose the commit crimes whether by cognitive means or even by impulsiveness deterrence is a necessary countermeasure against criminal activity.
Punishment for criminality is one means to stave off criminal acts or at least deter them entirely. For some criminals knowing the type of punishment for the specific crime they intend to commit is enough of a deterrent for them not to go through with it. Others not so much. The reward itself is just enticing to disregard. “According to deterrence theory, not only the actual chance of punishment, but also the perception that punishment will be forthcoming, influences criminality” (Siegel 2011).
Certainty, severity, and swiftness of Punishment are good preventive measures when threat of capture, sentence, and limitation of freedom and access increases—typically the crime rate will or should drop. Some criminals just won’t commit a crime if they for sure they’re going to be arrested and detained or jailed. I know people whose wives have attempted to provoke them to hit them just so they can call the cops and have the husband arrested to teach them a lesson of sorts. However, the husband didn’t do for fear of knowing that they would be going to jail.
All three of these rates of punishment are believed to bring the crime threshold down. However, there are those criminals who just don’t care or are not swayed in the least about the recourse of their actions. They see the world as their pocket to pick. There’s probably no deterrence measure for them. Similarities and Differences Rational choice theorists and latent trait theorists parallel in belief that human behavior is determined by perceived consequences whether criminal or not. Both understand that different people process information in different ways. The information has to make sense before it can be used in any way.
Even in the mind of a criminal, the choices, rational or impulsive, have to meet a kind of standard of reason—it has to make sense to them—thought it might not make sense to the rest of the world. Morality to an antisocial individual is based upon how they view their environment to include the people in it as well—and both theorists share this concept. Where they differ is how punishment for committing crime viewed or perceived. Criminals who make rational choices to commit crime don’t see themselves as ever getting caught. This is skewed rational based on how they view the world.
This response can also be based on how these individuals may have witnessed others respond in the same circumstances when they were a youth. Seeing a parent or relative display this kind of arrogant behavior can have a lasting impression of how to cope when making such choices. Latent trait theorists believe that criminality is inevitable if given the opportunity exact it because this trait is innate and is governed by impulsiveness. Bottom line is rational choice criminality is always with mens rea whereas latent trait criminality isn’t necessarily with mens rea, but both do have actus reus.

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