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Journal Article

Situational Peer Dynamics and Crime Decisions


Barnum,  Timothy
Criminology, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law, Max Planck Society;

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Barnum, T., & Pogarsky, G. (2022). Situational Peer Dynamics and Crime Decisions. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. doi:10.1177/00224278211070498.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-CD94-9
Objectives: To investigate how peer dynamics, specifically interpersonal conversations between a potential offender and a peer, contemporaneous with a crime opportunity, influence perceptions of sanction certainty and social costs. Methods: Data are analyzed from randomized experiments and hypothetical vignettes embedded within a nationwide, online survey (n =1,275). Vignettes were presented for three distinct crime opportunities, drunk driving, fighting, and insurance fraud. Results: The findings suggest that respondents adjust two core decision-making perceptions—the perceived certainty of being legally sanctioned and perceived social costs such as stigma or embarrassment—in accord with the content of verbal communications from peers. There is evidence for this both between and within subjects. Conclusions: The study underscores the importance of accounting for both physical and social features of the situational context for crime in models of offender decision making. Implications are drawn regarding the social milieu for offender decision making, and the broader criminological relevance of choice principles.