Journal of Experimental Criminology

Justin T. Pickett, Thomas A. Loughran, Shawn Bushway*


Objectives: Scholars have long emphasized that communicating, or “advertising”, information about legal sanction risk is necessary for the success of deterrence-based crime policies. However, scant research has evaluated whether direct communications about legal risk can cause sanction perception updating, the updating of ambiguity in sanction perceptions, or changes in persons’ willingness to offend. No prior studies have evaluated sanction perception updating for white-collar crimes.
Methods: To address this research void, the current study analyzes data from an experiment embedded in a recent national survey (N = 878). Multivariate regression models estimate the effect of providing participants with information about the “objective” arrest risk for white-collar offenses on their sanction perceptions.
Results: The findings provide the first evidence that such information, when it is inconsistent with individuals’ prior beliefs, causes them to update: (1) their perceptions of the certainty of arrest; (2) their ambiguity about arrest risk; and, indirectly, (3) their willingness to commit white-collar crimes.
Conclusions: The results imply that individuals are willing to incorporate relevant information into their subjective beliefs about sanction risks. Importantly, however, they also make meaningful distinctions about the value of new information for understanding criminal risks.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates and Staff