Criminology What Was the Rational Choice Theory  Essay

  • Length: 5 pages
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  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #51868696

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What was the "rational choice theory" of crime causation?

The "rational choice theory" of crime causation holds that crime is consciously committed out of an intellectual desire to improve one's situation. Accordingly, the theory does not believe that delinquents are motivated through unconscious urges, but instead contends that people are goal-oriented. Another implication of the theory is that everyone, regardless of their neurological profile, has the ability to act in a rational manner. It also does not draw a distinction between adults and children, suggesting that all people have the innate ability to intellectualize the consequences of their actions. In this regard, criminals act only after judging the crime to be the most beneficial means through which to realize their objective. They believe that the costs or potentially negative consequences associated with the action are not as great as the benefits resulting from said action. The "rational choice theory" maintains that no action or decision is inherently moral or immoral, but rather that all actions carry with them particular costs and benefits that must be considered.

Because the theory holds that no action is inherently moral or immoral, the "rational choice theory" is not motivated by ethics, nor does it subscribe to the belief that there is an a priori framework for ethical conduct. The theory does not believe that it is only criminals who act in this regard; everyone weighs the consequences of their actions before committing them, but different people will arrive at varying consequences, which is why all people do not act in the same manner. Therefore, the particular motivations that people have for committing a crime are multifaceted; someone may act out of a desire to acquire more money, or they may act out of a need to satisfy a sexual urge. Ultimately, the "rational choice theory" contends that crime is the result of a criminal's intellectual decision to improve their situation and satisfy their predetermined objectives.

Part 2: What is the "nature vs. nurture" controversy?

The "nature vs. nurture" controversy (as it applies to criminology) addresses whether crime is genetically determined or whether it is the result of a person's upbringing and living situation. Additionally, the "nature vs. nurture" debate is similar to the "rational choice theory" in that it is applicable to subjects distinct from criminology, including sexual orientation. However, the essence of the nature theory is the belief that people's personality is predetermined, while the nurture theory maintains that a person's personality traits are the result of their upbringing, including their family interactions, education, and interpersonal relationships.

The "nature vs. nurture" controversy has never been resolved since close examination of criminals reveals that they typically support both sides of the debate. For example, it is common for criminals to have relatives who were also criminals, or at least who share central personality traits. A criminal who is aggressive and incorrigible is likely to have relatives who were similarly aggressive, suggesting that the criminal's conduct was simply a result of a genetic predisposition.

While most delinquents appear to have a genetic predisposition to criminal behavior, it must also be acknowledged that the vast majority of delinquents also share many environmental factors. Most criminals come from troubled family and environmental backgrounds. They are often shunned by their peers and their social rejection breeds feelings of repression and inadequacy. In many cases, the criminal activity that occurs later in life constitutes a return of the repressed and a revolt against the social rejection experienced in their upbringing. Generally, criminals also come from unsupportive family backgrounds, with parents who neglect them and do not consider their best interests. It is also common for delinquents to have been abused (physically, mentally, or verbally) by their family. Because both nurture and nature appear to play a strong role in delinquent activity, it is appropriate to consider delinquent activity as resulting from the interplay between the two factors.

Part 3: Describe David Matza's Three Important Concepts

Sociologist David Matza has three important concepts relating to delinquent behavior. The first concept is the drift theory, which states that all individuals choose their actions in a rational manner, similar to the "rational choice theory." Indeed, the drift theory is a refinement of the "rational choice theory," classifying the types of choices that people make in terms of how they relate to the law. Matza contends that while actions are made consciously, most people's actions drift at will between lawful and criminal behavior. Even people who are not classified as delinquents nevertheless engage in deviant behavior from time to time.

The implication of the drift theory is that while people may have governing principles to which they try and adhere, no one can always adhere to their behavioral objectives. Matza's theory also accounts for principles of psychoanalytic theory; while Matza argues that people's decisions are made consciously, he implicitly acknowledges that these same conscious decisions can run counter to a person's usual conduct.

The second of Matza's concepts refers to subterranean values, which is characterized by the impulses that people have for values that can lead to criminal activity. Matza argues that this desire is universal and shared by those who are not identified as delinquents by society. These attributes refer to the desire for stimulation, aggression, and excitation shared by everyone. The label of "subterranean values" refers to the manner in which most people are able to keep these criminal urges from manifesting in public, either through acting on them in private, repressing them, or sublimating them. Oftentimes, people have deviant or illicit urges (sexual fetishes, etc.) that they act upon while in private, but delinquents are characterized by acting upon these urges at inappropriate times. For example, a delinquent may act aggressively in the classroom, or make sexual overtures while in a restaurant or other public setting. In sum, delinquents are unable to keep their subterranean values restrained and sublimated.

The third of Matza's values is neutralization, which refers to the way in which criminals convince themselves that their actions are acceptable. Matza argues that everyone is aware of the distinction between proper and illicit activity; "neutralization" refers to the practices by which they justify their behavior, convincing themselves that the law does not apply to them in the particular instance in which they commit deviant behavior. These include blaming others, excusing their behavior on the basis that it has beneficial consequences.

Part 4: Define the concept of psychopathology, using the case study of Jeffrey Dahmer

The psychopath is a person who engages in extreme activity that is impossible to regulate. Psychopaths are similar to other delinquents in that they often come from difficult family dynamics and have troubled upbringings. In many cases, psychopaths appear normal, and their actions (regardless of how extreme they are) are typically planned and tightly scripted. The illicit activity exhibited by psychopaths is conducted in an emotionless, mechanical manner that offers no sympathy for their actions. An additional characteristic of psychopaths is that they have an inability to empathize with other people and are extremely ego-centric. Psychopaths have few friendships and a lack of intimacy or love interests. They are easily angered and driven by intense cravings; however, it is believed that they are consciously aware of their actions at all times, justifying their actions through elevated egotism and a belief that the law does not apply.

There are a number of different types of psychopaths. Primary psychopaths are the most extreme; they are purpose-driven and incapable of feeling any emotion. Another form of psychopath is the secondary psychopath, which is characterized by greater levels of anxiety and neurosis. Unlike primary psychopaths, secondary ones feel guilty and remorseful for their actions, but are simply unable to control their criminal urges. Distempered psychopaths are those who exhibit extreme changes in behavior; they are irascible. Charismatic psychopaths…

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