Barnum, T., Nagin, D. S., & Pogarsky, G. (2021). Sanction risk perceptions, coherence, and deterrence. Criminology, 2021, 1–29. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12266
Research from environmental criminology, policing, and related literatures consistently finds that objective conditions related to risk of apprehension affect crime. The mechanism underlying this relationship is not explicitly tested; instead, perceptual deterrence is assumed. In this analysis we explicitly investigate that mechanism. This test is not straightforward, however, as some research shows that risk perceptions are susceptible to various cognitive biases and framing effects. Thus, we advance a framework of sanction risk perception that combines individual and contextual determinants. Specifically, we investigate whether contextual factors materially influence risk perceptions and in turn intentions to offend after accounting for the influence of individual‐specific determinants. Our data come from an experimental survey on speeding (N = 1,919). Respondents viewed videos from the driver's perspective of a sedan speeding on a highway and provided estimates of sanction risk, safety perceptions, and behavioral intentions. Although sanction risk and safety perceptions for speeding varied widely across respondents, they remained grounded in the objective conditions of the experimental videos. In turn, citizen perceptions of apprehension risk were comparable with risk estimates elicited from state troopers after viewing the same videos. The results suggest deterrence and safety considerations are important contributing factors that help shape intentions to transgress.