Examining the Direct and Indirect Effects of Fear and Anger on Criminal Decision Making Among Known Offenders

Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2015 Dec;59(13):1385-408. doi: 10.1177/0306624X14539126. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


Deterrence represents the central theoretical core of the American criminal justice system, yet relatively little attention has been paid to how emotions like fear and anger may relate to deterrence. Psychological research has debated whether negative emotions each have similar impacts on decision making (valence approaches) or if distinct emotions have unique impacts (appraisal tendency approaches). This study explores the direct and indirect influences of fear and anger on hypothetical drunk driving likelihood, including their impact on cost perceptions. Surveys were administered to 1,013 male and female incarcerated felony offenders in the Southwestern United States. Using a multivariate path model and controlling for a number of other individual factors, current fear related to increased cost perceptions and anger to decreased costs. Anger also maintained a direct influence on drunk driving, whereas fear did not. Despite their shared negative valence, fear and anger appear to have dissimilar influences on cost perceptions and criminal decision making. A better understanding of these processes may lead to improved crime prevention approaches.

Keywords: anger; decision making; deterrence; emotion; fear.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anger*
  • Criminal Behavior
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Driving Under the Influence / psychology*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires