Vanderbilt Law Review


Hannah Frank

First Page



According to the traditional rational choice theory of criminal behavior, people choose to commit crimes in a rational manner.' They weigh the costs and benefits and make informed decisions to maximize their utility. Under this framework, the state can deter crime through two main avenues: increasing the probability of detection and increasing the punishment if caught, both of which increase the total cost of committing a crime. Recently, however, behavioral insights have begun to cast doubt on traditional rationality assumptions. Lab experiments and empirical studies using real-world data have shown that people exhibit bounded rationality. For example, individuals have limited cognitive capacities and use heuristics-mental shortcuts-to simplify complex decisions. A clear understanding about when and how these behavioral biases come into play can open up a new range of policy tools and help inform a more accurate model of criminal decisionmaking and deterrence