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Centre for Analytic Criminology


The theme for the meeting is Criminology in the New Era: Confronting Injustice and Inequalities.


Testing Situational Action Theory I: Individual characteristics and the perception choice process

 This panel presents fours papers applying Situational Action Theory (SAT) to questions about the interaction between crime propensity and criminogenic exposure in crime causation, with a focus on the perception-choice process and the role of key individual differences, including gender, heart-rate and neurocognitive capacities. Data for these papers come from large-scale studies in Sweden and the UK and demonstrate the applicability of SAT to help clarify the relationships between well-known but poorly explained risk factors and crime, through consideration of the processes that link people and places to action.  


Paper 1: Explaining Within and Between Gender Differences in Crime Involvement. A Question of Morality and Life-Styles?

 Anna-Karin Ivert, Marie Torstensson Levander, Malmö University

Per-Olof H Wikström, University of Cambridge

 Situational Action Theory (SAT) explains people’s acts of crime as an outcome of the interaction between their crime propensity (dependent on their personal morals and ability to exercise self-control) and their criminogenic exposure (dependent on the criminogenic circumstances of the settings in which they take part). In this paper, utilising UK (PADS+) and Swedish (MINDS) data for the ages 15-16, we will explore cross-nationally to what extent the SAT framework can help explain within and between gender differences in young people’s crime involvement.


Paper 2: The Situational Action Theory’s ‘Perception-Choice Process’: A Bayesian Application On Randomized Vignettes

 Alberto Chrysoulakis, Malmö University

 According to the Situational Action Theory, the “perception-choice process” is the explicit mechanism explaining how the interaction between an individual and a setting might render in a rule-breaking act. One way of studying the process has been through a randomized vignette approach. Prior research has generally found that crime prone individuals assessing criminogenic settings are more likely to choose rule-breaking alternatives. However, less is known if this association also holds when comparing an individual with him-/herself over two time points. Using data from the longitudinal project Malmö Individual and Neighbourhood Development Study (a replication of PADS+), this study examines if individuals who report stability [or change] in level of crime propensity also report stability [or change] in the assessment of vignettes. Furthermore, scholars have recently challenged the view that self-reported accounts of attitudes do not generalize to actual behaviour, proposing a Bayesian approach. This study follows the suggestions, and results are discussed against a backdrop of theoretical implications.


Paper 3: Exploring the Link Between Low Heart Rate and Criminal Behaviour from an Analytical Perspective

 Marija Pajevic, University of Cambridge

 Although low resting heart rate is often cited as “the best-replicated biological correlate” of antisocial behaviour, this association remains unexplained. It has been proposed that fearlessness or sensation-seeking behaviour may mediate this link, but these hypotheses have been subjected to scarce empirical verifications yielding mixed results. Therefore, employing Situational Action Theory as a theoretical framework, it is hypothesized that a person’s crime propensity mediates the relationship between heart rate and crime. This study set out to explore the mechanism underlying this association in a sample of 487 adolescents. Participants completed self-report measures of sensation-seeking, fearlessness, crime propensity, and criminal behaviour, and their heart rate was measured at rest and in response to a stressor. Crime involvement was significantly associated only with heart rate reactivity, whereas the link with resting heart rate was non-significant. Out of the three models with fearlessness, sensation-seeking, and crime propensity as potential mediators, only crime propensity completely mediated the link between heart rate reactivity and crime, rendering the direct effect of heart rate reactivity nonsignificant. The results highlight the benefits of employing an analytical approach in biosocial criminology that focuses on the causes of crime, instead of staying within the prevalent correlational and risk factor paradigm.


Paper 4: Bad habits: Unconscious processes and criminal decision making

 Kyle Treiber, University of Cambridge

In contrast to many theories of crime causation, Situational Action Theory argues that many criminal decisions may be driven more by unconscious than conscious processes. This paper will focus on these unconscious processes, their key role in moral choices, and implications for exercising self-control. It will draw on rich data available from the Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study (PADS+), which includes neurocognitive and neurogenetic data, to explore individual differences in key cognitive capacities and their link to criminal behaviour. 



This panel presents four papers testing aspects of Situational Action Theory relating to the role of the social context in crime causation, including the school and neighbourhood contexts. These papers apply novel methods to questions about moral contexts, collective efficacy, and their interaction with individual propensities. They include research from the UK, the USA and China, demonstrating the applicability of SAT across different social contexts.


Paper 1: Disentangling school climate: Explaining problem and criminal behaviour in schools through the analytical lens of Situational Action Theory

 Liam McSharry, University of Cambridge

 Decades of criminological and education research has identified numerous characteristics of both individuals and schools that are associated with problem and criminal behaviour.  These factors, which include the social and economic status of pupils, school policy and pupil-teacher relationships amongst many others, are often grouped together under the name ‘school-climate’.  At present, school climate is tangled concept that is isolated form wider explanations of criminal behaviour.  There is no consensus as to exactly what school climate is, the factors that affect it and how it affects pupil behaviour.  What is needed is now is a mechanistic explanation of problem and criminal behaviour in schools, which identifies the situational causes as well as the developmental ‘causes of the causes’.  Situational Action Theory (SAT), with its situational and developmental mechanisms, provides a clear causal explanation of criminal behaviour in all environments.  The hypotheses of SAT are tested in the school context with data from School and Community Environment Survey.


Paper 2: A Multi-Level Analysis of Adolescent Crime: Testing and Extending Situation Action Theory

 Anastasiia Kuptsevych-Timmer, University of Miami

 This study applies Situational Action Theory (SAT) to examination of direct and cross-level effects of individual criminal propensity and main characteristics of the school context (i.e. sanctioning and moral climates) on various types of adolescent delinquency. It also extends the SAT central proposition on the propensity-environment interaction by including other potentially important contextual characteristics of the school setting. The study uses recently collected multi-level survey data from 2,395 middle and high school students from several metropolitan areas in the United States (ISRD Wave III) and employs multi-level modeling to test its hypotheses. Consistent with SAT, its findings reveal significant direct effects of individual self-control and morality on different types of youth crime. Results concerning the school-level direct and interactional effects are mixed. Notably, they show the importance of exploring novel factors representing the school context (e.g., a thoughtfully reflective climate of the school) to provide a more comprehensive multi-level explanation of adolescent criminal behavior. Overall, the results of this research may help evaluate and design more effective policies aimed at preventing youth criminal behavior.


Paper 3: What is behind the low crime rate in Asian countries: A study of Chinese adolescents

 Xiaoya Xun, University of Cambridge

Crime rates are generally low in Asia countries, such as Japan and China. Empirical research from Japan indicates the low crime rate is associated with a culture of shame and collectivism, while studies in China show it may be related to self-control. However, none of these studies succeed in giving an answer about causation, and it is too general to say cultural differences cause lower crime rates in Eastern versus Western countries. This paper presents research following a group of 588 Chinese adolescents for three years (14-16 years old). Using the framework of SAT, this study has found that high morality may help explain low crime rates in China; young people with high morality don’t see crime as an option. Thus, external provocation and criminogenic environments do not lead them to become involved in crime. Self-control may not even be activated, which may explain why some empirical research in China has found self-control theory inadequate for explaining low rates of crime.


Paper 4: The Dynamics of Collective Efficacy in Action: Does Ambient Collective Efficacy Within a Setting Influence Individual Willingness to Intervene?

 Sam Cole, University of Cambridge

Sampson et al.’s (1997) concept of Collective Efficacy (CE) has been used in socio-spatial research as a measure of the common rules and their level of enforcement within an urban setting. Measures of CE are tethered to the home neighbourhood; but little research has been done to consider how CE is perceived by visitors to a setting. This paper analyses the extent to which the ambient level of CE (2012 measure) within a setting conditions respondents’ willingness to engage in acts of social control through their perception of CE within that setting. The study employed Wikström et al.’s (2012) Space-Time Budget combined with a scenario methodology to assess whether the level of measured CE within a setting was discernible to, and influenced the behaviour of, users of that setting. Initial analysis has found that within commercial and employment settings, frequency of use and familiarity with context were more influential in shaping propensity to intervene, limiting the explanatory power of CE to residential contexts. 


Wednesday, 13 November, 2019 - 00:00 to Saturday, 16 November, 2019 - 00:00
Event location: 
San Francisco Marriott Marquis