Updated Oct 28, 2014

Rational Choice Theory Assumptions

The Rational Choice Theory is the application of utilitarian principles in criminology. The theory argues that humans are rational beings. Humans evaluate the costs and consequences of possible actions. This evaluation serves as basis for the decision and action of the person, such as in committing a crime. The basic assumptions of the Rational Choice Theory are briefly presented as follows:

1. Every Person uses Rational Choices

Every person is viewed as a rational actor. People use their logic to understand the situation. People use their logic to evaluate options. People also use their logic to decide on the best course of action.

Rational Choice Theory Assumptions

The Thinker depicts a person in deep thought. In the Rational Choice Theory, people think about actions and their consequences. (Image from Daniel Stockman)

2. Rationality is used in Evaluating Means and Ends

Each decision and resulting action involves the analysis of the means of achieving certain ends. The Rational Choice Theory also states that people use reason to analyze what these ends could/should be. People also use their reason to think about the means or ways of achieving these ends.

3. Behaviors are Results of Cost-Benefit, Pleasure-Pain Analysis

When people evaluate options, they look at costs and benefits, or pain and pleasure. For instance, they analyze the costs and possible pain of doing a certain activity. They also analyze the benefits and pleasure of the results of that activity. Usually, one chooses the option that presents the least cost or pain, and the most benefit or pleasure.

4. Government can Use the Rational Choice Theory

The Rational Choice Theory implies that the environment can be changed to influence individual decisions. For example, the government can impose harsher punishment for crimes or delinquency. Harsher punishment discourages people from committing crime or delinquency. This is so because it would make the pain/cost more significant and the pleasure/benefit remains just about the same.


  • Hastie, R., & Dawes, R. M. (Eds.). (2010). Rational choice in an uncertain world: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision-Making. Sage.
  • Wortley, R., & Mazerolle, L. (Eds.). (2013). Environmental criminology and crime analysis. Willan.
First published Sep 13, 2013. Updated Oct 28, 2014.