Peer Language Use and Criminal Decision-Making: An Experimental Study Testing Framing Effects of Peer Messages
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Criminal decision-making tends to occur in social contexts. There is evidence that the decision to commit a crime is often preceded by verbal communication, however, relatively little is known about the mechanisms through which conversations affect offending decisions. In this study, we applied rational choice theory, prospect theory, and need to belong theory to investigate the role of peer language use on offending decisions. We tested the hypothesis that peer messages framed as social gains and social losses would increase the likelihood and perceived worth of engaging in criminal activity. Moreover, based on prospect theory’s loss aversion principle, we hypothesized that this increase would be greater for peer messages framed as social losses. We recruited 313 North American young adults (ages 18-24) to participate in an online randomized experiment. We found that peer verbal prompts framed as social gains and social losses increased the likelihood of stealing. Although this increase was not larger for social loss framed messages, our results showed that social loss aversion, or the fear of losing belonging, significantly predicted all offending outcomes. Moreover, the effects of social loss framing on likelihood and perceived worth of stealing were significantly mediated by fear of losing acceptance. This study substantiates that peer language use plays a significant role in offending decisions and provides support for the social loss aversion principle. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.
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Natanela Dain (2023). Peer Language Use and Criminal Decision-Making: An Experimental Study Testing Framing Effects of Peer Messages. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19483