Are Criminals Rational Decision Makers?


There is apparently no single reward for all criminals in society. Owing to the psychological and emotional drivers, some individuals commit crime from a reasonable decision-making process while others commit crime. Therefore, an attempt to address this question by offering a yes or no in any sense will not be satisfactory.

Rational Decision-Makers

As a consequence of reasonable decision-making, individuals who commit a crime weigh all choices and find crime as the best option available, making them criminals by choice. These people are considered to have made a rational decision to commit a crime without any factor that could influence them in making decisions they would otherwise not have made under different circumstances.

Psychological and Emotional Drivers

Persons who commit a crime as a result of either psychological or emotional drivers, on the other hand, are those engaged in crime after being compelled by some factors some of which are outside their control. This category of people has either people or circumstances around them to blame for the decisions they take. The circumstances could be social, political or economic and engage in crime according to them they are compelled by these factors.

Commission of Crime

In both cases, however, there is a commission of a crime and the motivation in all cases cannot be used as a justifiable means for the commission of a crime. That is the reason why a person is deemed to have committed a crime regardless of their excuse for doing so.


An example of someone who may commit a crime as a result of a rational decision is one who has a family to feed and children to take to school yet he has no source of income. The person may feel that they have limited options to meet their obligation of providing for the family. They are them left to ponder between letting go their responsibilities as providers in the family and engaging in criminal activity. This person although engaging in criminal activity, may be doing so purely because he has no choice and feels he will use the proceeds from his criminal activity for a just cause (Mkoren, 2017). A person, therefore, makes a rational decision to engage in crime. Among other options, this person believes that crime is the best in achieving the objective of supporting his family.

On the other hand, a young person without any major responsibilities may choose to engage in criminal activities as a way of revenging, or expressing dissatisfaction to the society. The young person may be out to revenge the death of his close relatives caused by civil war or political reasons. It may even be a case where a person dogged by poverty is trying to express anger to the society due to the economic imbalance (Morçöl, 2007). This person then targets the rich whom he may blame for his poverty. In this case, the person will be engaging in crime because of emotional drivers. This kind of a person would therefore not have engaged in crime were it not for the underlying factors. The state of mind of such a person may influence their choice to commit crime and so they are not acting entirely in a rational manner.


It is, therefore, my conclusion that criminals are driven by both rational decisions making as well as psychological and emotional drivers. There is no single factor that drives people into committing crime but diverse factors depending on the individuals involved. Each crime is committed by a person who is driven by a unique factor and so to answer the question as to whether criminals are rational decision makers or they are controlled by psychological and emotional drivers, I would say it depends on the particular person engaged in crime.


Mkoren. "Are criminals rational decision makers, or are they motivated by uncontrollable psychological and emotional drives?" eNotes, 2 Nov. 2017, Accessed on December 5, 2017.

Morçöl, G. (2007). Handbook of decision making. Boca Raton: CRC/Taylor & Francis.

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