Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Chae Jaynes, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

John Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mateus Rennó-Santos, Ph.D.


context, mediation, moderation, offending, rational choice


Rational Choice (RC) theory has become one of the most influential theories in criminology and social science with a wide body of empirical support indicating that offending is associated with anticipated costs and benefits. Although RC theory has been widely researched and supported, one area that is largely underemphasized in this theory’s discourse is morality. The present study draws on a sample of undergraduate students from a large southeastern university using a drinking and driving scenario to extend the RC literature theoretically and methodologically.

The theoretical results indicate that, consistent with prior literature, morality, certainty, and severity were directly, inversely related to willingness to offend (WTO). In sum, those with high morals are less likely to offend regardless of context. In fact, context-specific variables did not significantly predict WTO, supporting a moderating hypothesis. Consistent with this idea, results show that morality moderates situational risk such that those who heard about a police presence from the news were more likely to offend. Morality also moderates situational context such that with low morals were more likely to offend if they were in an unfamiliar bar.

Regarding mediation, results show that morality partially mediated cost certainty’s effect on WTO, indicating that punishment of any kind shapes moral belief. Finally, substantive differences were not found when the dependent variable, WTO, is operationalized in different ways and analyzed in different models. Taken together, results of this study suggest a need for researchers to focus on theoretical frameworks that consider context-specific measures, rather than general measures. Theoretical implications and directions for future research are discussed.