Reconceptualizing deterrence: An empirical test of personal and vicarious experiences

Raymond Paternoster, Alex Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


In a recent article, Stafford and Warr (1993) presented a reconceptualization of the deterrence doctrine where general deterrence is taken to be the result of persons' vicarious experiences. Such vicarious experiences include, among other things, knowledge of the criminal activity of others and the consequences or lack of consequences of that activity. Specific deterrence is taken to be the result of persons' own personal experiences. These personal experiences include, among other things, own experience with punishment and punishment avoidance. In their reconceptualized deterrence theory, persons may concurrently be subject to both general and specific deterrent effects, some persons may be affected more by one type of deterrence than the other, and the two types of deterrent effects may reinforce one another. In addition, they argue that their version of deterrence theory promises some insight into current controversies in the literature. In this article, the authors first review and expand Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of deterrence, and then subject some central hypotheses to empirical test. Although the authors' data are modest and cannot test all of the implications of Stafford and Warr's argument, the findings indicate that Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization promises to be a fruitful line of inquiry for those interested in the development of deterrence theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-286
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995

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