Self-control theory of crime

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The self-control theory of crime, often referred to as the general theory of crime, is a criminological theory about the lack of individual self-control as the main factor behind criminal behavior. The self-control theory of crime suggests that individuals who were ineffectually parented before the age of ten develop less self-control than individuals of approximately the same age who were raised with better parenting.[1] Research has also found that low levels of self-control are correlated with criminal and impulsive conduct.[1]

The theory was originally developed by criminologists Travis Hirschi and Michael Gottfredson,[2] but has since been subject to a great deal of theoretical debate and a large and growing empirical literature.[3][4]

Theory and background[edit]

Springing from interest in bonding theory, Hirschi—in co-operation with Gottfredson—has developed the "General Theory of Crime" or self-control theory from 1990 onwards.[2] Based on the empirical observation of the strong, consistent connection between criminal behavior and age,[5] Hirschi and Gottfredson theorized the single most important factor behind crime is individual lack of self-control. Individual self-control improves with age as a result of many factors: changing biology through hormonal development, socialization and increasing opportunity costs of losing control. In addition, criminal acts are often markedly non-controlled; they are both opportunistic and short-sighted. It is essentially the extent to which different people are vulnerable to the temptations of the moment.

The self-control theory of crime shares similar fundamental traits with the theory of ego depletion. They both state that people are more motivated to pursue their immediate desires and that the satisfaction of their pleasures is universal.[1]

Self-control in psychology[edit]

In early psychology, psychoanalist and neurologist Freud (1911, 1959) established a foundation for the concept of self-control with his "pleasure-principle" and "reality-principle," Respectively, these principles refer to the desire for immediate gratification and the delay of gratification. The pleasure principle drives an individual to look for pleasure and to avoid pain. However, the individual learn the necessity of standing the pain and delaying gratification as the process grew up, because of the obstacles of the realities of life. Following the basic principles, in recent studies in psychology, the self-control concept refers to an individual's decision or ability to delay immediate gratification of desires in order to reach larger alternative goals.[6]

Acute vs. chronic low self-control[edit]

Contrary to the general theory of crime that presents low self-control as a characteristic of an individual that influences one's behavior, the criminal spin theory[7] presents the reduce of self-control as a phenomenological process. This process can be acute, a one-time only that is not typical to the individual, or it can develop into a chronic state, in which participation in criminal activities becomes central to the individual life. In addition, the criminal spin theory claims that such a process that leads to a state of reduced self-control can be seen in individuals, groups (e.g., group rape[8]) of even larger social entities (e.g., local communities[9]).

Criticisms and defense[edit]

Akers (1991) argued that a major weakness of this new theory was that Gottfredson and Hirschi did not define self-control and the tendency toward criminal behavior separately.[10] By not deliberately operationalising self-control traits and criminal behavior or criminal acts individually, it suggests that the concepts of low self-control and propensity for criminal behavior are one and the same. Hirschi and Gottfredson (1993) replied to Akers' argument by suggesting it was actually an indication of the consistency of the General Theory. That is, the theory is internally consistent by conceptualizing crime and deriving from that a concept of the offender's traits. Another criticism of Gottfredson and Hirshi's self control theory is that it downplays the influences of one's peers.

Empirical support[edit]

The research community remains divided on whether the General Theory of Crime is sustainable but there is emerging confirmation of some of its predictions (e.g. LaGrange & Silverman: 1999).[11] A number of empirical studies—including meta-analysis—have confirmed that individual self-control is in fact one of the strongest predictors of crime, when compared to a range of factors at various levels of analysis.[4][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Muraven, Mark; Greg Pogarsky; Dikla Shmueli (June 2006). "Self-control Depletion and the General Theory of Crime". J Quant Criminol. 22 (3): 263–277. doi:10.1007/s10940-006-9011-1. 
  2. ^ a b Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  3. ^ Hay, C. (2001). "Parenting, self-control, and delinquency: A test of self-control theory". Criminology. 39 (3): 707–734. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2001.tb00938.x. 
  4. ^ a b Pratt, Travis C.; Cullen, Francis T. (2000). "The empirical status of Gottfredssons and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime: A Meta analysis". Criminology. 38 (3): 931–964. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2000.tb00911.x. 
  5. ^ Hirschi, T.; Gottfredson, M. R. (1983). "Age and the explanation of crime". American Journal of Sociology. 89 (3): 552–584. doi:10.1086/227905. 
  6. ^ Hasan Buker (2011). "Formation of self-control: Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime and beyond". 16 (3): 265–276. 
  7. ^ Ronel, N. (2011). "Criminal behavior, criminal mind: Being caught in a criminal spin". International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 55(8), 1208 - 1233.
  8. ^ Porter, L. E., & Alison, L. J. (2006). "Examining group rape: A descriptive analysis of offender and victim behaviour." European Journal of Criminology, 3, 357-381.
  9. ^ Fagan, J., Wilkinson, D. L., & Davies, G. (2007). "Social contagion of violence." In D. A. Flannery, A. T. Vazsonyi, & V. I. Waldman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of violent behavior and aggression (pp. 668-726). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Akers, Ronald L. (1991). "Self-control as a general theory of crime". Journal of Quantitative Criminology. 7 (2): 201–211. doi:10.1007/BF01268629. 
  11. ^ *LaGrange, T. C.; Silverman, R. A. (1999). "Low Self-control and Opportunity: Testing the General Theory of Crime as an Explanation for Gender Differences in Delinquency". Criminology. 37: 41–72. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1999.tb00479.x. 
  12. ^ Vazsonyi, A. T.; Belliston, L. M. (2007). "The Family → Low Self-Control → Deviance: A Cross-Cultural and Cross-National Test of Self-Control Theory". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 34 (4): 505–530. doi:10.1177/0093854806292299.