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Low Self Control Theory Tested

Gottfredson and Hirschi’s low self-control theory proposed that self-control is what allows people to resist crime along with short term satisfaction, and that self-control depends on the caliber of parenting done during a child’s early years (Lilly, et. al, 2011).  Another thesis that has merit, but likely overstated is Gottfredson and Hirschi’s argument that ineffective parenting is the main source of low self-control (Lilly, et. al, 2011). They argue that biological and genetic factors have no outcomes on self-control (Beaver). Looking back at my discussion post last week I felt that parenting does influence a child’s self-control. However, I also mentioned that I believe that if someone has some sort of mental illness that this too could affect their self-control.

In 2005 John Wright and Kevin Beaver did their own empirical test of low self-control theory. The study was a genetically informed test of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory of low self-control (Wright & Beaver, 2005). Our research tests whether parents matter in affecting low self-control once genetic factors are considered (Wright & Beaver, 2005).  Their study used information from the early childhood study of a kindergarten class (ECLS-K) of 1998-1999.  The ECLS used many reporting sources to gather specific information regarding the children’s behavior, their temperament, their intellectual skills, their social relationships, and their environment (Wright & Beaver, 2005). They also chose ECLS-K because this data contained genetic data as well. Genetic elements could be affecting parenting and these same genes thar are passed to the child could cause the child to be good or bad (Beaver). Their study revealed that parental control was minimally responsible for low self-control, and that genetics also was a contributing factor. In general, our analyses showed that parenting variables were inconsistent and weak related to contemporaneous measures of child self-control in kindergarten and were also inconsistent related to probable measures for self-control in the first grade (Wright & Beaver, 2005). Their study also showed that the effects of parenting were mainly detected when the parents themselves reported self-control issues with their child. However, whenever they used reports from the child’s teachers the results were much different. An even bigger contrast is seen when the teacher reports are examined (Wright & Beaver,2005).

Gottfredson and Hirschi exclude the possibility that self-control has any genetic contributing factors, but our study suggests that for self-control theory to be valid it must add a more sophisticated understanding of self-control (Wright & Beaver, 2005). They feel that by not adding the genetic influences hurts Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory. We propose that self-control theory be updated to incorporate this body of literature (Wright & Beaver). I agree with Wright and Beaver’s stance on self-control theory. As I mentioned last week, I had already thought that there were other factors that contributed to low self-control other than parenting. Parenting does matter to a certain degree, but this is not always the case. The effect sizes of the parenting measures tend to be low to moderate in size (Beaver).  I know many people who have been raised in good homes by good parents, and they still end up getting into trouble.  That said many of these individuals who I have met with self-control issues typically have some sort of mental illness or possibly ADHD that goes along with it. Also, now that I have learned that ADHD can be hereditary, I also agree that genetics is a contributing factor to many self-control issues. ADHD and other problem behaviors are highly inheritable, and Barkley estimates that ADHD is around 97% inherited (Beaver).


Dr. Kevin Beaver week 10 Power Point Presentation. Low Self-Control Theory Part 2. Florida State University (2021).

Dr. Kevin Beaver week 10 notes. Low Self-Control Theory Part 2. Florida State University (2021).

Lilly, JR., Cullen, FT., & Ball, RA., (2011). Criminology Theory: Context and Consequences 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, Ca.

Wright, JP., & Beaver, KM., (2005). Do Parents Matter in Creating Self -Control in Their Children? A Genetically Informed Test of Gottfredson And Hirschi’s Theory of Low Self -Control. Criminology, Vol. 43. No. 4. Pg. 1169-1202.

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