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Low Self Control Theory

In 1990 Travis Hirschi joined together with Michael Gottfredson and they developed an explanation of crime called Low Self Control Theory which differs significantly from Hirschi’s earlier work (Lilly, et. al, 2011).  They 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).  Low Self-control theory involves two components which are the capacity for self-control, and the desire for self-control (Beaver).  Low Self-Control theory makes sense to me because I have seen many individuals in my line of work who get into trouble with the law and many of them do have issues with self-control.  Even though self-control theory explains differences in criminal involvement, this does not mean that causes of crime identified by other theories are not important (Beaver).

I do like this theory, but I do not concur with all parts of it. For example, I do not completely agree with what they said regarding that inculcation of self-control depends on the quality of parenting that the child receives in their early years (Beaver). 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).  Yes, it does matter to a certain degree, but this is not always the case. I know many people who have been raised in decent homes with good parents, and they still end up getting into trouble with the law.  That said many of these individuals who I have met with self-control issues typically have some sort of mental illness that goes along with it. This is not always the case, but it is a lot of the time.  I believe that an untreated mental illness will have just as much impact on a person as much if not more than how they were raised. Again, this does not take anything away from their theory. This is just my point of view pertaining to it. What I completely agree with and like about self-control theory is that self-control is an important predictor of crime (Beaver).

Because Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory was so simple it was easily testable, and there have been a lot of studies examining the association between self-control and criminal behavior (Beaver). Travis Pratt and Francis Cullen oversaw a thorough review of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Self-control theory. They conducted a meta-analysis on existing studies, and by performing a meta-analysis, they had a lot of prior research to pull information from. Results of their study indicated that regardless of measurement differences low self-control is an important predictor of crime and of similar behaviors (Pratt & Cullen, 2000). They also mentioned that regardless of the analysis that was performed self-control was connected to crime among men both in younger samples, and in offender samples (Pratt & Cullen, 2000). That said they also mentioned that some of their findings did not provide total support for the theory. Based on a limited number of comparisons, the effect size for self-control was smaller in longitudinal studies than in cross-sectional studies (Pratt & Cullen, 2000). However, they went on to say that this is not distinctive just to this study because it is not uncommon to find that variables decrease with longitudinal studies. What I found interesting in their study has to do with our previous readings regarding social learning theory.  The meta-analysis showed that even with self-control included in this study’s analysis social learning variables continued to have a large effect, and that it increased the multivariate model’s variation (Pratt & Cullen, 2000). This does not mean that Low self-control theory has no merit it is just showing that social learning theory is an important theory as well just like many other crime theories that we have learned about.  With these conditions stated the meta-analysis reported here shows impressive empirical support for Gottfredson and Hirschi s’ theory (Pratt & Cullen, 2000).



Dr. Kevin Beaver Power Point Presentation. Low Self-Control Theory Part 1. Florida State University (2021).

Dr. Kevin Beaver week 7 notes. Low Self-Control Theory Part 1. Florida State University (2021).

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

Pratt, T.C. & Cullen, F.T.  (2000).  The Empirical Status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s General Theory of Crime: A Meta-Analysis. Criminology, Vol. 38, No. 3, pg. 931-964.

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