Control Theory in Today’s Society

While many theories have been established through the years, the Control Theory established and researched by Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi in 1990 has inspired a large amount of research and proposed the most likely reason that people commit crimes. In addition to their initial theory, Harold Grasmick also presented another facet, the Self- Control Theory, claiming that people commit crimes simply because they lack the capacity to use self- control.
These theories are both considered psychological theories, involving the way the human mind works in relevance to crime and the choice to commit crime. It is apparent in several past criminal cases that lack of self- control has been the leading factor in the criminal act. (Hay & Forrest, 2009) Gottfredson and Hirschi asked the question, “What is Crime? ” and thus began to research the theories associated with crime and what drives people to commit criminal acts.
Nearly all crimes, they concluded, are mundane, simple, trivial, easy acts aimed at satisfying desires of the moment. (Schmalleger, 2009) For example, a young child steals a candy bar from the local convenience store, simply because he wants the candy bar; this is not a violent or large- scale criminal act, but is still a violation of the law. The general theory of crime asserts that the operation of a single mechanism low self- control, accounts for “all crime, at all times”; including acts ranging from vandalism to homicide, from rape to white- collar crime.

A person’s likelihood to engage in criminal activity or not can supposedly be explained through low self-control, the same way high self-control explains an individual’s tendencies of conforming to social norms and laws. (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) Thus, some people have a lasting tendency to ignore the long term consequences of their behavior. These people tend to be impulsive, reckless, and self- centered. Crime is the end result of their tendencies. (Schmalleger, 2009)
The Control Theory is considered a theory and not a perspective since it is not Gottfredson and Hirschi’s opinion, it is a theory that they proposed towards the rationality of crime and why people commit crimes. Several researchers, including K. A. Snedker and J. R. Herting have sought out to see the impact of youth and learning, their affect on self- control on children, as young as seven years of age. Different levels of social control and the culture the children are raised in often seem to have an effect on their personal level of self- control.
In the study performed, the majority of the children that were exposed to behavior with “good” children often ended up having higher levels of self- control, and appeared less likely to behave in criminal behavior. However, the children that were associated with delinquent peers for large amounts of time were seen to have lower levels of self- control, and were also more likely to take part in deviant behavior with said peers. (Snedker & Herting, 2004) It can also be asserted that serial killers generally have a lack of self- control.
In the case of Aileen Wuornos, who is labeled as the first know female serial killer in the Western world. The original theory of Gottredson and Hirschi can be used to explain why Aileen had the specific experiences she did, and committed such a large number of crimes. She even went so far as to state that, “murder was merely her solution to the problem as it presented itself on those seven occasions. ” This clearly indicates one of the facets of the self- control theory, that criminals will do whatever necessary in the present situation, for self- gratification or other reasons.
While Wuornos claims that she killed seven men in self- defense because they were raping her, she was subsequently convicted of murder and sent to death row. (Adams, 2009) The facts of Aileen Wuornos’ childhood have not be confirmed, but she admitted to smoking, drinking, irresponsible sex (she earned money as a prostitute), all at a fairly young age. These behaviors follow Gottredson and Hirschi’s exact assertions that those involved in criminal activity often start exhibiting short- term gratification at a young age.
In the original control theory, Gottfredson and Hirschi low self- control sets as an internal condition between the ages of eight and ten years. According to Cindy Adams, a crime examiner on an internet “blog”, Wuornos’ deviant behavior began at the tender age of nine, so it can be assumed she lacked the proper socialization with her family members and caretakers. She never learned to show affection or share as most children do. Because of this, her relationships as a child failed her completely, and led her down a path of crime, prostitution, and eventually murder.
It can be assumed that if Wuornos experienced a better childhood, she would have developed a higher level of self- control. According to the self- control theory, disciplined and supervised children generally will not look for self- gratification and commit criminal acts. (Adams, 2009) The story of Aileen Wuornos is a clear- cut example of why Gottfredson and Hirschi’s control theory is valid. Had she received the proper love and affection at a young age, she would not have offered sexual favors at the age of nine, become a prostitute at the fourteen, and looked for the abusive and destructive relationships she did throughout her life.
The story of Wournos is only one confirmation of the Control Theory, and there are certainly many more if the cases and correlating information were to be researched. Travis Hirschi also went into greater detail concerning the Self- Control Theory, implicating that Individuals possess three (3) sets of traits: (1) traits composing low self-control; (2) traits predicting involvement in crime; and (3) other traits that are the result of socialization. Low Self- Control (LSC) traits appear in the first six or eight years of life, and include only “factors affecting calculation of the consequences of one’s acts”.
The second set of traits includes low intelligence, high activity level, physical strength, and adventuresomeness. The third set of traits includes impulsivity, insensitivity, and inability to delay gratification. These traits can be seen in criminals, for example, drug users. Consider the logical structure of drug use. Here, even drugs that do not affect mood (tobacco) are correlated with crime because they share features that satisfy both criminality and the requirements of crime. Both crime and drug use provide short-term, immediate, and easy pleasure, and more importantly.
In this view, drug use is not attributable to peer pressure, but to the fact that it is prohibited and has an adverse impact on health. LSC personalities must logically come prior to criminality because they are predisposed to disregard legal prohibitions and negative consequences for their own health. Drug users are people who “tend toward criminality”, and may self-destruct in any number of ways. Another way of saying this is that LSC is the domain and criminality only covers a portion of this domain.
LSC allows almost any deviant act that is “logically” possible. (Hirschi, 1969) References Adams, C. 2009-07-27 “Crime 101: What is the link between self- control theory, serial killing, and Aileen Wuornos? ” Retrieved from http://www. examiner. com Gottfredson, M. and Hirschi, T. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford University Press. Hay, C. and Forrest, W. “The Development of Self Control: Examining Self Control Theory’s Stability Thesis” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) . 010-04-03 from http://www. allacademic. com/meta/p121508_index. html Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: Univ. of Ca Press. Longshore, D. , Turner, S. , and Stein, J. (1998). “Reliability and Validity of Self-Control Measure: Rejoinder. ” Criminology 34:175-182. Sampson R. J. and Laub, J. (1993). Crime in the Making Pathways and Turning Points Through Life. Harvard University Press. Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall.
Snedker, K. A. and Herting, J. R. , 2004-08-14 “Revisiting Hirschi’s Social Control Theory: Examining Changes in Self- reported Delinquent Behavior among Youth” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association 2010- 04-17 from http://www. allacademic. com/meta/p110751_index. html Wenk, D. , Hardesty, C. , Morgan, C. and Sampson, L. B. (1994). “The Influence of Parental Involvement on the Well-Being of Sons and Daughters. ” Journal of Marriage and the Family 56:229-234.

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