The nature of self-control theories, and a possible explanation of what draws individuals to commit crime, stems from research conducted by Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi in 1990. Initially, Hirschi’s early research suggested that sustainment of self-control was a result of family bonds, academics, work, and/or religious and personal reasons. Hirschi had concluded that “the major ‘cause’ of low self-control thus appears to be ineffective child-rearing” (Lilly et al., p. 97)
However, by 1990, Gottfredson and Hirschi had “abandoned the idea that continuing social bonds insulate against illegal involvement in favor of the proposition that self-control, internalized early in life, determines who will fall prey to the seductions of crime” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011, pp. 121-122). Gottfredson and Hirschi’s new research suggests that committing crime can be a stress relieving activity that produces euphoric effects for some individuals. They note that crimes such as stealing cars, money, jewelry, and other items with a high monetary value “provides short-term gratification” and “relief from situational aggravations” (Lilly et al., p. 122).
A far more important point, however, is that Gottfredson and Hirschi argued the idea that criminological theorists essentially ignore the facts about “the nature of crime uncovered by empirical research” (Lilly et al., p. 122). They further state that there is a correlation between criminal behavior and negative personality traits such as alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, a disregard for traffic laws (and most laws in general), and perverted sexual behavior.
On a related note, Gottfredson and Hirschi also indicate that criminals generally perform poorly in academics, as well as on the job when employed (Lilly et al., p. 122).
Gottfredson and Hirschi note that “criminals do not plan their conduct” (Lilly et al., p. 122) and act in a manner that is opportunistic, primarily as a response to “whatever easy illegal opportunities present themselves” (Lilly et al., p. 122). They further suggest that troubled youth who share a common denominator — a lack of self-control — frequently associate with one another (Lilly et al, p. 395). Gottfredson and Hirschi propose the notion that “the age–crime curve is “invariant,” and thus that criminal involvement will decline with age in virtually all societies” (Lilly et al., p. 395). The “peak” of the age-crime curve is 17 years old (Lilly et al., p. 384).
Dominant Alternative Explanations to Gottfredson and Hirschi’s Perspective
Although Gottfredson and Hirschi’s perspective on self-control and crime causation is one that seems logical, there are still some elements regarding recidivism that are not properly addressed in their theories. One such alternative theory was proposed by Gerald Patterson and his Social Interactional Developmental Model. Patterson echoed similar sentiments of Gottfredson and Hirschi, but did not believe that low levels of self-control are the...