The relationship between theory and research in criminology

the relationship between theory and research in criminology

These relationships appear to be strong throughout life, among most groups of of criminological research with the standard assumptions of control theory. Before trying to understand the relationship between theory and research, it is necessary to give an insight into what theory really is and the. The relationship between theory and research in Criminology Title: Doing research on crime and justice; Author(s): King, Roy D., Wincup, Emma; Date:

This is especially true when it is judged simultaneously with the stability effect: Hirschi and Gottfredson argued that age and stability can be resolved for theory by distinguishing between crime acts on the one hand which changes with age and criminality characteristics of people on the other hand which does not.

Therefore, both concepts are needed for a theory to be true. These distinctions indicated to them the importance of the personal characteristic of self-control and of the formulation of a different view of how crime should be defined for criminology.

The theory they described in A General Theory of Crime has become one of the most heavily researched and cited perspectives in criminology. Definition of Crime for Self-Control Theory The theory of crime outlined by Gottfredson and Hirschi has a number of components that are integral to the theory and that distinguish it from other perspectives. One is the definition of the dependent variable for the theory—the definition of crime.

For self-control theory, crime is defined as behaviors events that provide momentary or immediate satisfactions, but that have subsequent negative consequences. They have argued that crimes are essentially acts of force or fraud undertaken in pursuit of self-interest. Gottfredson and Hirschi thus use a behavioral rather than a legal definition of crime—although most criminal and delinquent acts qualify, not all do.

According to their general theory, most delinquent and criminal acts are highly opportunistic, momentary or adventitious, and require little by way of planning. Typically, they are easily dissuaded by obstacles such as locks, lights, or the presence of other people.

Self-Control Theory and Crime

They often involve momentary advantage in personal relations many assaults or assertion of self-interests. They typically promise little gain for the offender although they often have a high cost to the victim ; they require little ingenuity breaking a window, bullying themselves to the front of the line, hitting with an available instrument ; they are not a path to success or status or the satisfaction of some deep-seated psychological issue. Rather, they provide common or normal human satisfactions or wants in what appears to be an easy way, but only by ignoring costs.

It also accounts for the lack of specialization in types of crimes and for the versatility effect: All the acts associated with these problems provide some immediate benefit for the actor money, pleasure, the end of a troubling disputeand carry with them the possibility of harmful consequences to the actor or others.

Early Childhood and the Family Self-control theory begins with the assumption that human nature shares the general tendency to pursue satisfaction of individual needs and desires. Left unregulated, the pursuit of these needs and desires causes inevitable conflict with others and, consequently, potentially harmful consequences to the actor.

As a result, those who care about the child seek to train the child to restrict the pursuit of acts of self-interest that also causes harm to the self or to others, and to attend to the needs and wants of others.

For self-control theory, this process is what socialization entails: As the child develops, concerned and affectionate caregivers parents, other relatives, friends and neighbors, and schools monitor and sanction behavior harmful to the child and others.

As a result, children are taught to pay attention to the longer-term consequences of their actions. Of course, self-control also greatly enhances prospects for successful school experiences. The theory postulates differences among groups, nations, and over time in the level and success of this socialization process. According to control theory, these differences produce differences in levels of crime, violence, and other problem behaviors among individuals, communities, and cultures, and in different time periods.

Emphasis on the learning of self-control in early childhood and on the important roles of the family and school is consistent both with the results of a large research literature on family effects on delinquency see, e. Some researchers question the strength of these environmental causes and claim to have discovered strong biological causes for self-control e.

But the strong evidence for family effects and the lack of support for biological compulsion would seem to support the claim of self-control theory that socialization is nearly always possible, given an amenable environmental setting conducive to development of self-control in childhood. According to Heckmanp. Evidence of the importance of early environments on a spectrum of health, labor market, and behavioral outcomes suggests that common developmental processes are at work.

Self-control theory was influenced by the observation that people differ considerably in their tendency to ignore the long-term costs of their actions and that these differences appear before adolescence. When self-control becomes established, concern about parental disappointment, shame from family and friends, loss of affection, respect, and approval of significant others are the sanctions of greatest moment.

With time, such concerns become a consistent and forceful part of the self and are carried throughout life. Self-control governs actions both consciously some of the time and preconsciously much of the timerestraining unfettered self-interest, including commission of delinquent and criminal acts. Foundational Facts for Self-Control Theory Self-control theory was initially constructed with an appreciation for decades of research and literature on crime and delinquency.

This literature represents an important foundation for theory, and as such the empirical status of self-control theory is tied ineluctably to the continuing validity of these correlates of crime and delinquency.

They include the following see, Gottfredson, Hirschi,p. This versatility extends into analogous behavioral manifestations of low self-control such as truancy, dropping out of school, employment instability, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child and spouse abuse, motor vehicle accidents, and unwanted pregnancy.

Early antisocial behavior predicts antisocial behavior in adulthood. Those who do well in school are unlikely to get into trouble with the law.

The acts associated with these problems all provide some immediate benefit for the actor money, pleasure, the end of a troubling dispute. But each also carries with it the possibility of harmful consequences. What differentiates people is not that such acts may provide them with benefits, but that some people routinely ignore the potential costs attendant on the acts and perform them anyway.

The strong and persistent correlates between attachment to parents and from parents to children and delinquency, and attachment to school and teachers and success in school, all strongly suggest that self-control is fostered by these relationships and by the success or lack thereof of parents and schools to effectively teach self-control or to teach children to care about and attend to their longer-term interests. The empirical status of these foundational facts has not been in serious dispute among empirically oriented criminologists for decades.

It seems safe to conclude that recent research continues to validate them e. The extensive research literature focusing on various elements of the theory of self control makes brief summaries of the research difficult. Much of the literature focuses directly on the measurement of self-control and its relationship to delinquency, crime, or analogous acts. Other literature focuses on the causes of self-control and on family factors associated with crime more generally. Some evidence derives from studies initially focused on noncrime-dependent variables, such as education or health.

Policy studies focusing on deterrence, incapacitation, and other putative criminal justice system effects are relevant to the theory. So also are studies directly researching age, stability, and versatility effects in criminology. As a result, the summary that follows is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to include categories of evidence, with the greatest direct relevance to the overall validity of self-control theory for crime and delinquency.

Studies of the Direct Relationship between Self-Control and Crime The general conclusion from contemporary research is that measures of self-control in childhood are regularly related, at a moderately strong level, to problem behaviors using a wide variety of measurement methods and study designs and in several disciplines.

Vazsonyi and Crosswhite show similar results for African American and Caucasian adolescents. DeLisi ab shows self-control effects among offender samples, and Baron provides them for property crime, drug use, and violent crime among homeless youths. Vazsonyi and colleagues show common self-control effects for adolescent samples in the United States, Switzerland, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

Self-control has been used to explain differences within Japan Vazsonyi et al. Misconduct for active offenders failure to appear, probation and parole arrests is studied by DeLisi abserious delinquency by Junger and Tremblayintimate violence by Sellerscrime by Brownfield and Sorenson and Gibbs et al.

The literature includes impressive demonstrations of the scope of versatility effects and of the connection between self-control and problem behaviors generally.

the relationship between theory and research in criminology

An excellent example is Junger and Tremblaywho provide evidence of the relation between accidents and delinquency and the relation between self-control and other problem behaviors see also Junger et al. In general, the connection between self-control and the wide variety of analogous acts is documented by Perrone et al. Pinker argues that self-control changes substantially explain the general decline in violence across centuries.

Each of these studies finds consistent evidence that self-control is associated with delinquency, crime, and other problem behaviors. This included 21 studies and 49, individual cases. They concluded that their estimated effect size in excess of. A total of 99 studies with oversubjects were included. They found random effects mean correlation between self-control and crime and deviance of.

They concluded that their study of some of the best available research provided strong and convincing evidence, based on about cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, that a strong link between low self-control and deviance or crime exists and that it does not greatly vary across modes of assessment, across study designs cross-sectional versus longitudinalacross measures of deviance, across different populations within the United States, but also across samples across cultures.

In this sense, self-control theory has established itself as one of the most influential pieces of theoretical scholarship during the past century, as it continues to stand up to a plethora of rigorous empirical tests.

Thus, with respect to reviews of some of the most rigorous research, reviewers consistently report strong validity for self-control theory from several disciplines and methodologies.

In fact, reviews place the empirical support for the theory as among the strongest known to criminology. According to DeLisip. Empirically, the relationship between low self-control and various antisocial outcomes has been nothing short of spectacular.

Although statistical prediction can never be conclusive and can merely show certain probabilities, the method can be valuable in supplementing the inevitably limited personal experience of judges and administrators.


In the last decades of the 20th century, prediction research became a very popular criminological method. Action research Action research, which is often contrasted with experimental research, consists of drawing upon the observations of field-workers and other persons directly involved with delinquents, potential delinquents, or prisoners. For example, social workers have attempted to help children and adolescents living in slums cope with their problems and at the same time have studied their delinquent behaviour, related it to their environment, and evaluated the results of youth clubs or other services offered.

Action research attempts to achieve practical results through collaboration with field-workers. Trying to build a bridge between abstract theories and practical work, it often dispenses with formal hypotheses and simply aims at identifying and implementing tactics and activities that will help prevent delinquent behaviour.

Cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural approaches In the late 20th century, criminology increasingly focused on cross-cultural approaches. Some cross-cultural studies have emphasized comparisons between descriptive statistics e. Other studies have attempted to determine the individual characteristics associated with the increased likelihood of committing crime.

For example, a study comparing youths born in Dunedin, N. Still other studies explored the characteristics of societies that led to higher or lower crime rates; one such study found that the rates of lethal violence in the United States in the s were five times greater than in other industrialized countries but that rates of other types of crimes were similar or even lower.

Researchers have attempted to explain why this pattern existed and have also recommended policies designed to reduce lethal violence. Major concepts and theories Biological theories Biological theories of crime asserted a linkage between certain biological conditions and an increased tendency to engage in criminal behaviour.

In the s great interest, as well as controversy, was generated by the biological theory of the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombrosowhose investigations of the skulls and facial features of criminals led him to the hypothesis that serious or persistent criminality was associated with atavism, or the reversion to a primitive stage of human development.

In the midth century, William Sheldon won considerable support for his theory that criminal behaviour was more common among muscular, athletic persons mesomorphs than among tall, thin persons ectomorphs or soft, rounded individuals endomorphs.

During the s, significant debate arose over the possible association between criminal tendencies and chromosomal abnormalities—in particular, the idea that males with the XYY-trisomy characterized by the presence of an extra Y chromosome may be more prone to criminal behaviour than the general population. Although the popularity of such earlier biological theories has waned, research has continued, yielding important findings.

For example, studies have found general evidence for a connection between biology and criminality for both twins and adoptees. Twins are more likely to exhibit similar tendencies toward criminality if they are identical monozygotic than if they are fraternal dizygotic.

The fact that identical twins are more similar genetically than fraternal twins suggests the existence of genetic influences on criminal behaviour. Similarly, studies of adopted children have shown that the likelihood of criminality generally corresponds with that of their biological parents. The rate of criminality is higher among adopted children with one biological parent who is a criminal than it is among children who have one adoptive parent who is a criminal but whose biological parents are not criminals.

The highest rates of criminality are found among children whose biological and adoptive parents are criminals. For example, certain neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain e. These factors do not absolutely determine whether a person will commit a crime; indeed, most people with these factors do not commit crimes.

Instead, the presence of these factors merely increases the chance that the person will engage in criminal behaviour. Because these various biological factors may be influenced by environmental conditions, however, the direction of causation is unclear. Researchers have identified other biological factors associated with increased violence and aggressiveness, including alcohol intoxicationthe use of some drugs e.

Drinking alcohol has tended to increase criminality temporarily, and the long-term effects of ingesting lead such as is found in lead-based paint have generally been associated with long-term increases in criminality. Further, certain types of head injuries and complications during pregnancy or birth are correlated with long-term increases in the tendency of the child to commit crime.

The direction of causation in these cases is clearer than with serotonin and testosterone but not entirely certain. For example, it could be the case that some other nonbiological intervening factor e. In particular, they examine the processes by which behaviour and restraints on behaviour are learned. These processes often are conceived as being the result of the interaction of biological predispositions and social experiences. Freud, SigmundSigmund Freud, Freud Among the earliest psychological theories of crime were those based on the work of Sigmund Freud — Because the id is a relatively constant drive, criminality is assumed to result from the failure of the superego, a consequence of its incomplete development.

However, the empirical evidence for this theory is thin. Later psychological theories of crime were based on behaviour theorysuch as that of the American psychologist B.

Skinner —90who viewed all human behaviour—criminal and otherwise—as learned and thus manipulable by the use of reinforcement and punishment see behaviourism. The social learning theory of Ronald Akers expanded behaviour theory to encompass ways in which behaviour is learned from contacts within the family and other intimate groups, from social contacts outside the family particularly from peer groupsand from exposure to models of behaviour in the media, particularly television.

Beyond these broad psychological theories, it is sometimes argued that crime is associated with certain mental conditions.

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Mental illness is generally the cause of a relatively small proportion of crimes, but its perceived importance may be exaggerated by the seriousness of some of the crimes committed by persons with mental disorders. Because authorities had no other place to put them, there was a strong tendency for mentally ill people to end up in jails and prisons. One particular personality configuration— antisocial personality disorder —is thought to be strongly associated with criminality. However, because the criteria for diagnosing the disorder emphasize committing crimes and engaging in crimelike behaviour, it is unclear whether the disorder is a cause of crime or simply a label that psychiatrists use to describe people who happen to be criminals.

In the s, psychological research was focused on early childhood experiences that tended to lead to criminality in later life, including poor parental child-rearing techniques, such as harsh or inconsistent discipline. Research also isolated impulsivity—the tendency to engage in high levels of activity, to be easily distracted, to act without thinking, and to seek immediate gratification—as a personality characteristic associated with criminality.

Sociological theories The largest number of criminological theories have been developed through sociological inquiry. These theories have generally asserted that criminal behaviour is a normal response of biologically and psychologically normal individuals to particular kinds of social circumstances.

The more an individual associates with such persons, the more likely it becomes that he will learn and adopt criminal values and behaviours. The theory of anomieproposed by the American sociologist Robert K.

The concept of a criminal subculture —an alternative set of moral values and expectations to which people can turn if they cannot find acceptable routes to the objectives held out for them by the broader society—represents an integration of the differential-association and anomie theories. Developed from studies of gangs of delinquents in U. Another set of sociological theories also denies the existence of subcultural value systems. Control theory emphasizes the links between the offender and his social group—his bond to society.

According to this view, the ability of the individual to resist the inclination to commit crime depends on the strength of his attachment to his parents, his involvement in conventional activities and avenues of progress, and his commitment to orthodox moral values that prohibit the conduct in question.

Self-Control Theory and Crime - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology

The theory of low self-control retains the focus on restraints from engaging in crime but argues that those restraints are primarily internal. People with low self-control, according to this theory, are impulsive and insensitive to others, tend to engage in physical rather than mental activities and to take risks, and are oriented toward the short term rather than the long term. Advocates of self-control theory argue that these characteristics result from parental child-rearing practices and coalesce in the individual by about age eight, remaining stable throughout life.

It contends that the individual, once convicted of a crime, is labeled a criminal and thereby acquires a criminal identity. Once returned to society, he continues to be regarded as a criminal and is consequently rejected by law-abiding persons and accepted by other delinquents. Over time, therefore, the offender becomes increasingly socialized into criminal behaviour patterns and more estranged from law-abiding behaviour. In particular, these theories generally explain both crime and criminal justice as by-products of capitalism and explore alternative systems that might generate more harmonious social relations.

Radical theories tend to view criminal law as an instrument by which the powerful and affluent coerce the poor into patterns of behaviour that preserve the status quo.

the relationship between theory and research in criminology

Advocates of this theory argue that criminal justice policies constitute state-sanctioned violence that generates rather than suppresses criminal violence. A similar view is represented by conflict theorieswhich hold that the powerful pursue their own self-interest though the enactment and enforcement of criminal laws. According to conflict theory, those with power and wealth are more likely to obey the criminal law because it tends to serve their interests.