Threatened Egotism and Delinquent Behavior: A Preliminary Test

Barbara J. Costello, University of Rhode Island
R. Gregory Dunaway, Mississippi State University

A recent work by Baumeister, Smart, and Boden (1996) suggested that "threatened egotism" is an important cause of violent behavior. Challenging the view that low self-esteem causes vioence, Baumeister et al. hold that those with inflated levels of self-esteem are likely to react violently when faced with ego threats. This work discusses the theoretical connection between Baumeister's work and self-control theory, social control theory and general strain theory. We present a preliminary test of the threatened egotism hypothesis with a sample of junior high and high-school students in a small Southern city. The results show that egotism is positively associated with violent and nonviolent delinquency, and that this relationship holds when a number of important predictors of delinquency are controlled. These results provide some support for the threatened egotism hypothesis and suggest that further research in this area is warranted.

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Updated 05/20/2006