Self-Control, Social Learning and Variability Over Time: Multivariate Results Using a Five-Year, Multi-Site Panel of Youth

L. Thomas Winfree, Jr., New Mexico State University
Finn-Aage Esbensen, University of Missouri - St. Louis
Ni He, Northeastern University
Terrance J. Taylor, Georgia State University

Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime, also known as self-control theory, includes the claim that by the age of 10 a child's self-control should be fairly fixed. Low self-control children exhibit far greater proclivity for delinquency and analogous misbehavior, especially compared to those with higher levels of self-control. Their respective levels of self-control are relatively immutable over the life course. Akers' social learning theory, conversely, describes adoption of delinquent attitudes and orientations as processual in nature, and subject to learning mechanisms which are liable to change over time. Both claims have been subjected to limited longitudinal study. We explore the variability over time of both self-control levels and learning mechanisms as exhibited by a group of school children first measured betweeen the ages of 11 and 13 as part of a program evaluation and followed for four years. We provide a series of multivariate analyses intended to compare the relative invariance over time of both self-control and social learning forces, particularly as each set is capable of predicting future self-reported misbehavior in subsequent years. We discuss the implications of the findings for both theories.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006