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Self-Control and Crime Over the Life Course

Self-Control and Crime Over the Life Course

March 2015 | 312 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

What exactly is self-control, and what life outcomes does it affect? What causes a person to have high or low self-control to begin with? What effect does self-control have on crime and other harmful behavior?      


Using a clear, conversational writing style, Self-Control and Crime Over the Life Course answers critical questions about self-control and its importance for understanding criminal behavior. Authors Carter Hay and Ryan Meldrum use intuitive examples to draw attention to the close connection between self-control and the behavioral choices people make, especially in reference to criminal, deviant, and harmful behaviors that often carry short-term benefits but long-term costs. The text builds an overall theoretical perspective that conveys the multi-disciplinary nature of modern-day self-control research. Moreover, far from emphasizing only theoretical issues, the authors place public policy at the forefront, using self-control research to inform policy efforts that reduce the societal costs of low self-control and the behaviors it enables.

Chapter 1: Introduction
A Definition of Self-Control

An Integrative Approach

A Life Course Approach

Connecting Self-Control to Other Causes of Behavior

Attention to Public Policy

Connecting the Science of Self-Control to the Stories We Read About Everyday

Chapter 2: Theories of Self-Control and Behavior
The Inextricable Connection Between Theory and Fact

Explaining Crime: Gottfredson and Hirschi's Self-Control Theory

Evaluating Gottfredson and Hirschi's Self-Control Theory

A Psychological, Trait-Based Theory of Self-Control

Biosocial Approaches to Behavior

The Strength Model: Self-control as a Depletable Resource

Chapter 3: What Are the Consequences of Low Self-Control?
The Marshmallow Experiments

A Quick Note on the Measurement of Self-Control

Research on Low Self-Control and Crime

The Everyday Consequences of Low Self-Control

Policy Implications and Possibilities

Chapter 4: Infancy and Childhood: What Are the Causes of Self-Control Early in Life?
The Role of Parents in Shaping Self-Control

The Genetic Underpinnings of Self-Control

Neurobiological Influences on Self-Control

Policy Implications and Possibilities

Chapter 5: Adolescence and Adulthood: Is Self-Control Stable Over Time?
Stability and Change in Self-Control

Why Does Self-Control Often Remain Stable?

Persistent Individual Traits as Contributors to Self-Control Stability

Persistent Environmental Characteristics: Parenting and Peers

Persistent Environmental Characteristics: The Stability of Poverty

State Dependence as a Contributor to Self-Control Stability

An Implicit Idea: Human Agency

Empirical Evidence on Explanations for Stability

Policy Implications and Possibilities

Chapter 6: What Leads to Self-Control Change?
The Pervasiveness of Change

The Transformations of Adolescence

Unexpected Shifts in Social Environments and Relationships

Sleeping, Eating, and Substance Use: Short-Term Fluctuations in Self-Control

Policy Implications and Possibilities

Chapter 7: Do the Harmful Effects of Low Self-Control Vary Across Different Circumstances?
Conditional Causation and Low Self-Control: Conceptual Issues

Criminal Opportunity

Association With Delinquent Peers

Weak Social Bonds

Neighborhood Disadvantage

Weak Moral Values

Considering Self-Control as a Moderator Variable

Can Self-Control Moderate the Effects of Self-Control?

Policy Implications and Possibilities

Chapter 8: Self-Control and Crime Over the Life Course: Bringing It All Together
The Causes of Initial Self-Control Differences in the First Decade of Life

The Child Grows into an Adolescent

The Adolescent Grows Into an Adult

Moderated Effects Across the Entire Life Course

Chapter 9: Self-Control and Crime: Influencing Policy and Looking to the Future
Self-Control as a Driver of Societal Advance

Using Policy to Promote Self-Control Over the Life Course

Community-Based Programs Relevant to All Stages of the Life Course

Evidence of Program Success

Key features


  •  Scientific evidence on the effects of low self-control is introduced into the debates that are energizing modern-day dialogue on the causes of crime, deviance, and other harmful behaviors
  • An interdisciplinary and integrative perspective draws insights from a wide range of disciplines to provide readers with a diverse viewpoint that is valuable for understanding the self-control puzzle
  • Public policy implications are prioritized throughout the text by describing the extensive evidence-based policy efforts that are relevant to self-control development over the life course, providing readers with key insights for social service, juvenile justice, and criminal justice intervention
  • A life course approach directs readers to the development of self-control during critical stages of the life course, including the prenatal period, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood
  • In Focus text boxes grab the reader’s attention by describing complicated areas of self-control research in an easy, accessible, and entertaining manner, making the text fun to read
  • A multitude of examples and illustrations from news media, popular culture, and historic accounts encourage classroom discussion and supplement difficult concepts within each chapter
  • Discussion Questions at the end of each chapter act as a learning tool to reinforce important concepts and create opportunities for classroom discussion
  • A variety of charts and graphs illustrate the arguments and connect them to case studies and current events that show the behavioral and policy relevance of self-control theory and research

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Sample Materials & Chapters


Chapter 1

For instructors

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