Hedonic Calculus: Does Self Restraint Desire Matter?

By Chen, Pan; Vazsonyi, Alexander T. | Western Criminology Review, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Hedonic Calculus: Does Self Restraint Desire Matter?


Chen, Pan, Vazsonyi, Alexander T., Western Criminology Review


Abstract: Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick (2004) developed the idea of "self-control desire" as a key in understanding variability in crime and deviance, above and beyond low self-control (ability). The current study investigated the interplay between self-control ability, self-control desire, and deviance. Both self-control ability and self-control desire had independent effects on a variety of deviance measures; in addition, the interactive effects between the two were also significant. Results also indicate that the measure of self-control desire is composed of two different dimensions, namely punishment-avoiding self-control desire, a construct that shares conceptual similarities with perceived sanctions, and reward-seeking self-control desire. The independent and interactive effects of punishment-avoiding self-control desire and self-control ability on deviance were supported in the current study. However, reward-seeking self-control desire was unrelated to deviance once the effects by punishment-avoiding self-control desire and self-control ability were controlled. Follow-up analyses on the interaction effects indicate that the relationships between self-control ability and deviance were weaker for people with higher levels of self-control desire; in addition, the effects by self-control ability were not significant at high levels of self-control desire. Similarly, self-control ability was also found to attenuate the relationships between self-control desire and deviance; self-control desire did not predict deviance at high levels of self-control ability.

Keywords: self-control theory, self-control ability, self-control desire, perceived sanctions

INTRODUCTION

Self-Control Theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990) proposes that individuals low in self-control are at greater risk to engage in deviant and criminal behaviors as they lack capability to consider the future consequences of their behaviors and to delay gratification. Specifically, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) identified six traits of low self-control including 1) impulsivity, 2) the desire to take risks, 3) a preference for physical activity rather than mental activity, 4) a preference for simple tasks rather than complex ones, 5) selfishness and lack of concern for the well-being of others, and 6) a bad temper. The theory continues to enjoy a tremendous amount of attention through empirical tests and remains one of the most highly cited recent conceptual developments in the criminological literature (e.g., Benda 2005; Burton, Cullen, and Evans 1998; DeLisi 2001; Evans et al. 1997; Gibbs, Giever, and Higgins 2003; Gibson, Schreck, and Miller 2004; Higgins and Tewksbury 2006; LaGrange and Silverman 1999; Longshore 1998; Morris, Wood, and Dunaway 2006; Pratt and Cullen 2000; Wright et al. 1999). Previous research has documented that low self-control is not only associated with crime (e.g., DeLisi 2001; Longshore 1998), but also with analogous behaviors (e.g., Benda 2005; Gibson et al. 2004). These links have been consistently documented across a variety of samples, including in middle school and high school students (e.g., Benda 2005; Morris et al. 2006), college students (e.g., Gibbs et al. 2003; Gibson et al. 2004), adults (e.g., Evans et al. 1997), juvenile and adult offenders (e.g., DeLisi 2001; Longshore 1998), females and males (e.g., Higgins and Tewksbury 2006; LaGrange and Silverman 1999), as well as in individuals from different cultural and national contexts (e.g., Tittle and Botchkovar 2005; Vazsonyi and Belliston 2007; Vazsonyi et al. 2001; Wright et al. 1999). At the same time, critics have questioned the exclusive focus on the individual, thus neglecting potential external constraint and restraint mechanisms, including sanctions (Akers 1991; Grasmick et al. 1993; Nagin and Paternoster 1993).

The main tenet of Self-Control Theory is based on the concept of hedonic calculus, an idea first developed by Bentham (1970). He postulated that crimes and similar behaviors will be committed by individuals if pleasurable consequences of acts exceed painful ones. …

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