Examining the conditioning effect of self-control on strain using a within-individual change appraoch

Open Access
Palmore, Christopher C
Graduate Program:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 03, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Julie Horney, Thesis Advisor
  • Richard B Felson, Thesis Advisor
  • Jeffery Todd Ulmer, Thesis Advisor
  • strain
  • self-control
  • conditioning effect
Agnew’s (1985; 1992) general strain theory posits that strains increase the likelihood of criminal coping. Generally, research has found that strains are associated with an increase in delinquent behaviors. One of the key assumptions of general strain theory asserts that various factors, including personality and social resources, condition the effect of strain on delinquency or crime. Agnew et al. (2002) argues that self-control should provide individuals with a protective factor against the negative effects of strain. While many studies have empirically examined this relationship, the evidence has been largely inconclusive. A major shortcoming in these studies is the utilization of designs that are unable to rule out selection prior to testing for conditioning effects. Recent examinations of strain have also highlighted the instrumental nature of coping (Felson et al. 2012) and argued that criminal coping should only be predicted when it is aimed directly at the source of the strain. In the current study, I extend the work of Felson et al. (2012) to determine whether or not the influence of self-control depends on the particular crimes and strain involved. In order to address the limitations of previous work, I utilize data that contain 3 years of monthly measurements and use a within-individual change approach to control for selection effects. Results indicate that self-control moderates the relationship between family strain and assaults in the predicted direction, but has little to no effect on the relationship between illness/injury strain and assaults or financial strain and dealing drugs. Furthermore, while the results indicate the self-control moderates the relationship between financial strains and property crimes, it was in the opposite predicted direction. The results indicate examining conditioning effects need to look closely at the nature of the hypothesized conditioning factor and the nature of the strain-crime relationship.