What Is Social Bond and Self Control Theory?


Vincent White

The concepts of social bond theory and self-control theory are two important theories in the field of criminology. These theories aim to explain why individuals engage in criminal behavior and what factors contribute to their likelihood of committing crimes.

Social Bond Theory

Social bond theory, developed by Travis Hirschi in 1969, suggests that an individual’s level of social bonds or connections to society significantly influences their likelihood of engaging in criminal activities. According to this theory, individuals with strong social bonds are less likely to commit crimes as they have more to lose by engaging in deviant behavior.

Four Elements of Social Bonds:

  • Attachment: The strength of an individual’s emotional connection and investment in others, such as family, friends, and community. Strong attachment promotes conformity to societal norms and reduces the likelihood of criminal behavior.
  • Commitment: The extent to which an individual is invested in conventional goals, such as education or career.

    High levels of commitment increase an individual’s stake in conformity and deter them from engaging in criminal activities.

  • Involvement: The amount of time and energy an individual devotes to conventional activities, such as work or extracurricular activities. Active involvement reduces the opportunity for criminal behavior.
  • Belief: The acceptance and internalization of societal rules and norms. Strong belief systems create a moral compass that guides individuals away from criminal behavior.

Social bond theory posits that when these elements are weak or lacking, individuals are more likely to engage in criminal activities. For example, someone who lacks attachment may not have a support system that discourages deviant behavior or provides positive role models.

Self-Control Theory

Self-control theory, developed by Travis Hirschi and Michael Gottfredson in 1990, focuses on an individual’s level of self-control or the ability to resist short-term temptations in pursuit of long-term goals. This theory suggests that individuals with low self-control are more likely to engage in criminal behavior.

Characteristics of Low Self-Control:

  • Impulsivity: Acting without thinking about the potential consequences.
  • Short-sightedness: Prioritizing immediate gratification over long-term goals.
  • Risk-seeking: Engaging in risky behaviors without considering the potential harm or negative outcomes.
  • Physicality: Being prone to physical aggression and violence as a means of resolving conflicts.

The theory argues that low self-control is primarily developed during early socialization, influenced by parenting styles and family environments. Individuals with low self-control tend to have difficulty forming strong social bonds and conforming to societal norms. They are more likely to give in to their immediate desires and engage in impulsive and deviant behavior.

Social Bond Theory vs. Self-Control Theory

Social bond theory emphasizes the importance of social connections and attachment, suggesting that strong bonds reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior. On the other hand, self-control theory focuses on an individual’s ability to resist temptations and delay gratification as a predictor of criminality.

While both theories offer valuable insights into understanding criminal behavior, they highlight different aspects of human nature and socialization processes. Social bond theory emphasizes external influences such as social connections, while self-control theory focuses on internal factors like individual self-control.

In conclusion, both social bond theory and self-control theory contribute to our understanding of why individuals engage in criminal behavior. By considering the elements of social bonds and self-control, criminologists can gain insights into the factors that influence criminality and develop effective strategies for crime prevention and intervention.