American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 3–22 | Cite as

Social Learning, Self-Control, and Offending Specialization and Versatility among Friends

  • John H. BomanIVEmail author
  • Thomas J. Mowen
  • George E. Higgins


While it is generally understood that people tend not to specialize in specific types of deviance, less is understood about offending specialization and versatility in the context of friendships. Using a large sample of persons nested within friendship pairs, this study’s goal is to explore how self-control and social learning theories contribute to an explanation for specialization and versatility in offending among friends. We estimate a series of multilevel, dyadic, mixed-effects models which regress offending versatility onto measures of perceptual peer versatility, self-reported peer versatility, attitudinal self-control, behavioral self-control, and demographic controls. Results indicate that higher amounts of perceptual peer versatility and peer self-reported versatility are both related to increases in versatility among friends. Lower levels of the target respondent’s attitudinal and behavioral self-control are also related to higher amounts of offending versatility. However, the peer’s self-control shares no relationship with offending versatility – a point which both supports and fails to support self-control theory’s expectations about how peer effects should operate. Learning and self-control perspectives both appear to explain offending versatility among friends. However, self-control theory’s propositions about how peer effects should operate are contradictory. The concept of opportunity may help remediate this inconsistency in Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory.


Offending specialization Offending versatility Self-control Social learning Friendships 



This research was supported in part by the Center for Family and Demographic Research, Bowling Green State University, which has core funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD050959).


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Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John H. BomanIV
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas J. Mowen
    • 1
  • George E. Higgins
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBowling Green State UniversityBowling GreenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminal JusticeUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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