American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 314–328 | Cite as

Measuring Low Self-Control and Reactive Criminal Thinking in the NLSY–Child Sample: One Construct or Two?

  • Glenn D. Walters


The purpose of this study was to determine whether a behavioral rating measure of low self-control and an attitudinal measure of low self-control can be viewed as measuring the same construct. It was hypothesized that the externalizing scale of the Behavior Problems Index (BPI-Ext), which served as a behavioral rating measure of low self-control in the current study, would display greater similarity to a 6-item self-report of antisocial, but not necessarily delinquent, behavior (SR-AB) measure than it would a 6-item attitudinal self-report measure of low self-control, labeled the reactive criminal thinking (SR-RCT) scale. This study was conducted on a sample of 6280 children (3144 boys, 3136 girls) from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Child (NLSY-C). A pair of confirmatory factor analyses revealed that the BPI-Ext and SR-RCT scales appeared to form two distinct constructs. In addition, the BPI-Ext correlated significantly better with the SR-AB than with the SR-RCT and the BPI-Ext and SR-AB achieved moderate negative correlations with measures of attention, concentration, achievement, and general aptitude, whereas the SR-RCT achieved small positive correlations. These results indicate that behavioral and attitudinal measures of low self-control are measuring different constructs, the former impulsive behavior and the latter reactive criminal thinking.


Low self-control Reactive criminal thinking Cognitive performance 


  1. Agnew, R. (2011). Toward a unified criminology: Integrating assumptions about crime, people, and society. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allison, P. D. (2012). Handling missing data by maximum likelihood. In SAS global forum 2012, (Paper 312–2012). Cary: SAS Institute.Google Scholar
  3. Arneklev, B. J., Cochran, J. K., & Gainey, R. R. (1998). Testing Gottfredson and Hirschi’s “low self-control” stability hypothesis: An exploratory study. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 23, 107–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beaver, K. M., & Wright, J. P. (2007). The stability of low self-control, from kindergarten through first grade. Journal of Crime and Justice, 30, 63–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bernard, T. J., & Snipes, J. B. (1996). Theoretical integration in criminology. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 20, 301–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bindman, S. W., Pomerantz, E. M., & Roisman, G. I. (2015). Do children’s executive functions account for associations between early autonomy-supportive parenting and achievement through high school? Journal of Educational Psychology, 107, 756–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bollen, K., & Lennox, R. (1991). Conventional wisdom on measurement: A structural equation perspective. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 305–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bouffard, J., & Kunzi, T. (2012). Sexual arousal and self-control: Results from a preliminary experimental test of the stability of self-control. Crime and Delinquency, 58, 514–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Center for Human Resource Research (2009). NLSY79 user’s guide, CHRR NLS User Services. Columbus: The Ohio State University.Google Scholar
  10. Conner, B. T., Stein, J. A., & Longshore, D. (2009). Examining self-control as a multidimensional predictor of crime and drug use in adolescents with criminal histories. Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research, 36, 137–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. DeLisi, M., & Vaughn, M. G. (2014). Foundation for a temperament-based theory of antisocial behavior and criminal justice system involvement. Journal of Criminal Justice, 42, 10–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dishion, T. J., Spracklen, K. M., Andrews, D. W., & Patterson, G. R. (1996). Deviancy training in male adolescent friendships. Behavior Therapy, 27, 373–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. (1981). PPVT: Peabody picture vocabulary test, revised. Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  14. Dunn, L. M., & Markwardt, E. C. (1970). Manual for peabody individual achievement test. Circle Pines: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  15. Ericson, R., & Carriere, K. (1994). The fragmentation of criminology. In D. Nelken (Ed.), The futures of criminology (pp. 89–109). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Farrington, D. P., Piquero, A. R., & Jennings, W. G. (2013). Offending from childhood to late middle age: Recent results from the Cambridge study in delinquent development. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Geis, G. (2000). On the absence of self-control as the basis for a general theory of crime: A critique. Theoretical Criminology, 4, 35–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Grasmick, H. G., Tittle, C. R., Bursik Jr., R. J., & Arneklev, B. K. (1993). Testing the core empirical implications of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30, 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hay, C., & Forrest, W. (2006). The development of self-control: Examining self-control theory’s stability thesis. Criminology, 44, 739–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hindelang, M., Hirshi, T., & Weis, J. (1981). Measuring delinquency. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Hirschi, T., & Gottfredson, M. (1993). Commentary: Testing the general theory of crime. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30, 47–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hu, L.-T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jackson, D. B., & Beaver, K. M. (2013). The influence of neuropsychological deficits in early childhood on low self-control and misconduct through early adolescence. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41, 243–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Keogh, B. K. (2003). Temperament in the classroom: Understanding individual differences. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  26. Krohn, M. D., Thornberry, T. P., Gibson, C. L., & Baldwin, J. M. (2010). The development and impact of self-report measures of crime and delinquency. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 26, 509–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lynam, D. R., & Miller, J. D. (2004). Personality pathways to impulsive behavior and their relations to deviance: Results from three samples. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 20, 319–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McKee, J. R. (2012). The moderation effects of family structure and low self-control. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 356–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Muraven, M., Pogarsky, G., & Shmueli, D. (2006). Self-control depletion and the general theory of crime. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 22, 263–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Muthén, B., & Muthén, L. (1998–2007). Mplus user’s guide (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Muthén and Muthén.Google Scholar
  31. Peterson, J. L., & Zill, N. (1986). Marital disruption, parent–child relationships, and behavioral problems in children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 48, 295–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Peyre, H., Leplége, A., & Coste, J. (2011). Missing data methods for dealing with missing items in quality of life questionnaires: A comparison by simulation of personal mean score, full information maximum likelihood, multiple imputation, and hot deck techniques applied to the SF-36 in the French 2003 decennial health survey. Quality of Life Research, 20, 287–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime: A meta-analysis. Criminology, 38, 931–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rennie, R., Beebe-Frankenberger, M., & Swanson, H. L. (2014). A longitudinal study of neuropsychological functioning and academic achievement in children with and without signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 36, 621–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Satorra, A. (2000). Scaled and adjusted restricted tests in multi-sample analysis of moment structures. In R. D. H. Heijmans, D. S. G. Pollock, & A. Satorra (Eds.), Innovations in multivariate statistical analysis. A Festschrift for Heinz Neudecker (pp. 233–247). London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Steiger, J. H. (1980). Tests for comparing elements of a correlation matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 245–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Turner, M. G., & Piquero, A. R. (2002). The stability of self-control. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30, 457–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walters, G. D. (1995). The psychological inventory of criminal thinking styles: Part I. Reliability and preliminary validity. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 22, 307–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Walters, G. D. (2015). Early childhood temperament, maternal monitoring, reactive criminal thinking, and the origin(s) of low self-control. Journal of Criminal Justice, 43, 369–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Walters, G. D. (2016a). Are behavioral measures of self-control and the Grasmick self-control scale measuring the same construct? A meta-analysis. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 41, 151–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Walters, G. D. (2016b). Crime continuity and psychological inertia: Testing the cognitive mediation and additive postulates with male adjudicated delinquents. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 32, 237–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Walters, G. D. (2016c). Reactive criminal thinking as a consequence of low self-control and prior offending. Deviant Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/01639625.2016.1196951.
  43. Walters, G. D. (2016d). Risk, need, and responsivity in a criminal lifestyle. In F. S. Taxman (Ed.), Handbook on risk and need assessment (pp. 193–219). New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  44. Walters, G. D., Hagman, B. T., & Cohn, A. M. (2011). Toward a hierarchical model of criminal thinking: Evidence from item response theory and confirmatory factor analysis. Psychological Assessment, 23, 925–936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wechsler, D. (1974). Manual for the Wechsler intelligence scale for children—revised. New York: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  46. Whiteside, S. P., & Lynam, D. R. (2001). The five factor model and impulsivity: Using a structural model of personality to understand impulsivity. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 669–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wiebe, R. P. (2006). Using an expanded measure of self-control to predict delinquency. Psychology, Crime & Law, 12, 519–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeKutztown UniversityKutztownUSA

Personalised recommendations