Self-Control, Thrill Seeking, and Crime: Motivation Matters

Callie H. Burt, Ronald L. Simons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    52 Scopus citations


    Self-control theory (SCT), as a control theory, assumes that the pleasures gained from crime are equally obvious and attractive to all. This study brings a consideration of crime as a process into SCT, recognizing that the sensations inherent in offending may not be equally attractive to everyone. In doing so, we test the theory's equal motivation assumption, bringing a consideration of individual differences in thrill seeking to the fore. Drawing on theory and research on the personality characteristic thrill seeking, we hypothesize that thrill seeking and self-control have independent influences on offending: that motivation to the process of crime matters. In addition, we investigate whether the effects of self-control are contingent on levels of thrill seeking, in part because high thrill seekers are less averse to the process of risk. These hypotheses are tested using data from the Family and Community Health Study, a sample of roughly 700 African American youth and their families. A new measure of self-control is employed in tandem with an existing attitudinal measure of self-control and thrill seeking. Consistent with hypotheses, the results suggest that self-control and thrill seeking have largely independent influences on offending and that the effects of self-control are contingent on levels of thrill seeking. These results provide further evidence that SCT's assumption of equal motivation to crime is untenable, as individual differences in the personality characteristic thrill seeking influence the likelihood of offending.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1326-1348
    Number of pages23
    JournalCriminal Justice and Behavior
    Issue number11
    StatePublished - Nov 2013


    • crime
    • delinquency
    • motivation
    • risk taking
    • self-control
    • thrill seeking

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
    • General Psychology
    • Law


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