On the Conditional Relevance of Controls: An Application of Situational Action Theory to Shoplifting

Helmut Hirtenlehner, Beth Hardie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Classic self-control theory and the pure deterrence argument have both been recently challenged by integrative theory and appropriate empirical evidence suggesting that controls are only conditionally relevant to action. Situational Action Theory (SAT) provides a fertile framework within which to study the effectiveness of controls. Specifically, SAT’s principle of the conditional relevance of controls states that controls only influence behavior when a person is forced to deliberate over action alternatives because of conflict between his/her own moral rules and those of the setting. That the moral filter does not preclude crime from the action alternatives perceived by an individual can be due to weak personal moral norms or exposure to a crime-conducive moral context. In particular, SAT states that (1) deterrence (external control) only becomes relevant to deliberations when personal morality is weak and (2) the process of self-control (internal control) only becomes relevant to deliberations when an individual is exposed to criminogenic moral contexts. Both these hypotheses are tested with a large-scale Austrian student survey dedicated to the explanation of adolescent shoplifting. The results provide firm support for these key propositions of SAT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-331
Number of pages17
JournalDeviant Behavior
Volume37
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016

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