The Interaction Between Self-Control and Perceived Sanction Risk: An Analysis From the Viewpoint of Different Theories

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The present article studies the interplay of self-control and perceived sanction risk in crime causation. Several hypotheses are formulated. The General Theory of Crime suggests that sanction certainty effects are greater for individuals of high self-control. Their inability to devote thought to the negative long-term consequences of their behavior renders persons characterized by low self-control immune to the risk of formal punishment. From Situational Action Theory (SAT), it follows that sanction certainty effects are larger for persons with low self-control ability. Individuals with a poor capacity for self-control will more often feel tempted to engage in criminal behavior, which brings perceived sanction risk into play as a potential deterrent. The theory’s emphasis on the moral filter as a determinant of the nature of the perceived action alternatives implies additionally that the self-control/deterrence interaction may be stronger for those holding weak law-consistent moral beliefs. The various hypotheses are tested using longitudinal data from the British Peterborough Adolescent and Young Adult Development Study. Results provide more support for the propositions derived from SAT. An individual’s level of self-control conditions the impact of perceived sanction risk, with sanction certainty estimates being most influential among adolescents of low self-control. There is also some indication of a three-way interaction according to which the observed interplay of self-control and deterrence is most pronounced among persons characterized by weak morality.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCriminal Justice Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • deterrence
  • differential deterrability
  • General Theory of Crime
  • morality
  • self-control
  • Situational Action Theory


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