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Chapter 9 Developmental Theories: Latent Trait and Life Course. Criminology 9th and 10th edition Larry J. Siegel. Questions. What makes crime-prone individuals? Are personal traits more important than social variables as predictors of criminal activity? Do you think there is a

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Chapter 9 developmental theories latent trait and life course l.jpg

Chapter 9Developmental Theories: Latent Trait and Life Course

Criminology 9thand 10th edition

Larry J. Siegel

© 2003 Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Questions l.jpg

What makes crime-prone individuals?

Are personal traits more important

than social variables

as predictors of criminal activity?

Do you think there is a

general theory of crime

for all crimes?

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Developmental Theories



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Latent Trait Theory

  • Master Trait: Personal attributes may be present at birth or established early in life, and it remains stable over time, i.e., damaged or impulsive personality, defective intelligence, genetic abnormalities, and environmental influences on brain functions such as drugs, chemicals, and injuries.

  • Regardless of gender, those who maintain one of these suspect traits may be at risk to crime and criminal careers.

  • Propensity to commit crime is stable, criminal opportunities fluctuate over time, maturity brings less opportunity.

  • Early social control and proper parenting can reduce criminal propensity.

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Latent Trait Theories

  • The General Theory of Crime: Gottfredson and Hirschi

  • The Differential Coercion Theory: Colvin

  • The Control Balance Theory: Tittle

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Major Premise

Crime and criminality are separate concepts. People choose to commit crime when they lack self-control. People lacking in self-control will seize criminal opportunities.

Latent Trait Theories:General Theory

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GTC: Criminal Acts and the Criminal Offender

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GTC: Self–Control as a Stabilizing Force

The propensity to commit crime remains

stable throughout a person’s life.

Change in the frequency of criminal activity

is purely a function of change

in criminal opportunity.

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Low self-control

due to inadequate



Impulsive personality

Crime and deviance



Weakening of

social bonds

The General Theory of CrimeGottfredson and Hirschi

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Analyzing the General Theory of Crime: Benefits

  • Helps explain why some people who lack self-control can escape criminality, and conversely, why some people who have self-control might not escape criminality

  • Integrating criminal propensity and criminal opportunity can explain why some children enter into chronic offending while others living in similar environments are able to resist criminal activity.

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Criticisms of the General Theory of Crime

  • Fails to address individual and ecological patterns in crime rates

  • Although male and female crime rates differ, there is little evidence that males are more impulsive than females; the similar argument applies to minorities.

  • It assumes propensity does not change; opportunities change.

  • Research only supports a modest relationship between self-control as a causal factor in criminality over different forms of deviant behavior

  • Evidence shows that criminals in other countries do not lack self-control, indicating that the theory may be culturally limited.

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Do you think the General Theory of Crime

can explain either white collar crime


organized crime?

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Differential Coercion Theory: Colvin

Low self-control is produced by experiences a person has with destructive social forces called coercion.

  • Interpersonal coercion or direct coercion: Use or threat of force and intimidation from parents, peers, and significant others.

  • Impersonal coercion: Coercion beyond individual control; i.e., economic and social pressure caused by unemployment, poverty, and competition.

  • Prosocial Behavior: Low coercion, high self-esteem, strong moral and social bond.

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According to Colvin,

what is coercive ideation?

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Control-Balance Theory:Tittle

The amount of

control one can exercise over others – excessive control can lead to:




The amount of

control one is subject

to by others – deficit

control can lead to:




Conformity results when these two elements are in balance: control imbalances produce

deviant and criminal behaviors

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Life Course Traits

  • Criminality is influenced by individual characteristics, social experiences, economic and environmental factors.

  • People change over the life course.

  • Criminal involvement changes over time as a result of life transitions.

  • A variety of pathways to crime.

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What is the problem behavior syndrome (PBS)?

To a life course theorist, what are pathways to crime?

How does Age of Onset relate to the

Continuity of Crime?

Who are “life course persisters?”

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Life Course Theories

  • Social Development Model (SDM): Weis, Catalano, and Hawkins.

  • Theory of Delinquent Development: Farrington

  • Interactional Theory: Thornberry

  • Age-Graded Theory: Sampson and Laub

  • General Theory of Crime and Delinquency: Agnew

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Questions That Are Important to Life-course Theorists

  • Why people begin committing antisocial acts?

  • Why do some stop or desist, while others continue or persist?

  • Why do some escalate the severity of their criminality - that is, go from shoplifting to drug dealing to armed robbery- while others de-escalate and commit less serious crime as they mature?

  • If some terminate their criminal activity, what, if anything, causes them to begin again?

  • Why do some criminals specialize in certain types of crime, while others are generalists engaging in a garden variety of antisocial behavior?

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Combines elements of social structural, social control, and social learning theories. Accounts for variations in the crime rate.


Weak social controls produce crime. A person’s place in the structure influences his or her bond to society.

Developmental Theories:Social Development Model

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Integrated Cognitive Antisocial Potential (ICAP) Theory

Major Premise

People with antisocial potential (AP) are at risk

to commit anti-social acts.

AP can be viewed as both

a long-and short-term phenomenon.


Identifies different types of criminal propensity

and shows how they may influence behavior

in both the short and long term.

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Developmental Theory:Interactional Theory

MAJOR PREMISE - Criminals go through lifestyle changes during their offending careers.

STRENGTHS - Combines sociological and psychological theories.

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Overview of the

Interactional Theory of Delinquency: Thornberry

  • Bonding variables

  • Attachment to parents

  • Commitment to school

  • Belief in conventional values

  • Social class

  • Race

  • Sex

  • Neighborhoodcharacteristics



  • Learning variables

  • Association with delinquent peers

  • Formation of delinquent values

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Developmental Theory: Age-graded Theory: Sampson and Laub


Shows how crime is a developmental process that shifts in direction over the life course.



As people mature, the factors that influence their propensity to commit crime change. In childhood, family factors are critical; in adulthood, marital and job factors are key.