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Self-Complexity and Crime: Extending General Strain Theory

Matthews, Shelley Keith (2009)
Dissertation (314 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Agnew, Robert S
Committee Members: Brennan, Patricia ; Griffiths, Elizabeth A ; Keyes, Corey
Research Fields: Sociology, Criminology and Penology; Psychology, Social
Keywords: general strain theory; self-complexity
Program: Laney Graduate School, Sociology
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/19xvw

Abstract


Abstract
Self-Complexity and Crime: Extending General Strain Theory
By Shelley Keith Matthews
General strain theorists propose that people are pressured into crime because of
the various strains or negative events or conditions they experience (Agnew 2006).
These strains lead to negative emotions which may be resolved through crime. Most
people do not respond to strain with crime, however. Researchers have failed to find
consistent support for the conditioning factors hypothesized to affect this relationship.
This study introduces a previously neglected conditioning variable from the social
psychology literature, self-complexity, which may help explain who is more likely to
respond to strain with crime. Self-complexity refers to 1) the number of social roles or
identities a person perceives him/herself occupying; and 2) the varied characteristics s/he
ascribes to him/herself in each role or identity. The central argument of this study is that
those who are lower in self-complexity, or those with fewer roles and more overlap
among these roles, should be more susceptible to the negative emotional and behavioral
effects of strain. These arguments were tested through a vignette study of undergraduates
examining four types of crime/deviant outcomes. Results indicate that in the scenario
resulting in assault, those who are lower in self-complexity are more likely to experience
negative emotions in response to strain than those who are higher in self-complexity. In
addition, those who are lower in self-complexity are more likely to intend to offend than
those who are higher in self-complexity for the scenario resulting in assault. Finally, in
the situation leading to drinking, those who described more overlap in their roles and
identities were less vulnerable to the negative effects of stress contrary to expectations.

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