Does Future Orientation Moderate the Relationship Between Impulse Control and Offending? Insights From a Sample of Serious Young Offenders

AuthorDamon M. Petrich,Christopher J. Sullivan
Date01 April 2020
Published date01 April 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Does Future Orientation
Moderate the Relationship
Between Impulse Control
and Offending? Insights From
a Sample of Serious Young
Damon M. Petrich
and Christopher J. Sullivan
Researchers have recently begun to examine motivational factors as moderators of the relationship
between self-control and offending behavior. The current study extends prior work by investigating
whether three aspects of future orientation (aspirations, expectations, and the use of future-oriented
cognitive and behavioral strategies) play such a role. Drawing on 7 years of data from the Pathways to
Desistance study (N¼1,333), we use hybrid effects negative binomial regression models to assess
how within-individual changes in future orientation and impulse control are independently and jointly
related to the offending variety of serious young offenders. Although impulse control and three
components of future orientation had significant main effects on offending, no interaction between
these components emerged in our results. Implications for future research are discussed.
impulse control, self-control, future orientation, young offenders
Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime posits that the key individual difference
that accounts for variation in criminal behavior is self-control, which they define broadly as “the
tendency to avoid acts whose long-term costs exceed their momentary advantage” (Hirschi &
Gottfredson, 1994, p. 3). In short, individuals with low self-control “will tend to be impulsive,
insensitive, physical, risk-seeking, short- sighted, and nonverbal” (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990,
p. 90). Previous research has consistently shown that self-control is a modest predictor of criminal
involvement (Pratt & Cullen, 2000; Vazsonyi, Mikusˇka, & Kelley, 2017) and, as suggested by
Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990), a range of analogous behaviors such as substance abuse (Tangney,
Baumeister, & Boone, 2004), cheating and school outcomes (Muraven, Pogarksy, & Schm ueli,
School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Damon M. Petrich, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210389, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA.
Youth Violence and JuvenileJustice
2020, Vol. 18(2) 156-178
ªThe Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1541204019876976
2006; Tangney et al., 2004), and poor interpersonal relationships (Evans, Cullen, Burton, Dunaway,
& Benson, 1997). Thus, individuals with low self-control tend to be involved in a wide range of
deviant activity, regardless of legality.
That said, in their original statement of the relationship between self-control and criminal beha-
vior, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990; see also Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2004) offered an important
caveat that “lack of self-control does not require crime and can be c ounteracted by situational
conditions or other properties of the individual” (p. 89). Indeed, Pratt and Cullen’s (2000) meta-
analysis showed that there tends to be a significant interaction between self-control and situational
opportunity. Of particular interest to the present study, however, is the “other properties of the
individual” piece of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) caveat. Specifically, in the current article,
our concern is the extent to which aspirations, expectations, and the use of other future-oriented
cognitive and behavioral strategies (FOCABS) moderate the relationship between a key component
of self-control, the ability to control one’s impulses, a nd the variety of criminal be havior that
adolescents and young adults engage in. Only a handful of studies have examined future orientation
as a moderator of this relationship thus far (Chen & Vazsonyi, 2011; Clinkinbeard, 2014; Mahler,
Simmons, Frick, Steinberg, & Cauffman, 2017; Robbins & Bryan, 2004). Here, we extend this body
of work by drawing on data from serious offenders in the Pathways to Desistance (Pathways) study
and using a hybrid effects negative binomial regression framework, the combination of which allows
us to examine within-individual changes in future orientation and impulse control, and whether these
jointly influence criminal involvement over the life course.
Self-Control, Future Orientation, and Criminal Involvement
In their work on moderators of self-control, Tittle, Ward, and Grasmick (2004) argue that there is a
difference between the capacity to control oneself and possessing the motivation to do so. A person
might, for instance, experience a strong impulse to commit a deviant act but simultaneously want to
keep out of trouble. Looking at a sample of 350 adults from the Oklahoma City Survey, Tittle et al.’s
(2004) study tapped self-control desire by looking at self-pride, praise/respect from valued others,
perceptions of guilt, morality, an d the probability of being caught with respect to a variety of
hypothetical offenses. Behavioral measures of self-control ability (Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, &
Arneklev, 1993) and the subjective self-control desire measure had close-to-equal main effects on
involvement in criminal behavior in Tittle et al.’s (2004) models. Perhaps more important, there was
a significant interaction between the two; for instance, ability had much less predictive power when
desire was high, and vice versa. Cochran, Aleska, and Chamlin (2006) similarly examined the roles
of self-control ability and desire in academic dishonesty among 448 college students. Self-control
ability was tapped with a 31-item scale similar to the Grasmick Scale, while questions about desire
looked at the perceptions of getting caught, potential loss of respect of others, personal shame/guilt,
moral condemnation of academic dishonesty, and individuals’ social maturity and integrity. The
results of Cochran et al.’s (2006) analyses matched those of Tittle et al.’s (2004), with significant
main effects for both ability and desire and a significant interaction between them.
Perhaps the principal overarching argument of Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) is that individuals
with low self-control are impulsive and tend to be stuck in the “here and now.” However, the work of
Tittle and colleagues (2004) and Cochran et al. (2006) indicates that thinking about the potential
consequences of criminal behavior—whether they be damage to one’s relationships, pride, or
liberty—moderates the exercise of self-control. This suggests more broadly that being impulsive
and thinking about one’s future are distinct pheno mena within persons, a notion that has been
explored by psychologists studying human development, personality, and psychopathology. For
example, Zimbardo and colleagues’ work on time perspective theory has shown that items measur-
ing present-hedonistic (i.e., characterized by impulsiveness, pursuit of present pleasures) and
Petrich and Sullivan 157

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