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Self-Complexity and Crime: Extending General Strain Theory

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 28 Issue: 6 Dated: December 2011 Pages: 863-902
Shelly Keith Matthews
Date Published
December 2011
40 pages
This study sought to explain why some individuals respond to strain with crime through exploring a key variable, self-complexity (SC) of identity.
General strain theory suggests that a number of conditioning factors affect who is more likely to respond to strain with crime. This study introduces a previously neglected conditioning variable from the social psychology literature, self-complexity (SC). SC refers to (1) the number of identities individuals perceive as important to themselves; and (2) the varied characteristics they ascribe to these identities. The central argument of this study is that those who are lower in SC, or those with fewer identities and more overlap among these identities, should be more susceptible to the negative emotional and behavioral effects of strain. This assertion was tested through a vignette study of undergraduates. Results indicate that those who are lower in SC are more likely to intend to assault another person and drink heavily than those who are higher in SC. The findings suggest that SC should be included among traditional conditioning variables explicated in GST. (Published Abstract)