Self-Control Theory

V. Future Directions

For the continued vitality of the self-control tradition, there are a number of directions future research should take. First, future empirical work should continue to focus on the complex relationships surrounding parenting and the development of self-control in children. In particular, the literature examining the influence of structural/community characteristics on parental efficacy, although certainly important, is still in its infancy. In addition, there is still a need to systematically assess the causal mechanisms underlying the relationship between ineffective parenting and self-control in children. Specifically, some scholars have highlighted the potential for “child effects” on parenting, whereby children with early temperament and behavioral problems may be more likely to elicit problematic responses from parents (e.g., overly lenient or inconsistently harsh parenting practices; see Moffitt, 1993). Nevertheless, whether these effects exist independent of parents’ levels of self-control is still unclear (see Nofziger, 2008); that is, do difficult children elicit bad parenting, or do the parents of such children simply lack self-control themselves and therefore the capacity to exert vigilant and consistent control over their children? Either way, the problem is that the comparative validity of these two explanations for the parenting–self-control relationship has yet to be assessed.

Second, it would be particularly useful for future studies to continue to assess systematically the interaction effects surrounding parenting, biological and neuropsychological deficits, and community and institutional efficacy on self-control. As such, three questions are immediately salient: (1) Is the effect of neuropsychological deficit on self-control more pronounced for children with low parental efficacy? (2) is the effect of neuropsychological deficit on self-control more pronounced for children in environments with low community or institutional efficacy? and (3) are child effects on parental efficacy more pronounced for parents with low self-control? Answering each of these questions would help to flesh out the complexity of the causes of self-control in critically important ways.

Finally, future studies should continue the recent work of Baumeister and colleagues regarding self-control depletion (Baumeister, 2002). In essence, this perspective focuses on the consequences to individuals when they exercise self-control; namely, because self-control may be a limited resource within any given person, using it in one situation may partially consume it so that it may less available in future situations. This prospect may be particularly important for individuals with relatively high levels of self-control who reside in neighborhoods plagued by multiple criminogenic risk factors (e.g., limited opportunities for legitimate participation in the labor market; constantly having to resist cultural pressures to engage in “code of the street” behavior; see Anderson, 1999). Indeed, because such individuals will inevitably be forced to exercise their self-control on a regular basis should they want to resist the criminal opportunities and temptations surrounding them, they are most likely to be susceptible to self-control depletion. Furthermore, because replenishing one’s reserves of self-control takes time and distance away from the kinds of social pressures that cause depletion in the first place, individuals residing in harsh neighborhood conditions will find it more difficult to restock their levels of self-control. If this is the case, it may be that variations in the degree to which individuals’ self-control becomes depleted—not merely variations in the distribution of individuals’ levels of self-control—help to explain the spatial distribution of crime across communities.