When Criminal Coping is Likely: An Examination of Conditioning Effects in General Strain Theory
Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Vol. 38, No. 4, 2018, UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-45
71 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2020
Date Written: October 10, 2016
Objectives: This paper addresses perhaps the central problem in General Strain Theory (GST): the mixed results regarding those factors said to condition the effect of strains on crime. We test Agnew’s (2013) assertion that a criminal response to strain is likely only when individuals score high on several factors that increase the propensity for criminal coping or possess markers that indicate a strong propensity for criminal coping.
Methods: We use survey data from nearly 6,000 juveniles from across the United States to examine whether the effect of criminogenic strains across several domains—perceptions of police, school environment, and victimization—on crime are conditioned by: (1) respondents’ criminal propensity and (2) gang membership. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first criminological study to employ an analytical framework that simultaneously considers non-linear (i.e., curvilinear) dynamics, non-additive (i.e., interactive) effects, and non-normally distributed dependent variables. This approach has the advantage of properly differentiating non-linear and non-additive dimensions and therefore significantly improving our understanding of conditioning effects.
Results: We find considerable support for Agnew’s (2013) postulation about conditioning effects and GST. Criminal behavior is more likely among those with a strong overall propensity for criminal coping and among gang members. Furthermore, we discover that the conditioning effects are, themselves, non-linear. Our models that simultaneously take into account both the non-additive and non-linear relationship between strains and criminal propensity on their impact on criminal offending better fit the data than models that consider these dimensions separately. These results hold whether examining a composite measure of criminal activity or, alternatively, three separate subscales indexing violent, property, and drug offenses.
Conclusion: Our study advances GST and the crime literature by identifying the types of strained individuals most likely to engage in criminal coping. Additionally, the analytical framework employed serves as a model for the correct measurement and interpretation of conditioning effects for criminological data, which almost invariably violate the assumptions of the linear regression model. Linear/Parametric interactions are the most commonly investigated type of interactions, but other kinds of interactions are also plausible and may reveal conditional relationships that are either overlooked or understated when analysts exclusively adopt. We demonstrate possible to have non-linear interactions in which a non-linear function of one variable is multiplied by a linear or non-linear function of one or more other variables to produce an interaction term.
Keywords: general strain theory, interaction effects, nonlinear effects, generalized additive models, juvenile delinquency
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