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ABSTRACT

Background

Research on the role of self-esteem and self-control among violent offenders has so far yielded inconsistent findings. Certain factors, such as an adverse upbringing, foster development of delinquent behaviour, but it is less clear how this is mediated. Little is known about the interrelationship between self-control and self-esteem or factors that influence them.

Aim and hypothesis

This study aimed to examine the relevance of self-esteem and self-control as distinct characteristics of violent offenders, and of their interrelationship with biographical risk factors for violence.

Method

Data were obtained from interviews and psychological testing with 101 incarcerated violent male offenders.

Results

These violent men showed higher body-related self-esteem compared with a general population sample. There were no offence-specific differences for self-control. Self-esteem was associated with self-control on binary testing, but, when entered into a regression analysis with attention and cognitive factors together with established early childhood risk factors, only the variable ‘family problems’ was independently related to self-control.

Conclusion

The findings stress the complex interrelation between self-control, self-esteem and early childhood risk factors for antisocial behaviour. The combination of low social self-esteem, high body-related self-esteem and history of parenting problems characterising the violent offenders raises testable questions about whether high body-related self-esteem and violence are means of compensating for low social self-esteem with origins in parental neglect, inconsistent or harsh discipline. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.