Longitudinal and reciprocal relations between delay discounting and crime

Christine A. Lee, Karen J. Derefinko, Richard Milich, Donald R. Lynam, C. Nathan DeWall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Theorists argue that self-control failure is the underlying cause of criminal behavior, with previous research linking poor self-control to delinquency and drug use. The path from self-control to crime is well-established, but less is known about whether criminal behavior contributes to self-control deficits over time. We investigated bi-directional relations between self-control assessed via a delay discounting task and self-reported crime over a three-year period. During their first, second (73.38% retention rate), and third (63.12% retention rate) years of college, 526 undergraduates completed a delay discounting task and reported on their criminal behavior. In order to maximize variability, participants with conduct problems were overrecruited, comprising 23.1% of the final sample. As expected, more discounting of hypothetical monetary rewards significantly predicted future property crime across a one and two-year period, even when controlling for initial levels of both. This study also demonstrated evidence of a bi-directional relationship; violent crime predicted higher rates of delay discounting one year later. These results suggest that bi-directional relations exist between self-control and types of crime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-198
Number of pages6
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA007304 and T32DA035200) and the National Institute of Mental Health (T32 MH18869) of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The authors would like to thank Brandon Bleyer for his involvement with this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • College students
  • Crime
  • Delay discounting
  • Property crime
  • Violent crime

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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