I am excited to say that I have partnered with a couple of psychologists at FIU to study whether self-control alters the association between drinking alcohol and violent behavior. We are using an experimental design in which some participants will be randomly assigned to consume what amounts to about four alcoholic drinks (vodka mix), while others will only be assigned to drink juice where the rim of the glass is coated in vodka (placebo). All participants will then respond to scenarios in which they have an opportunity to be physically violent toward someone else in response to being provoked. The two key questions are: 1) Will the participants who consumed the alcoholic drink be more likely to state intentions to be aggressive? 2) Does this association depend on the level of self-control in the participants? Self-control is being measured using the Tangney et al. (2004) scale before participants are randomly assigned to their drinks. Data for this study will be collected over the next year. Findings may help to explain why getting drunk is more likely to lead to violence in some people relative to others.
I continue my travels down the exciting rabbit hole that is biosocial criminology. Most recently, I have collaborated with researchers from the University of Michigan to investigate the association between anterior cingulate cortex functioning (ACC) and both self-control and delinquency. Using fMRI data to assess ACC functioning, we find an indirect effect of ACC functioning on later delinquency that is mediated by self-control. I am looking forward to sharing these exciting results with students taking my biosocial criminology course this fall.
With some extra time at the ASC conference, I conducted a crude content analysis of the ASC Program index entries and created a word cloud. If you are not familiar with word clouds, they are a way to visualize how frequently words are used in some type of document. I tabulated the frequency of index entries to create the cloud. I am thinking of maybe conducting an across-time trend analysis and writing a piece for The Criminologist. More broadly, using word clouds is a great way to introduce students to qualitative data analysis.
Having prepared and taught a biosocial criminology course here at FIU this spring, I became aware of a vast array of studies linking biomarkers (e.g., heart rate, skin conductance) to antisocial and violent behavior. One of these biomarkerrs is the r2D:4D ratio, which is a measure of the relative length of a person's right pointer finger (2D) to their right ring finger (4D). This ratio provides an indirect indicator of the amount of testosterone someone was exposed to while in the womb. Recently, criminologists have started to take an interest in the association between the r2D:4D ratio and antisocial behavior, with studies finding that adults who have a smaller r2D:4D ratio are more likely to report involvement in violent behavior (Ellis and Hoskin, 2013; Hoskin and Ellis, 2014). Given the infancy of this line of inquiry, I have sought out Anthony Hoskin and proposed that he and I collect new data to investigate unexplored questions. He happily agreed and we will be collecting new data in the fall to examine, among other things, the following questions: To what extent does the r2D:4D ratio correlate with violent victimization? Are various measures of self-control correlated with the r2D:4D ratio? Does the r2D:4D ratio moderate the effect of holding street code values on violent offending? We anticipate obtaining data from at least 400 individuals using a combination of survey methods and by taking high resolution scans of the right hands of participants to get a very precise measure of the r2D:4D ratio. We will present our preliminary findings at the ASC conference in November in Washington, D.C.
A Retrospective Study on Parental Self-Control, Family Environments, Young Adult Self-Control, and Young Adult Offending
I recently had an IRB protocol approved to collect data on a sample of about 500 college students. I will be examining how parental self-control is related to current young adult offending behavior, and how family environments during high school and current young adult self-control mediate this relationship. What is unique about this particular study is that young adults will be responding to items about the self-control of their parents (e.g., how often their parents would get drunk, use foul language, fail to wear seatbelts, etc.) in addition to their own self-control, which has not been done before. In piloting the 8 items this last spring, I found they had good internal consistency (alpha = .77) and a 1-week test-retest reliability of .85. In that same pilot study, parental self-control correlated with young adult self-control at r = .42. If anyone would like to see the survey instrument being used in the upcoming study, just let me know. Data will be collected during the last week of August and I hope to have it all compiled and will start running analyses in early September.
This semester I added a new assignment to my graduate research methods course - I had students conduct in-person survey interviews with 20 strangers using a questionnaire I had developed focused upon self-control and driving behavior. With 14 students in my class we ended up with data on 280 adults from Dade and Broward counties here in south Florida. Though only a simple exercise in introducing students to the experience of collecting data (and having to do so face-to-face with participants), some cool results emerged:
1. Participants who rated themselves as lower in self-control were more likely to report that they text while they drive.
2. Participants who rated themselves as higher in self-control were more likely to report a) wearing seat belts, b) using a turn signal while changing lanes, and c) using a turn signal while making turns.
3. While participants rated the driving ability of the average driver to be 5.1 on a scale from 1-10, participants rated their own driving ability to be 7.8.
Today I came across the phrase "The Dark Triad" when browsing through studies on personality. Catchy, isn't it? Turns out, the phrase refers to three overlapping personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. According to Paulhus and Williams (2002), "To varying degrees, all three entail a socially malevolent character with behavior tendencies toward self-promotion, emotional coldness, duplicity, and aggressiveness." Recently, Jonason and Webster (2010) developed a 12-item measure of the Dark Triad they called "The Dirty Dozen." By all appearances the scale has solid psychometric properties. I think I may have to test it out on a sample of students and see how scores on the scale might be differentially related to different crime typologies (property vs. violent offending). Given that higher scores on the scale would represent a person who is self-interested, lacks consideration of the feelings of others, and pursues goals through means of aggressive action, an argument could be made that a person possessing such a constellation of traits may be likely to engage in fraudulent activity and other forms of criminal behavior. Time to do a little branching out.
Sometimes there is an element of luck in research collaborations. Case in point: a master's student in our degree program in criminal justice at FIU works at a juvenile assessment center (entry and exit point for juveniles being processed through the juvenile justice system). He expressed an interest in wanting to understand why so many parents who come to pick up their children convey the sentiment to him that they are fed up with their kids and don't want them back (putting aside the obvious fact that their children are engaging in sometimes very serious forms of delinquency). Given my primary research focus on the family environment and self-control, I immediately felt that there was a great opportunity to collect data from parents of high-risk adolescents about the family environment, parenting practices, and the self-control of the parents, something which only recently has started to be measured by researchers such as Stacy Nofziger, Brian Boutwell, and Kevin Beaver. Happily, the student was on board with the idea, as was his immediate supervisor.
In addition to these emergent relationships, two other patterns have emerged in the data. First, parents who rate themselves as lower in self-control are also more likely to report they feel like they are failing to be effective parents (quite the admission!). Second, parents who are lower in self-control are more likely to express the sentiment that they have reached a point of exasperation (being fed up) with their children. Theoretically this makes sense because individuals who lack self-control should be less likely to persist with things that require constant vigilance and effort, such as effectively socializing difficult children.
JC Barnes and I are currently wrapping up some analyses that examine the association between sleep deprivation and self-control using a sample of MZ twins from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. We find compelling evidence that sleep deprived adolescents are more likely to have deficits in self-control, and this is particularly pronounced for teens who get fewer than 7 hours of sleep. This is quite consistent with a recent study we had published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, but is noteworthy because the new analyses control for any genetic and shared environmental influences.