Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Cathy Spatz Widom

Committee Members

Preeti Chauhan

Mark Fondacaro

Louis Schlesinger

Kevin T. Wolff

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology


crime, trauma, Strain Theory, Control Theory, Social Learning Theory


The field of criminology has been dominated by Strain, Control and Social Learning Theories, among others. More recently, research and theory has focused on the role of trauma as a predictor of criminal behavior, especially for women. However, little research has empirically compared these theories to one another. The current study examined these four major theories to determine which best explains non-violent and violent criminal behaviors. Race and sex differences were examined. The data is from a large prospective cohort design study of individuals with documented histories of physical and sexual abuse and neglect and a control group of children matched on the basis of age, sex, race, and approximate family social class who were followed up into adulthood. Information from two interviews (mean age 29 and 39) is organized into theoretical blocks based on the extent to which they are implicated in the four theoretical models. Violent and non-violent crime data are based on official arrest data. Multiple regressions were run to determine the amount of variance in criminal behavior explained by each theoretical model. General Strain Theory best predicted arrest for both crime in general and violence more specifically. There were differences by sex and race for which specific factors predicted crime. The implications of the findings in relation to theory and practice are discussed.