Hirschi's social bond theory

Travis Hirschi, one of the founders of the social bond theory,  looked for the key to controlling deviant behavior. He stated that if social connections are destroyed or weakened, then this can push the individual to deviate from the norm. Developing his concept, he identifies four ways of connecting a person with society:


Attachment describes the strength of the bonds and relationships that exist with an individual’s social environment. In adolescents, this can be expressed in love and respect for parents, friendship with peers, respect for the school. All this can prevent deviance, but only as long as people around do not represent deviant norms.


An individual spends his energy and time on such activities as getting an education, work, professional development, organizing his own business, etc. Commitment describes the level of dedication invested in conventional standards and goals. Hirschi believes that a person who has put time, energy, and other resources in achieving compliant goals has more to lose through deviant behavior than someone who has invested little devotion in pursuing socially accepted goals. For example, a student who has invested a lot of time to achieve good grades has more to lose through dismissal than a lazy student who has less importance for grades.


By this, the scientist means that someone who is extremely involved in different activities has less time and opportunity to be engaged in deviant behavior. Structured and socially accepted activities such as school, work, or raising children also enhance the self-discipline needed to resist the impulses of deviant behavior.


Hirschi sees belief in the moral value of social norms and rules as the fourth factor in social bonding. The more these values and norms have been internalized, the more difficult it becomes to violate them. When the meaning of norms is questioned, the intrinsic motivation to obey them also decreases.

Hirschi based his concept on rich empirical material (a survey of 5.5 thousand schoolchildren in San Francisco). He argues that the stronger the bond of a teenager with his parents, the more successful he is at school, the more he is engaged in conformal activities (hobby groups, playing sports, etc.), the fewer chances he has to stray from the law-abiding path and become a delinquent. It works vice versa, when the socialization process fails, and the child does not learn the norms instilled in him by his parents, the likelihood of the appearance of a new offender increases. 

The social bond theory postulates that:

A person is basically an antisocial being and delinquency is useless to prevent by introducing certain requirements. The main question in the explanation for delinquency should be “Why don’t they do it?” Answering this question, Hirschi refers to the statement that the degree of integration of an individual into a group is a very important point in explaining delinquency. 

Svitlana Drach

Svitlana Drach

Psychology4u.net team member

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