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Although prior research finds a robust link between delinquent behavior and expectations, or an adolescent’s perceived likelihood of obtaining one’s future goals, fewer studies have evaluated aspirations, or the perceived importance of achieving one’s goals. In addition, few studies consider how individual traits such as impulsivity affect the degree to which expectations and aspirations motivate or deter delinquent behavior. We contribute to this body of research by evaluating the independent effects of expectations and aspirations, and the aspiration-expectation gap (i.e., strain) on delinquent behavior during the year following an adolescent’s first arrest using a large (N = 1117), racially/ethnically diverse sample of male adolescents (46.55% Latino, 35.81% Black, 14.95% White, and 2.69% Other race). In addition, we considered how impulse control interacts with expectations, aspirations, and strain to motivate behavior. Our results indicated that both aspirations, expectations and strain uniquely influence criminal behavior. Importantly, aspirations interacted with impulse control, such that aspirations affected delinquency only among youth with higher impulse control. Our findings suggest that aspirations may only influence behavior if youth also have the psychosocial capabilities to consider their future aspirations when behaving in the present.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Journal Article

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