Any form of theory is a conjecture of things which attempts to answer why, where, who, when and how. Similarly, control theory refers to speculation of the whys and how’s of control mechanism. Many control theories abound both in the world of science as well as in the sociological and psychological realms that study human behaviour. In the former type, experiments are conducted based on engineering and mathematical equations, wherein analysis is based on facts. In the latter, there is much more speculation and abstract theorizing as it involves the human psyche. Any scientific experiment done a second time in the same way will result in the same answer. However, this is not the case with human behaviour. All circumstances can be the same, but behaviour and emotions at that point of time can drastically alter the results.
When one speaks of control theories, it could refer to a whole set of sociological theories. For the discussion on self-control and theories, let us look at a few of them.
The Theory of Motivation by William Glasser defines behaviour as that which is not due to any external influence but is due to internal desires; that man reacts in the way he wishes to depending on what his wants are at that point in time. Therefore, to attain that which he seeks, he motivates himself or ‘controls his behaviour accordingly’.
It can be reasonably said that motivation is akin to willpower, which helps in applying control over one’s actions, words, and thoughts. The greater the willpower the higher will be the motivation and therefore the greater will be the self-control to achieve set goals. However, in this case, the control mechanisms applied can be positive or negative.
The Self-control Theory of Crime, also known as the General Theory of Crime, lays down a premise that a lack of self-control makes people behave in a criminal manner. They are unable to apply self-control to save themselves from acts of cruelty and criminality. In criminology studies, there are different types of control, namely, external control, stake in conformity and internal control. While the first espouses the use of outside (third party) influence; stake in conformity is that which gets applied on a person as he/she must conform to certain rules and regulations (e.g., people at work are bound by organizational rules); and the last being internal control pertains to self-control, that which is applied by a person himself on his own actions and behaviour.
The Social Control Theory has been propounded by various philosophers and is similar to the Self- control Theory of Crime. It outlines the responsibility of society towards controlling criminal behaviour amongst its members. However, a significant amount of self-control is supposed to be applied by the individual himself, which can be termed as ‘internal social control’.
Ajzen and Fishbein have formulated the Theory of Planned Behaviour/Reasoned Action, which envisages behaviour as being planned and deliberate, and therefore belongs to the same genre as other control theories. To achieve this intentional behaviour, certain amount of planning and predisposition is required, which is achieved through the application of self-control.
Hence, it is evident that various theories propound several types of behaviour and action, all of which are interlinked on a philosophical and psychological plane. They all expound the fact that man uses some amount of self-control on his thoughts, actions, and words to achieve his desired goals. At the same time, he also uses similar control to stop himself from committing crime and other derogatory acts. Simply put, control theories reflect the forms (types) of control mechanisms that are applicable to human nature and action.