If a society is to continue to function smoothly, then the members of that society need to behave in orderly ways: they need to follow certain norms and obey certain rules. How does it happen that most people in a society agree to obey the rules? According to sociologists, there are two kinds of controls that influence the way an individual behaves. These are referred to as internal controls and external controls.
Imagine you are in a music store and you see a CD that you want. The price is $20. You have only $5 with you, but the thought of stealing the CD does not occur to you. Why not? The answer is internal controls. Internal controls are those you impose on yourself based on your values, beliefs, and fears.
One of the values you hold is that stealing is wrong and that honesty is right and good. To continue to feel good about yourself, you don’t steal. So the first aspect of internal control is how you feel about yourself. The second aspect
of internal control is the possible disapproval of friends and family who might become aware of your steal-ing. You do not want to have to talk with your parents or husband or wife or children or friends about why you stole a CD. The third factor operating to discourage you from stealing is the fear of being arrested. Many shops display signs such as “This store prosecutes shoplifters to the full extent of the law” and employ store detectives to identify shoplifters. Finally, social forces such as whether you are employed fulltime may influence whether you steal or not. You may be afraid of social consequences, such as losing your job or losing the trust of your work colleagues. In a study of national property crime arrests, researchers compared the percentage of arrests within two populations: people with full-time jobs and people who were not employed. The researchers found that the percentage arrested among those who were not employed was much higher.
Fines for speeding aren’t very large, but if you get
Speeding tickets frequently you can lose your driver’s license.
For some individuals internal controls will not be enough to deter them from breaking the law. Most societies also impose external controls or punishments of some kind to discourage people from committing crimes. There are three main kinds of external controls: public embarrassment; the payment of money, or fines; and imprisonment. If a police officer stopped you for speeding, you would probably be embarrassed as other passing motorists stared at you. If you were going fast enough, you would also be asked to pay a fine as well as court costs. If you were driving while drunk, you would be taken to jail, fined, and have your driver’s license taken away from you.
There are a number of factors that influence the effectiveness of these external controls in stopping people from committing crimes. Their effectiveness depends, for example, on how certain it is that the crime will be punished. If there is little likelihood of being caught, the external controls may be weak or ineffective. It also depends on how severe the punishment is. The threat of being sent to prison is more likely to prevent people from breaking the law than the threat of paying a small fine. For some crimes, external controls do not seem to be very effective. For example, a person who commits a “crime of passion” is in a state of uncontrollable rage or feels overwhelming pressure and may not give any consideration at all to the consequences of his or her actions.