Tittle's Control Balance Theory

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  • 0:04 Control Balance Theory
  • 1:15 Finding a Balance
  • 2:20 Deficits and Surpluses
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ken Klamar

I have been a certified police officer since 1993 and have a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration. I also have obtained my Master's degree in Criminal Behavior Analysis from the University of Cincinnati.

In this lesson, you will learn about Tittle's control balance theory and how a person's surroundings can influence behavior. You'll also learn how this theory explains criminal behavior.

Control Balance Theory

Almost every bank in the country has security cameras that capture every transaction throughout the business day. These cameras serve to protect the interests of the bank, as well as the customer. Bank tellers deal with hundreds of thousands of dollars on a daily basis. Usually, that money finds its way to the vault at the end of the day. But sometimes, the money ends up in the pocket of the teller.

What is it that makes the teller put the money in his pocket? At the same time, what made the rest of the bank tellers leave the money alone? Charles Tittle, a professor at North Carolina State University, offers an explanation called the control balance theory. Introduced in 1995 in his book Control Balance, Tittle's theory is based around control, and discusses how much a person's surroundings control their behavior, as well as how a person is able to overcome these controls and have control over others.

In the example of the bank teller who pocketed some money, this teller exercised control over his surroundings. However, the teller managed to pocket the money, he escaped the controls of the video surveillance and those who might be watching him. The remainder of the tellers who didn't steal were controlled by their surroundings.

Finding a Balance

Deviance, or bad behavior, occurs in two situations according to control balance theory. One of these situations is when a person is more controlled than controlling. In the example of the bank teller, many controls were in place to keep crime from occurring. However, the teller in the example chose to escape these controls and committed the crime of theft. It's human nature to want to be in control. Not everyone who is in a controlled environment will commit a crime, but for some it's a way to be more autonomous, or free from control.

Another situation where deviance can occur is when a person is more controlling than controlled. In this situation, the person has more control than the securities around her. Take for instance a stock trader who works alone in an office. The trader is in a position of trust and there are no cameras or other monitoring systems in place. Clients who give her their money trust that she will invest it wisely and appropriately. This person has more control than the bank teller who is under a watchful eye. The trader could easily put money into an account that she owns instead of her clients.

Deficits and Surpluses

When deviance occurs in either of the two situations described, there is an imbalance. The control balance theory suggests that there are two kinds of imbalances. The first are control deficits. Here, there is an excess of control by the individual, more so than that to which they are subjected by external forces. A control deficit occurs when a person's freedoms are repressed, or held back, and the person becomes deviant as a way to break free from these controls. Usually where there's a deficit, the resulting criminal behavior is likened to a street crime such as property theft or vandalism.

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