Religiosity, delinquency, and the deterrent effects of informal sanctions

Andrew L. Spivak, Miyuki Fukushima, Margaret S. Kelley, Tiffany Sanford Jenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past research in deterrence theory suggests that informal social sanctions intervene in the effect of religiosity on criminal and delinquent behavior, such that more religious individuals tend to perceive stronger informal sanctions (Grasmick, Bursik and Cochran 1991a; Grasmick, Kinsey and of religiosity and social deterrence on college students' delinquent behavior, as measured by anticipated violation of a university's alcohol policy. Data were collected through a survey of undergraduate students (n=484) at a large South-Midwestern public university that instituted a campus alcohol ban. The survey took place three months after the ban was implemented and asked students about religiosity, perceptions of informal deterrence, and expectations of violating the policy. Results partially support the hypothesis that religiosity predicts conformity primarily through the deterrent threat of informal sanctions. Religiosity increased perceived threats of shame and embarrassment, which in turn reduced the likelihood of anticipated policy violation. When controlling for demographics, college lifestyle, attitudes, and past drinking behavior, shame remained a significant predictor of expected policy violation, but embarrassment did not. Also, contrary to expectations, one measure of fundamentalist religiosity (biblical literalness) retained a direct main effect on intended compliance, even when taking informal sanctions into account. Theoretical, methodological, and policy implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-711
Number of pages35
JournalDeviant Behavior
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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