Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Criminal Justice

Degree Program

Criminal Justice, PhD

Committee Chair

Higgins, George

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Vito, Gennaro

Committee Member

Vito, Gennaro

Committee Member

Dawson-Edwards, Cherie

Committee Member

Golder, Seana


This dissertation attempts to gain a better understanding of the means by which deviant behavior is perpetuated. Nonsocial reinforcement theory proposes that behavior is reinforced by psychological, physiological, and social rewards of the behavior. This reinforcement of the behavior causes the frequency of the behavior to increase. Specifically, when an individual uses marijuana, the psychological and physiological rewards gained from the behavior can lead the individual to continue using marijuana over time. This dissertation will test this reciprocal impact of increased psychological and physiological responses leading to an increase in the behavior. Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth Children and Young Adults Survey (NLSY79 Child) was utilized from years 1996 and 1999. The sample was filtered to only those individuals between the ages of 14 and 20 during the 1996 year. Measurements of marijuana use, risk taking as a means of physiological rewards, and self-esteem as a measure of psychological rewards were examined during both years along with demographic factors of sex, age, race, and socioeconomic status. Structural equation modeling was used to test the longitudinal model of nonsocial reinforcement theory. Findings from the first wave of data collection suggest that individuals with a higher preference for risk taking are more likely to use marijuana. Findings from the second wave show a relationship between low self-esteem and high risk taking. The longitudinal reciprocal effects were not supported in the current analysis. The two-year time frame utilized in the study may be too long to examine the reciprocal effects. Regardless, the impact of self-esteem and risk taking propensity in influencing behavior can be utilized in interventions to help reduce deviant behavior. The additional information learned about how behavior is reinforced can be used to create new and innovative interventions to break the cycle of reinforcement and reduce marijuana use.