On October 27, 1994, Susan Smith watched her burgundy MazdaProtege roll into the watery depths of John D.
Long Lake carryingher two sons, Michael, 3, and his 14-month-old brother, AlexanderHenderson and Fields 1995). One can only wonder what could havecaused a mother to intentionally murder her two beautiful babyboys. The motive seemed to be that Susan Smiths wealthyboyfriend did not want the children. She also stated in herhandwritten confession that she knew he would never love her(Smith 1994). I can only speculate that she meant he would neverlove her as long as she had children.
However, I believe thatSusan must have been deeply disturbed to commit such a horribleIn order to better understand this unthinkable act, I choseto use the psychoanalytic theory from the psychologicalperspective. I think this theory can describe Susans behaviorbetter than the cognitive consistency theory because the id, ego,and super-ego seem to observe mental processes more than thecognitive consistency theory does. Using the cognitiveconsistency theory would make it more difficult to observe themental processes of Susan Smith that I believe are necessary tounderstand this crime (Lecture notes, psychological perspective,cognitive consistency theory). I will also use the sociallearning theory under the behavioral perspective because I believepositive and negative reinforcement can make it more clear as towhy Susan Smith killed her children.
I chose not to use thesocial exchange theory because, in this case, Susan Smith is not negotiating anything as social exchange theory explains. It alsotends to be a hedonistic view of the human (Lecture notes,behavioral perspective, social exchange theory, 2000). The lasttheory that will be discussed from the sociological perspective isthe role theory. I believe that it is a most obvious concept thatSusan Smith defyed her status and role of being a mother that oursociety accepts.
Role theory will be more helpful than symbolicinteraction theory because I believe that Susan Smith had a greatdeal of role conflict between being a mother and a girlfriend. Symbolic interaction theory does not deal with roles, and focusesmore on symbolic communications (Lecture notes, sociologicalperspective, symbolic interaction theory, 2000). The psychoanalytic theory helps us to better understandpersonality development of individuals. According to Freud, wehave a bio-sexual origin of personality that consists of twocomponents. The first is called the Eros, and it is our lifeinstinct. It is our will to stay alive under any circumstances.
The second component is the Thenatos which is our death instinct. These are motivators for our social behavior (Lecture notes,psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory, 2000). SusanSmith stated that she wanted to roll into the river along with hertwo children, but she decided against it (Smith). Perhaps herEros was much more powerful than her Thenatos, or she would havefollowed her death instinct and killed herself also.
The psychoanalytic theory also states that we have three componentsthat make up our personality. First, there is the id which contains our drives, wants, and needs that we are born with(Lecture notes, psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory,2000). The id is sometimes thought of as our unconscious thoughtsthat we are unaware of. The second aspect to the personality iscalled the super-ego which holds our moral beliefs and norms thatare developed through parental socialization (Lecture notes,psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory, 2000).
In otherwords, the super-ego is not something we are born with, but itcontains morals and values that are taught to us by our parents. The third aspect to the personality is the ego. This is perhapsthe most important part of the personality because it attempts tosatisfy the ids desires. It is a neutral mechanism that could bethought of as the conscious decisions we make on a daily basis(Lecture notes, psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory,2000).
For instance, Susan Smiths id wanted to be with herwealthy boyfriend. This was her main desire that she wasconcerned with. She knew that he did not want children. Hersuper-ego knew that killing her children was very wrong. Therefore, her ego tried to help out her desire to be with herboyfriend, and her id took over her personality because sheeliminated her children from the picture.
Thus, Susans super-egoSocial learning theory has operant conditioning aspects to itthat looks to behavior being motivated by rewards and punishments. It states that our behaviors are motivated to avoid punishmentsand optimize rewards. We theoretically do this to gain positive and negative reinforcement (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective,social learning theory, 2000). Positive reinforcement is anypleasant event that we receive by performing a certain behavior. On the other hand, negative reinforcement has to do with receivinga reward by removal of an aversive stimulus (Lecture notes,behavioral perspective, social learning theory, 2000).
We learnwhat behaviors elicit rewards and punishments by our ownbehaviors. Susan Smith learned that removing her children fromher life became negative reinforcement. She believed she wouldgain positive reinforcement which would be the love of herboyfriend. However, along with reinforcement, there usually comespunishment.
Positive punishment consists of applying unwantedstimuli, and negative punishment can be defined as the removal ofwanted stimuli (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective, sociallearning theory, 2000). Susan Smiths punishment began as soon asshe realized what she had done. Her confession clearly states howshe was terribly guilt-ridden and had felt miserable about killingher children (Smith 1994). This could be a form of negativepunishment because her children were permanently removed from herlife forever. After her confession, she was sentenced to life inprison. This can clearly be seen as positive punishment becauseher freedom was taken away from her forever.
Role theory is a theory that helps us to better understandour social behaviors. We all have roles and statuses in our everyday lives that pertain to how we live on a daily basis. However, some people do not follow socially accepted roles and norms. Among the roles that we have in life, there can also berole conflict. Role conflict is when our different roles are notcompatible with each other because of the different statuses thata person occupies (Lecture notes, sociological perspective, roletheory, 2000).
Susan Smith obviously had great conflict among herstatus as a mother, and her status as a girlfriend. She becamecaught up in making a choice to be a mother or a girlfriend. Shemost definitely made the wrong decision, one that she will have tolive with forever. Statuses are what we are in life, and rolesare what we do in life (Lecture notes, sociological perspective,role theory). For instance, one of Susan Smiths statuses wasbeing a mother.
What is a mother? A mother is supposed to love,care, and protect her children before anything else in her life. Susan Smiths role as a mother was definitely not normal. Perhapsshe was confused about what her role as a mother should be. Shedeviated from her role as a mother so dramatically, and it isalmost impossible to understand how a mother could watch herchildren die.
I believe that she knew perfectly well what herrole as a mother should be, but she chose to be extremely selfish. There are two types of statuses that go along with role theory. Ascribed statuses are those that are given to us without a choice,and achieved statuses are those that we choose or achieve (Lecturenotes, sociological perspective, role theory, 2000). Since beinga mother is an achieved status, it is even more difficult to understand why Susan Smith changed her mind about this status thatwas achieved and killed her children. It is hard to believe that amother would choose a man over her own children permanently. All three of the theories discussed previously have beensuccessful in analyzing Susan Smiths awful crime.
However, Ibelieve that the social learning theory can best explain thisheinous incident because it seems that Susan Smith was onlyconcerned with optimizing her rewards. This theory works betterthan the others because the other theories were not as clear on what motivated Susan to commit such a crime. She was so motivatedto receive her boyfriends approval and love that she removed herprecious children from her life. In the end, she only receivedhorrible punishments. Punishments that will be neverending. Notonly will she never be free again, but she is hated among almosteveryone that has heard this horrific story.
I believe that Susanhas definitely learned a great lesson by being punished to life inprison. She did not receive any rewards by killing her children. This is a story that will make ones stomach turn, and everyloving mother embrace their child. I dont think anyone will everknow what Susan Smith was really thinking as she watched herchildren slowly immerse into the murky waters of John D. Long Lakethat autumn day. It seems too difficult to try to understand whya mother would kill her own children.
Hopefully some day we canfully understand the nature of this crime, and crimes related toit, so that we may put a permanent stop to innocent children beingmurdered by the person that is supposed to protect them the most. Bibliography:of North Carolina. Duraam, NC. Reference ListDr. T. , (2000).
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