On October 27, 1994, Susan Smith watched her burgundy Mazda
Protege roll into the watery depths of John D. Long Lake carrying
her two sons, Michael, 3, and his 14-month-old brother, Alexander
Henderson and Fields 1995). One can only wonder what could have
caused a mother to intentionally murder her two beautiful baby
boys. The motive seemed to be that Susan Smiths wealthy
boyfriend did not want the children. She also stated in her
handwritten confession that she knew he would never love her
(Smith 1994). I can only speculate that she meant he would never
love her as long as she had children. However, I believe that
Susan must have been deeply disturbed to commit such a horrible
In order to better understand this unthinkable act, I chose
to use the psychoanalytic theory from the psychological
perspective. I think this theory can describe Susans behavior
better than the cognitive consistency theory because the id, ego,
and super-ego seem to observe mental processes more than the
cognitive consistency theory does. Using the cognitive
consistency theory would make it more difficult to observe the
mental processes of Susan Smith that I believe are necessary to
understand this crime (Lecture notes, psychological perspective,
cognitive consistency theory). I will also use the social
learning theory under the behavioral perspective because I believe
positive and negative reinforcement can make it more clear as to
why Susan Smith killed her children. I chose not to use the
social exchange theory because, in this case, Susan Smith is not
negotiating anything as social exchange theory explains. It also
tends to be a hedonistic view of the human (Lecture notes,
behavioral perspective, social exchange theory, 2000). The last
theory that will be discussed from the sociological perspective is
the role theory. I believe that it is a most obvious concept that
Susan Smith defyed her status and role of being a mother that our
society accepts. Role theory will be more helpful than symbolic
interaction theory because I believe that Susan Smith had a great
deal of role conflict between being a mother and a girlfriend.
Symbolic interaction theory does not deal with roles, and focuses
more on symbolic communications (Lecture notes, sociological
perspective, symbolic interaction theory, 2000).

The psychoanalytic theory helps us to better understand
personality development of individuals. According to Freud, we
have a bio-sexual origin of personality that consists of two
components. The first is called the Eros, and it is our life
instinct. 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). Susan
Smith stated that she wanted to roll into the river along with her
two children, but she decided against it (Smith). Perhaps her
Eros was much more powerful than her Thenatos, or she would have
followed her death instinct and killed herself also. The psychoanalytic theory also states that we have three components
that 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 thoughts
that we are unaware of. The second aspect to the personality is
called the super-ego which holds our moral beliefs and norms that
are developed through parental socialization (Lecture notes,
psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory, 2000). In other
words, the super-ego is not something we are born with, but it
contains morals and values that are taught to us by our parents.
The third aspect to the personality is the ego. This is perhaps
the most important part of the personality because it attempts to
satisfy the ids desires. It is a neutral mechanism that could be
thought 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 her
wealthy boyfriend. This was her main desire that she was
concerned with. She knew that he did not want children. Her
super-ego knew that killing her children was very wrong.
Therefore, her ego tried to help out her desire to be with her
boyfriend, and her id took over her personality because she
eliminated her children from the picture. Thus, Susans super-ego
Social learning theory has operant conditioning aspects to it
that looks to behavior being motivated by rewards and punishments.
It states that our behaviors are motivated to avoid punishments
and optimize rewards. We theoretically do this to gain positive
and negative reinforcement (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective,
social learning theory, 2000). Positive reinforcement is any
pleasant event that we receive by performing a certain behavior.
On the other hand, negative reinforcement has to do with receiving
a reward by removal of an aversive stimulus (Lecture notes,
behavioral perspective, social learning theory, 2000). We learn
what behaviors elicit rewards and punishments by our own
behaviors. Susan Smith learned that removing her children from
her life became negative reinforcement. She believed she would
gain positive reinforcement which would be the love of her
boyfriend. However, along with reinforcement, there usually comes
punishment. Positive punishment consists of applying unwanted
stimuli, and negative punishment can be defined as the removal of
wanted stimuli (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective, social
learning theory, 2000). Susan Smiths punishment began as soon as
she realized what she had done. Her confession clearly states how
she was terribly guilt-ridden and had felt miserable about killing
her children (Smith 1994). This could be a form of negative
punishment because her children were permanently removed from her
life forever. After her confession, she was sentenced to life in
prison. This can clearly be seen as positive punishment because
her freedom was taken away from her forever.

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Role theory is a theory that helps us to better understand
our 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 be
role conflict. Role conflict is when our different roles are not
compatible with each other because of the different statuses that
a person occupies (Lecture notes, sociological perspective, role
theory, 2000). Susan Smith obviously had great conflict among her
status as a mother, and her status as a girlfriend. She became
caught up in making a choice to be a mother or a girlfriend. She
most definitely made the wrong decision, one that she will have to
live with forever.Statuses are what we are in life, and roles
are what we do in life (Lecture notes, sociological perspective,
role theory). For instance, one of Susan Smiths statuses was
being 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. Perhaps
she was confused about what her role as a mother should be. She
deviated from her role as a mother so dramatically, and it is
almost impossible to understand how a mother could watch her
children die. I believe that she knew perfectly well what her
role 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 (Lecture
notes, sociological perspective, role theory, 2000). Since being
a mother is an achieved status, it is even more difficult to understand why Susan Smith changed her mind about this status that
was achieved and killed her children. It is hard to believe that a
mother would choose a man over her own children permanently.
All three of the theories discussed previously have been
successful in analyzing Susan Smiths awful crime. However, I
believe that the social learning theory can best explain this
heinous incident because it seems that Susan Smith was only
concerned with optimizing her rewards. This theory works better
than the others because the other theories were not as clear on
what motivated Susan to commit such a crime. She was so motivated
to receive her boyfriends approval and love that she removed her
precious children from her life. In the end, she only received
horrible punishments. Punishments that will be neverending. Not
only will she never be free again, but she is hated among almost
everyone that has heard this horrific story. I believe that Susan
has definitely learned a great lesson by being punished to life in
prison. She did not receive any rewards by killing her children.
This is a story that will make ones stomach turn, and every
loving mother embrace their child. I dont think anyone will ever
know what Susan Smith was really thinking as she watched her
children slowly immerse into the murky waters of John D. Long Lake
that autumn day. It seems too difficult to try to understand why
a mother would kill her own children. Hopefully some day we can
fully understand the nature of this crime, and crimes related to
it, so that we may put a permanent stop to innocent children being
murdered by the person that is supposed to protect them the most.


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