social learning theory explanations for offending - forensic psychology

a2 psychology unit 3

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  • Created by: Cara
  • Created on: 09-06-12 15:16

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Social Learning Theory
All behaviour is learned by association, either through classical and operant conditioning
It could therefore be argued that criminal behaviour is learnt
Offending behaviour is learned through processes of observation, imitation, identification
and direct and vicarious reinforcement
Sutherland proposed a social learning theory for offending behaviour known as differential
association theory:
o Offending behaviour is learnt in the same way as any other behaviour
o This learning results from close association with other people (peers, family etc)
o From these people we learn our values and norms (in the case of the offender, these
would be deviant ones)
o Everyone's associations are different (differential association), therefore everyone
had different values and norms
o If a person is exposed to more pro-criminal attitudes than anti-criminal attitudes then
they will offend
o The learning is of attitudes, motives and techniques for committing crime
Criminal behaviour was not exclusive to those from deprived and uneducated backgrounds,
but could also explain crime in the middle classes
Later developments focus on the effects of reinforcement and punishment; if the benefits of
committing a crime are greater, then an individual will commit crime
The benefits could be respect and approval from those who we associate with
Observational learning can also be taken into account; the norms and values demonstrated
by influential role models can affect the aspirations and expectations of those who identify
with them and are a powerful influence on behaviour
Difficult to determine the extent to which socialisation affects criminal behaviour


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