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LEARNING THEORIES OF CRIME Some theories in criminology believe that criminality is a function of individual socialization, how individuals have been influenced by their experiences or relationships with family relationships, peer groups, teachers, church, authority figures, and other agents of socialization. These are called learning theories, and specifically social learning theories, because criminology never really embraced the psychological determinism inherent in most learning psychologies. They are also less concerned for the content of what is learned (like cultural deviance theories), and more concerned with explaining the social process by which anyone, regardless of race, class, or gender, would have the potential to become a criminal. Social Learning, Control, and Labeling theories are all examples of social process theories.
LEARNING THEORIES OF CRIME Learning is defined as habits and knowledge that develop as a result of experiences with the environment, as opposed to instincts, drives, reflexes, and genetic predispositions. Associationism (developed by Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and Hume) is the oldest learning theory. It is based on the idea that the mind organizes sensory experiences in some way, and is called cognitive psychology today. Behaviorism (developed by Pavlov and Skinner) is the second oldest learning theory. It is based on the idea that the mind requires a physical response by the body in order to organize sensory associations. There are two types of learning in behavioral psychology: classical conditioning (where stimuli produce a given response without prior training); and operant conditioning (where rewards and punishments are used to reinforce given responses). Examples of operant conditioning include verbal behavior, sexual behavior, driving a car, writing a paper, wearing clothing, or living in a house.
LEARNING THEORIES OF CRIME Most social behavior is of an operant nature. Imitation (sometimes called contagion) is the oldest social learning theory, and derives from the work of Tarde (1843 -1904), a sociologist who said crime begins as fashion and later becomes a custom. The Social learning theory that has had the most impact on criminology is associated with the work of Bandura (1969), a psychologist who formulated the principles of "stimulus control" (stimulus-to-stimulus reinforcement rather than stimulus-behavior reinforcement), outlined the stages of "modeling" (attend, retain, rehearse, perform), and pioneered the field of "vicarious learning" (media influences, for example). Of these many contributions, the one about stimulus-to-stimulus chains of learning is the most important since it does away with the need for extrinsic rewards and punishments, arguing that observational learning can take place without them. Bandura's ideas about role modeling resonated well with criminology because since the 1930 s, criminology had a similar theory (differential association). Julian Rotter was also another psychologist who had an enormous impact on social learning theory in criminology.
SUTHERLAND'S DIFFERENTIAL ASSOCIATION THEORY Sutherland (1883 -1950) is called the father of American criminology. In 1924, he wrote a book called Criminology, the first fully sociological textbook in the field. He first put forth his theory in the second edition of 1934, revised it again in 1939, and theory has remained unchanged since the fourth edition of 1947. When Sutherland died in 1950, Donald Cressey continued to popularize theory. It's called Differential Association (DA) theory, and Sutherland devised it because his study of white collar crime (a field he pioneered) and professional theft led him to believe that there were social learning processes that could turn anyone into a criminal, anytime, anywhere.
SUTHERLAND'S DIFFERENTIAL ASSOCIATION THEORY Let's look at the 9 points of DA theory: 1. Criminal behavior is learned. . 2. Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others in a process of communication. . 3. Learning criminal behavior occurs within primary groups (family, friends, peers, their most intimate, personal companions) 4. Learning criminal behavior involves learning the techniques, motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes. . 5. The specific direction of motives and attitudes is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable. . 6. A person becomes a criminal when there is an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law. . (this is the principle of differential association) 7. Differential associations vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity (frequent contacts, long contacts, age at first contact, important or prestigious contacts) 8. The process of learning criminal behavior involves all the mechanisms involved in any other learning. . 9. Although criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and attitudes, criminal behavior and motives are not explained nor excused by the same needs and attitudes (criminals must be differentiated from noncriminals)
AKERS' DIFFERENTIAL REINFORCEMENT THEORY According to Akers (1985), people are first indoctrinated into deviant behavior by differential association with deviant peers. Then, through differential reinforcement, they learn how to reap rewards and avoid punishment by reference to the actual or anticipated consequences of given behaviors. These consequences are the social and nonsocial reinforcements that provide a support system for those with criminal careers or persistent criminality. Structural conditions affect a person's differential reinforcements. Criminal knowledge is gained through reflection over past experience. Potential offenders consider the outcomes of their past experiences, anticipate future rewards and punishments, and then decide which acts will be profitable and which ones will be dangerous.
AKERS' DIFFERENTIAL REINFORCEMENT THEORY To get to the point where criminal behavior is activated by discriminative cues (norms), the whole process follows seven stages: 1. Criminal behavior is learned through conditioning or imitation. 2. Criminal behavior is learned both in nonsocial reinforcing situations or nonsocial discriminative situations and thru social interaction. 3. The principal components of learning occur in groups. 4. Learning depends on available reinforcement contingencies. 5. The type and frequency of learning depends on the norms by which these reinforcers are applied. 6. Criminal behavior is a function of norms which are discriminative for criminal behavior. 7. The strength of criminal behavior depends upon its reinforcement.
JEFFERY'S DIFFERENTIAL REINFORCEMENT THEORY Jeffery takes for granted the existence of constant stimuli in the environment, but argues that the key variables of deprivation and satiation are what make these stimuli reinforcing or not. A person deprived of something will respond to a stimulus in a much different way than a person satiated with something. Crimes against property produce things, like money or cars, which are themselves powerful reinforcers. Crimes against persons most often involve what Jeffery calls negative reinforcement, the removal of an aversive stimulus (such as when a man kills his unfaithful wife). Drug offenses are reinforced by biochemical changes in the human body. A criminal act may lead to reinforcement, but it may also lead to punishment. Punishment is an important variable in Jeffery's theory because, essentially, he argues that crime occurs because criminal acts in the past, for a particular actor, have not been punished enough. Criminals have different conditioning histories, but it is possible for a person living in a criminal environment to not become a criminal and for criminals to be found in noncriminal environments. Associations with others do not matter. The behavior is shaped by discriminative stimuli rather than reinforcing stimuli.
MATZA'S NEUTRALIZATION THEORY Neutralization theory (Sykes & Matza 1957) holds that people learn the values, attitudes, and techniques of criminal behavior through subterranean values, which exist side by side with conventional values. Few people are "all good" or "all bad. " Matza argues that most criminals are not involved in crime all the time. They drift from one behavior to another, sometimes deviant, sometimes conventional. Sykes and Matza state that criminals frequently admire honest, law abiding persons, and therefore are not immune from guilt and the demands of conformity. They have to use excuses that allow them to drift into crime. In this way, neutralization theory is a control theory if the excuses are seen as post-hoc rationalizations. If they exist in a subterranean fashion (as originally thought), then it's a learning theory.
A GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING CRIMINOLOGICAL THEORY This page provides practice at three important skills: (1) translation of abstract, general statements into measurable, plain English (operationalization); (2) identification of the Independent Variable (cause), Dependent Variable (effect), and Other Factor(s) (specification); and (3) figuring out other possible relationships between variables in a theory (elaboration). Integration is a fourth skill we could have added, but for now, let's concentrate on the three basic ones in italics. The SAMPLE we will work with is the following statement: "Criminality is a probabilistic event determined by the frequency and quality of interaction with persons holding definitions favorable or unfavorable to violation of the law. " In unlocking the meaning of the above statement, we will use three (3) ordinary, everyday TOOLS at our disposal: (1) Name Recognition; (2) Sentence Analysis; and (3) Visualization. The insights these tools might yield about operationalization, specification, and elaboration may not come in any systematic order. That is, we may arrive at an understanding of elaboration first, specification second, and operationalization third; or any other order. We are concerned with understanding theory, not following any established procedure.
SENTENCE ANALYSIS Take the beginning of Sutherland's theory: "Criminality is a probabilistic event determined by. . . " Now, criminality is an old word leftover from the days of biological determinists who were trying not to sound so absolutely certain. They realized that heredity could only account for about 50% of something at best, so they started coming up with phrases like "propensity for", "predisposed to", "inclination towards", and "criminality". So when Sutherland uses this word, you get the idea that he is talking about being inclined toward crime, not actually committing crime. This is called SPECIFYING the Dependent Variable, or effect. For people new to the science of criminology, it is astonishing how many theories are not about crime at all, but the "readiness" to commit crime, "potential" crime, or "tipping points" in the community's tolerance. Anyway, the point is that there is more than one Dependent Variable in criminology. Few theories provide explanations for actual crime or specific criminal events.
SENTENCE ANALYSIS Another part of SENTENCE ANALYSIS is to find what is called the "relational" word. Below, I am providing you with some general interpretations, but do not assume any automatic translations: "varies with" -- this means things fluctuate together; as one thing goes up, the other thing goes down; usually used to describe a possible inverse relationship. "where. . . " -- while not technically a verb, this word usually indicates a feedback relationship, where things go up or down in response to one another. Often, but not always, the case involves an important Z factor which moderates, distorts, or confounds the relationship. Relationals like "varies", "fluctuates", "predominates", "associated with", and "overrepresented by" are usually found when theorist is dealing with sociodemographic variables, like age or race. "seems to be" -- this wishy-washy language usually means that theorist suspects a weak relationship, probably way less than 50%. "tends" -- this might mean, but not always, that there are important Z factors which are antecedent, intervening, or contingent; that is, that come before, in the middle, or after an X and Y relationship. Or, it may be a cojoint relation. "is conducive to" -- this usually means that the cause is a mysterious, unknown construct; typically found in highly abstract theories involving words like anomie, relative deprivation, norms, or controls. In some cases, it refers to a confounding or contextual relationship.
SENTENCE ANALYSIS Don't let the words I just used, such as cojoint and confounding, intimidate you. They are related to our third, everyday tool, VISUALIZATION. Here, you want to look at the nouns in theoretical statement, and try to figure out which ones were intended to be the X's (causes), the Y's (effects), and the Z's (other factors). At a minimum, all theories require at least two variables, an X and a Y, but in real life, most theories are complex and have at least one Z factor. In the interest of what is called parsimony, theorists try to keep their models down to 3 -5 variables. In visualizing, also called MODELING, you can determine the relative importance of these Z factors and their impact on the X-Y relationship by looking at how the variables can be rearranged. Sometimes, theorist has done this for you by "controlling", "partialling", or "factoring out" certain variables, but this is only a statistical solution. To understand all the possible ELABORATIONS of a model, you need to think through all the possibilities, especially those that theorist forgot. It would be helpful to look at the page of modeling relationships between variables before reading further.
There are some rules of thumb about estimating the relative importance of variables with intrinsic models, but again, these are just interpretive guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules: X is usually a variable from the discipline a theorist was trained in. X is usually more important than Y, especially if theorist seems more interested in collecting causes (i. e. , constructs an index). Y is more important than X if theorist seems more interested in predicting symptoms, syndromes, or effects (i. e. , constructs a scale). X is always more important than Z (a third factor), always. X is usually less measurable than Y or Z, because it's an unknown construct. X and Z are usually hard to tell apart, and may seem like the same thing. When more than one Z is in the statement, the first one mentioned is the Z in estimating a parsimonious model.
With regard to measurability, "frequency" is obviously easier to measure than "quality", and I wouldn't even bother with trying to figure out whether "unfavorable" definitions are easier than "favorable" ones since they are about equally difficult. But "definitions" (that strange word) appear to be the least measurable thing in the whole sentence. Definitions might be the main construct (the idea in theorist's mind) which is our X (causal factor).
Since we already know the Y (effect) factor: probability of criminal inclinations, from an earlier discussion, we need to estimate the Z (other) factor. If we followed our last rule of thumb (rule #7), we would choose frequency over quality, but the same reasoning we used in determining our construct applies (as well as rule #5), and we should choose quality over frequency. Why? Because the harder-tomeasure rule is more important than the position-insentence rule. Other reasons: quality is a more sociological word than frequency; Sutherland seems to like more unmeasurable concepts; and Sutherland seems more interested in collecting causes of which quality might be a part instead of frequency which runs the risk of being associated with symptoms.
There are, of course, other ways to arrive at these same conclusions. We can draw inferences out of the Approach and Perspective theory is located under. Since approaches contain assumptions about human nature, models of society, and so forth, we can use this valuable information to rule out other possibilities. We know that learning theories, in general, hold to a blank slate position on human nature. We know that they hold to a consensus model of society, a process (motion picture) orientation toward human action , and a micro-level explanation of social forces. Any one of these provide clues to unlock theory. The consensus assumption, for example, tells us that "definitions" might be important building blocks in social order, without which, society might collapse. This reassures us that "definitions" are the X in Sutherland's theory. In fact, definitions are beginning to sound an awful lot like norms, but they're not. They might play some part in an interactionist account of social order, but this would be a micro -macro link issue which is beyond our concern. Adding norms would create an extrinsic model; adding a social order variable like degree of solidarity would be adding an exogenous factor.