This article explores the link between social learning and crime by focusing on social learning theories developed by clinical psychologists based on. The empirical status of social learning theory of crime and deviance: The past, present, and future. In Taking stock: The status of criminological theory. Edited by. The basic assumption in social learning theory is that the same learning process in a context of social structure, interaction, and situation, produces.


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This area of study became part of mainstream criminology with the publication of Ronald L.

Over the last 30 years, social learning theory has remained an important part of our understanding of both criminal and non-criminal behaviour, as is demonstrated by its repeated presence in various textbooks and edited volumes looking at deviant and non-deviant behaviour.

The theory is also arguably one of the most tested contemporary theories of crime and deviance social learning theory and crime has undergone considerable elaboration and testing since the s.

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This section will begin by providing an explanation of social learning theory and the critiques associated with this perspective. It will follow with an examination of social learning theory and crime application of social learning theory in current research findings and will conclude with a discussion of the policy implications of adopting a social learning perspective.

In the study of crime and criminality, social learning theory is generally applied and understood as it was conceptualized by Ronald L. Social learning theory is a general theory of crime and criminality and has been used in research to explain a diverse array of criminal behaviours.

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The difference lies in the direction Social learning theory is best summarized by its leading proponent, Ronald L. The conceptualization of social learning theory embodies within it four social learning theory and crime premises that include differential association, definitions, differential reinforcement and imitation Akers and Sellers, The following section will examine these premises as they relate to the more general social learning theory.

Differential Association Differential association theory can be understood as comprising two important dimensions.

The people or groups with whom an individual is in social contact, either directly or indirectly, are seen as providing the social context under social learning theory and crime each of the four premises of social learning theory functions.

That is, within this social context, individuals are exposed to varying definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, as well as a variety of behavioural models that may differentially reinforce criminal and non-criminal behaviour.

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These models may also serve as a source social learning theory and crime the imitating of behaviour. The people or groups with whom an individual associates are broken up into primary and secondary sources by social learning theorists.

Primary associations include those with immediate family and friends. Secondary sources of social learning include a much wider range of people and would include, for example, teachers, neighbours, and church groups. Each of these groups is thought to contribute to the attitudes and values an individual adopts, as well as to how that person behaves in various social contexts.


It is generally understood, under the theory of differential association, that the timing, length, frequency and nature of the contact are important determinants of behaviour. These attitudes and values are learned and reinforced through the process of differential association.

Social learning theory social learning theory and crime attitudes and values to the influence of general and specific definitions. General definitions would include broad beliefs about conforming behaviour that is influenced principally through conventional norms, as well as religious and moral values Akers and Sellers, These beliefs are thought generally to be those that do not support the commission of criminal or deviant acts.

The main premise behind this notion of definitions is that the greater the number of definitions favourable to deviant or criminal behaviour, the greater the likelihood that an individual will take part in that type of conduct.

Social learning theory also social learning theory and crime for conforming behaviour to the extent that the greater the number of definitions favourable to conventional norms, the less likely an individual is to engage in deviant or criminal acts.


It is conceivable within this understanding of social learning that an individual could adopt conforming attitudes and values about certain behaviours while at the same time develop attitudes and values that justify or excuse some types of social learning theory and crime behaviours.

In explaining criminal behaviour, definitions are seen as either approving of or neutralizing the behaviour. It is important to note that an individual who has adopted approving or neutralizing definitions of deviant behaviour does not necessarily have to act on them.