Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory is based on the premise that crime, like other types of behavior can be learned through social interactions with individuals and communities. Crime therefore is not an innate quality, but rather consists of acquired deviant behavior (Schmalleger, 2008, p. 300). The social learning theory looks at the role communication and socialization play with regard to the development of delinquent behavior. Peer groups for example may lead to the development of criminal behavior in youth. It places emphasis on values that sustain such criminal behavior.

Our environment and the people we look upon as role models have a great influence on our behavior. I grew up in a home where both my parents were smokers. As a child my parents told me that cigarettes were not toys, however even while knowing this I was naturally drawn to smoking. As I grew older, some members of my peer group used to smoke this led me to try smoking. Media is also full of images of perpetrators of violence being portrayed as heroes. They are hardly ever punished, the victims of such violence show little pain and the long term consequences of such violence are never shown. John Hickley Jr. the man responsible for the attempted assassination on President Reagan was supposedly imitating the lead character in the movie Taxi Driver (Carter, 2002, p. 294). People might therefore pursue criminal behavior not only based on real but also imaginary persons whom they view as setting role models.

Edwin Sutherland blamed the reduction in community life and conflict in cultural values caused by the separation of people, and the rapid changes in group membership for the rise in crime. He stated that presently we have many laws to take the place of spontaneous controls that groups used to provide (Gaylord  Galliher, 1988, p. 85). Societies are capable of providing the rewards that promote good behavior or the punishments that discourage deviant behavior. Criminal behavior has similar patterns to those of ordinary learning (Schmalleger, 2008, p. 300). Criminal behavior can thus be reinforced or discouraged. Future crime reduction policies have to address this learned behavior.

An effective crime reduction and prevention policy would be one that focuses on the young. This would involve the establishment of positive peer groups, which impart positive values. Such groups would establish ways of rewarding and recognizing positive behavior within the peer group.  Sutherland stated that learning is a product of interaction especially within intimate groups such groups include family, friends and peers. Delinquent peers are able to amplify bad behavior, while the opposite is also true, positive peers moderate criminality (Siegel, 2008, p. 201). The establishment of peer groups such as clubs, and getting young people to do voluntary work can help to reduce the attractions to crime. People having a purpose are less likely to engage in deviant behavior compared to those who dont. People who also belong to groups that hold them accountable are also less likely to be immoral. It has been shown that people who attend religious services often are likely to eschew crime. In addition, kids from broken homes are more likely to choose delinquent peers (Siegel, 2008. 201).

If a policy focusing on the youth is adopted, we can reduce both the present rates of crime perpetrated by youths and also reduce future crimes. Social learning can be used to reinforce positive behavior. The economic, psychological and emotional costs associated with crime will decline. The impetus that makes crime attractive will be eliminated in its early stages, resulting in safer societies.


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