Furthermore, varying definitions can co-exist: an individual might argue that it is perfectly reasonable to falsify a tax return, but would define burglary as a crime. Differential association theory argues that all behaviour is learned and that learning is through association with other individuals, within close social groups. Furthermore, differential association theory posits that learning includes techniques for executing particular crimes and the motivations and attitudes that are conducive to criminal behaviour.Order now
These attitudes and so on are learned from the individuals’ perception of the law (either favourable or unfavourable). An individual will display criminal behaviour if their definitions of law violation are more favourable than their definitions for non-violation. The learning experiences – differential association – will vary in frequency, intensity and importance according to the individual. It can also be argued, that the process for learning criminal behaviour is no different to any other kind of learning. Despite various attempts at empirical validation there are problems with the theory in its original form.
These problems include difficulties with the term ‘definition’, and a lack of detail as to why, given similar conditions, some individuals adopt criminal definitions while others do not. Sutherland and Cressey (1974) respond to the criticisms in two ways: the first is to dispel the misconception that criminal behaviour is only learned through association with criminals; the second is to point out that inadequacies within the theory, such as the role of individual differences, define areas for further research rather than refuting it.
Indeed, in the time since the formulation of differential association theory great advances have been made in the study of social learning. Theories of crime will be determined, to a greater or lesser degree, by the discipline of the theorist concerned. Thus psychologists draw upon psychological concepts to explain and understand crime, economists upon economic concepts, sociologists upon sociological concepts, and so on. However, this is not to say that all psychologists will agree in their explanations: the concepts a theorist adopts as important will be determined by their particular theoretical stance within their own discipline.
Therefore, within the discipline of psychology there are theories of crime which emphasize biological determinism and draw on concepts such as behavioural genetics and psychodynamic theory. Other theories stress the importance of social and environmental influences on the individual: the effects of parenting styles and peer pressure. In some respects the explanations may share common elements; in other instances they stand diametrically opposed. In conclusion, when one is seeking to explain the extent to which biology determines criminality it is clear that this explanation can not be applied in isolation.
Humans are social as well as biological beings and any attempt to explain human behaviour (no matter what behaviour is displayed) must surely take into account the effects of social and environmental influences on the individual. There is no evidence to suggest genetic factors alone account for individual differences. Perhaps future research should be directed towards determining to what extent heritability directly or indirectly affects an individual’s predisposition to crime.
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