Psychological Explanations: Differential Association Theory

  • Scientific basis:
    • Edwin Sunderland said ‘the conditions which are said to cause the crime should be present when crime is present, and absent when crime is absent’
    • Offending behaviour may be acquired through learning processes
  • Crime as learned behaviour:                                                                                                                             
  • Learns through interactions through significant others that the child associates with such as the family or peer group.
  • Pro-criminal attitudes
  • Happens through socialisation
  • Offending is likely when pro-criminal attitudes outweigh anti-criminal attitudes
  • It should be possible to mathematically predict likeliness of an individual committing crime if we have knowledge of the frequency, intensity and duration of which they have been exposed to deviant and non-deviant values
  • Learning criminal acts / techniques
    • Eg: how to break into a house through a locked window, how to steal a car radio, etc
    • Explains why so many convicts in prison go on to reoffend: observational learning, imitation or direct tuition
Good Explanatory Power – recognises crime in all areas of society, and different kinds of crime, can be applied to working-class or white-collar crimes.

Offers Realistic Solution – recognises crime as a product of environmental and social factors rather than personal weakness and immorality, offers a more realistic solution that can predict and prevent crime

Alternative Explanation for Crime Running in Families – Farrington et al (2006) – longitudinal study of 411 males from ages 8 in 1961, all working-class in South-London, 41% convicted at least 1 offence between 10-50, most important childhood ‘risk factors’ were family criminality, daring or risk-taking, low school achievement, poverty and poor parenting – could be explained by Differential Association, such as through impoverished background and family criminality being socialised

Difficult to Test – difficult to measure intensity and frequency of attitudes as we are exposed to them constantly throughout our lives, therefore not that useful in predicting crime in all sectors besides the most extreme – undermined scientific credibility

Individual Differences and Determinism – danger of stereotyping individuals in crime-ridden backgrounds – ignores free-will, Sutherland says to consider on case-by-case business