Psychological explanations: Differential Association

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  • Psychological explanations: Differential association
    • Explanation to offender behaviour in terms of learning theory
      • Edwin Sutherland proposed criminals are socialised into a life of crime-sociological theory: people vary in the frequency with which they associate with others who have more or less favourable characteristics
      • A child learns attitudes to crime; whether it is desirable or undesirable- a criminal is one that has learnt pro criminal attitudes from those around them, children will learn what is acceptable in their community; burglary may be accepted but violence isn't.
      • Learnt from intimate personal groups such as family and or peer groups; individuals do not have to commit crimes but accept such deviant attitudes
        • Sutherland suggests frequency, length and personal meaning of such social associations will determine the degree of influence
          • Direct and indirect operant conditioning, vicarious reinforcement: a child is reinforced for deviant behaviours through praise and continue to commit such acts
    • Changed people's views about orgins of behaviour: shift from blaming individual factors to looking at social impacts: real world implications as learning environments can be altered, but genetics cannot
    • Evidence to support: OSBOURNE AND WEST: where there is a father with a conviction, 40% of sons also committed a crime by age of 18, compared to 13% non criminals; may be learnt, but also genetics play a role
    • Data is correlational research; no cause and effect-research falls short on whether learning experiences are the cause of offender behaviour or is it more likely a genetic link; issue on how we measure differential association and how we can assess if it is a cause and can rule out genetics.
    • Absence of biological factors; diathesis may offer a better explanation; combing social factors with a genetic vulnerability; on its own is insufficient and limited.


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