How Does Social Learning Theory Explain Deviant Behavior?

Deviant behavior refers to any action that deviates from the social norms and expectations of a particular society. Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, provides an insight into how individuals learn and adopt deviant behavior. According to this theory, deviance is learned through observation, imitation, and reinforcement.

Observation

Social learning theory suggests that individuals learn through observation of the behavior of others. This can occur through direct observation or indirect observation (such as watching media portrayals of deviant behavior). Individuals are more likely to imitate the behavior of those they perceive as similar or influential to them.

For example, if a child observes their older sibling engaging in deviant behavior such as stealing, they are more likely to engage in similar behavior themselves. Similarly, if an individual watches movies or TV shows where criminal activity is glorified or portrayed without consequences, they may be more likely to engage in such activities.

Imitation

Social learning theory explains that individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors that are rewarding or perceived as beneficial in some way. If an individual observes someone gaining social status or rewards through deviant behavior, they may be more likely to imitate that behavior themselves.

For instance, if a teenager observes their classmates getting attention and popularity for engaging in substance abuse at parties, they may be more likely to try drugs themselves in hopes of gaining similar rewards.

Reinforcement

The final component of social learning theory involves reinforcement. Individuals are more likely to continue engaging in a particular behavior if it is reinforced positively or negatively. Positive reinforcement occurs when someone is rewarded for their behavior while negative reinforcement occurs when someone avoids punishment for their actions.

For example, if an individual is praised for engaging in deviant behavior such as cheating on a test, they may be more likely to cheat again in the future. On the other hand, if an individual avoids punishment for engaging in deviant behavior such as stealing, they may be more likely to steal again in the future.

Conclusion

Social learning theory provides an explanation for how individuals learn and adopt deviant behavior. Through observation, imitation, and reinforcement, individuals are more likely to engage in behaviors that are deemed deviant by society. It is important to note that social learning theory does not excuse or justify deviant behavior but rather provides insight into how it can occur.