Social learning theory was developed by Ronald Akers in the 1970s and has since become one of the most influential theories in criminology. It suggests that people learn criminal behavior through observation, imitation, and reinforcement from others in their social environment. According to Akers, there are four main concepts of social learning theory that explain how this process occurs.
The Four Main Concepts of Akers Social Learning Theory
1. Differential Association
Differential association is the idea that individuals learn criminal behavior through their interactions with others who engage in such behavior. The more an individual associates with those who engage in criminal activities, the more likely they are to adopt these behaviors themselves. This concept emphasizes the importance of peer influence and the role it plays in shaping an individual’s behavior.
Definitions refer to an individual’s attitudes and beliefs toward criminal behavior. According to social learning theory, these attitudes and beliefs are learned through interactions with others in their environment. If an individual perceives criminal behavior as acceptable or justifiable, they are more likely to engage in it themselves.
3. Differential Reinforcement
Differential reinforcement refers to the rewards and punishments an individual receives for engaging in certain behaviors. If an individual receives positive reinforcement for engaging in criminal behavior, such as respect or admiration from peers, they are more likely to continue engaging in it. Conversely, if an individual receives negative reinforcement for engaging in criminal behavior, such as being rejected by peers or punished by authorities, they may be less likely to engage in it.
Imitation is the idea that individuals learn by observing others and imitating their behaviors. This concept emphasizes the importance of role models and the impact they can have on shaping an individual’s behavior. If an individual observes someone they admire engaging in criminal behavior, they may be more likely to imitate that behavior themselves.
In conclusion, Akers Social Learning Theory suggests that individuals learn criminal behavior through their social interactions. Differential association, definitions, differential reinforcement, and imitation are the four main concepts that explain how this process occurs. By understanding these concepts, we can better understand the factors that contribute to criminal behavior and develop effective interventions to prevent it.