Social process theory is a criminological theory that suggests that criminal behavior is learned through socialization and interaction with others. According to this theory, people become criminals by being exposed to a variety of social influences, such as family, friends, peers, and the media.

What Is Social Process Theory?

Social process theory posits that criminal behavior is not inherent or innate but rather learned through social interactions. This theory asserts that individuals learn criminal behavior through their social experiences and the relationships they form with others in their environment.

Key Elements of Social Process Theory

The key elements of social process theory include:

The Founders of Social Process Theory

Social process theory has its roots in the work of sociologists at the University of Chicago in the early 20th century. Scholars like Edwin Sutherland and Robert Park developed theories about how environmental factors contribute to criminality.

Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association theory proposes that people learn criminal behavior from their social interactions. He argued that individuals who associate with deviant individuals are more likely to engage in criminal activities themselves.

Robert Merton’s Strain theory suggests that crime results from an individual’s inability to achieve success within society’s accepted norms. Merton posits that when people experience strain between what they want and what they can realistically achieve, they may turn to crime as a way to cope with their frustrations.

Applications of Social Process Theory

Social process theory has been applied to various fields, including education, psychology, and criminology. In criminology, social process theory is used to explain why some people become criminals while others do not.

According to the theory, criminal behavior is not solely a result of individual characteristics but rather a product of socialization and environmental factors. This means that crime prevention efforts should focus on changing social norms and values rather than simply punishing individuals for their behavior.


In conclusion, social process theory offers a unique perspective on criminal behavior by emphasizing the role of socialization and environmental factors in shaping individuals’ actions. By understanding how individuals learn criminal behavior through their interactions with others, we can better address the root causes of crime and prevent it from occurring in the first place.