What Is the Difference Between Social Learning Theory and Differential Association?

In the field of sociology, two prominent theories that explain how individuals learn deviant behavior are Social Learning Theory and Differential Association. While both theories focus on how social interactions shape an individual’s behavior, they differ in their underlying principles and emphasis.

Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory, developed by Albert Bandura, suggests that people learn through observation, imitation, and modeling. According to this theory, individuals acquire new behaviors by observing others’ actions and the consequences of those actions. They then imitate or avoid imitating these behaviors based on the rewards or punishments associated with them.

Key Points of Social Learning Theory:

Differential Association

Differential Association theory, formulated by Edwin Sutherland, focuses on how individuals acquire deviant behavior through their social interactions. This theory suggests that individuals learn deviant behavior when they associate with others who engage in such behaviors. The more frequently an individual interacts with these deviant individuals, the greater the likelihood of adopting their behaviors.

Key Points of Differential Association:

Comparison

While both Social Learning Theory and Differential Association explain the acquisition of deviant behavior, they differ in some key aspects:

1. Focus:

Social Learning Theory emphasizes the role of observation and reinforcement in learning behavior, regardless of whether it is deviant or conforming. On the other hand, Differential Association theory focuses specifically on how individuals learn deviant behavior through their interactions with others engaged in such behaviors.

2. Mechanism of Learning:

Social Learning Theory suggests that learning occurs through observation, imitation, and reinforcement. In contrast, Differential Association theory proposes that learning happens primarily through direct interaction with individuals who engage in deviant behavior.

3. Scope:

Social Learning Theory has a broader scope as it explains various forms of learning beyond deviance.

It encompasses both positive and negative behaviors learned through social interactions. In contrast, Differential Association theory is specific to the acquisition of deviant behavior.

Conclusion

In summary, Social Learning Theory and Differential Association provide insights into how individuals acquire deviant behavior through social interactions. While Social Learning Theory focuses on observational learning and reinforcement, Differential Association theory emphasizes the influence of significant others engaged in deviant behaviors. Understanding these theories helps shed light on the complex processes underlying the development of deviance within society.