Which of the Following Is True According to Akers Social Learning Theory?


Martha Robinson

Which of the Following Is True According to Akers Social Learning Theory?

Social learning theory, developed by Ronald Akers in the 1970s, is a prominent theory in criminology that emphasizes the role of social influences in shaping individuals’ behavior. According to Akers, individuals learn through observation, imitation, and reinforcement from others. This theory incorporates several key concepts that help explain why people engage in criminal or deviant behavior.

Social Learning Theory Basics

Observational Learning:

Akers’ social learning theory posits that individuals learn by observing others and imitating their behavior. This process is known as observational learning. People are more likely to imitate behaviors they perceive as rewarding or beneficial and less likely to imitate behaviors that result in negative consequences.


In social learning theory, reinforcement plays a crucial role in shaping behavior. Positive reinforcement refers to rewards or favorable outcomes following a specific behavior, making it more likely for individuals to repeat that behavior. Negative reinforcement involves the removal of unpleasant stimuli after engaging in a particular behavior, increasing the likelihood of its recurrence.


Akers also acknowledges the impact of punishment on behavior. Punishment refers to negative consequences or penalties following undesirable actions. According to his theory, the threat of punishment can deter individuals from engaging in deviant or criminal behaviors.

Four Principles of Social Learning Theory

Akers identified four principles within his social learning theory framework:

  1. Differential Association:
  2. This principle suggests that individuals learn deviant or criminal behavior through their interactions with others who already engage in such activities. The more frequent and intense these interactions are, the greater the likelihood of adopting such behaviors.

  3. Definitions:
  4. Akers argues that individuals develop their own definitions of behavior through the process of socialization. These definitions can be favorable or unfavorable towards committing criminal acts. For example, if someone associates deviant behavior with excitement or gain, they are more likely to engage in it.

  5. Imitation:
  6. The principle of imitation states that individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors they observe in others, especially if those behaviors are reinforced or rewarded. This can occur through direct observation or media influences.

  7. Differential Reinforcement:
  8. Akers suggests that individuals perform a cost-benefit analysis before engaging in deviant or criminal behavior. If the perceived benefits outweigh the potential costs, individuals are more likely to engage in such acts. Reinforcements can be positive (rewards) or negative (avoiding punishment).

Implications and Criticisms

Akers’ social learning theory has several implications for understanding and preventing deviant behavior. By recognizing the importance of observational learning and reinforcement, interventions can be developed to promote positive behaviors and discourage negative ones. For instance, educational programs focusing on positive role models and providing opportunities for skill-building can help steer individuals away from criminal activities.

However, it is important to note that Akers’ theory has faced criticism as well. Some argue that it focuses too much on individual learning without adequately considering broader societal factors that contribute to crime. Critics also highlight the challenge of accurately measuring and predicting behavior solely based on observed associations and reinforcement.

In conclusion, according to Akers’ social learning theory, individuals learn through observation, imitation, and reinforcement. The theory emphasizes the importance of social influences in shaping behavior and provides insights into the development of criminal or deviant actions. By understanding these principles, researchers and policymakers can better design interventions to promote positive behavior and reduce criminality.