The Social Process Theory is a criminological theory that focuses on how individuals become criminals. It suggests that criminal behavior is learned through social interactions and experiences, and is not necessarily a result of individual characteristics or biology. The theory was first introduced by sociologist Edwin Sutherland in the early 20th century.

Edwin Sutherland:
Edwin Sutherland was an American criminologist and sociologist who was born in 1883. He is widely regarded as the father of the Social Process Theory, which he developed in the 1930s. Sutherland believed that criminal behavior was not determined solely by individual characteristics, but also by social factors such as family, peers, and community.

The Social Process Theory:
The Social Process Theory proposes that individuals learn criminal behavior through three main mechanisms: differential association, differential reinforcement, and imitation.

Differential Association:

Differential association refers to the idea that criminal behavior is learned from others through social interaction. This includes learning from peers, family members, and other individuals who are involved in criminal activity. According to Sutherland, individuals are more likely to engage in criminal behavior if they associate with others who have already engaged in such behavior.

Differential Reinforcement:

Differential reinforcement refers to the idea that individuals are more likely to engage in criminal behavior if they perceive that it will be rewarded or reinforced. This can include receiving praise or admiration from peers for engaging in criminal activities or receiving financial gain from committing crimes.


Imitation refers to the idea that individuals learn criminal behavior by observing others engage in such behavior and then imitating it themselves. This can include observing peers or family members engaging in criminal activities and then copying their behavior.

Criticism of the Social Process Theory:
While the Social Process Theory has been influential in shaping modern criminology, it has also been criticized for its lack of attention to individual characteristics and biology. Some critics argue that the theory places too much emphasis on social factors and downplays the importance of individual differences in criminal behavior.


Overall, the Social Process Theory has been a significant contribution to the field of criminology. Its emphasis on social interactions and experiences as key factors in shaping criminal behavior has led to a greater understanding of how individuals become involved in criminal activity. However, it is important to continue to explore and examine other factors that may contribute to criminal behavior, including individual differences and biology.