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Learning Theories


Title: Learning Theories Author: Julius Wachtel Last modified by: Julius Wachtel Created Date: 4/8/2002 2:54:30 AM Document presentation format: On-screen Show (4:3) – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Learning Theories

Learning Theories
Principle crime, like otherbehaviors, is learned
  • Crime is learned, like other behaviors
  • One acquires habits and knowledge by
    interactingwith the environment
  • Not instinctual or biological
  • Focus on content and process of learning
  • What crimes can be learned? How?
  • What behaviors that support crime can be learned?
  • What in a culture supports this learning?
  • Current learning theories based on association
  • Classical conditioning passive learning
  • Associating bell with meat produces salivation
    when bell rings
  • Operant conditioning active learning
  • Organism learns how to get what it wants
  • Press a lever to get food associate lever with
  • Social learning active learning cognition
  • Direct reinforcement through rewards and
  • Vicarious reinforcement by observing what
    happens to others

Sutherland Learning crimethrough differential
  • Learning occurs in intimate social groups
  • Criminal behavior is learned from persons
    whotransmit ideas or definitions that promote
  • Attitudes towards legal codes by a persons
    social groupare important
  • Normative conflict norms of group and
    societymay be in conflict
  • Definitions how members of a group look on
    legalcodes are they to be observed, or not?
    Which laws can be violated? Why?
  • Content of learning
  • Criminal techniques
  • Underlying drives, rationalizations and attitudes
  • A persons associations with criminal and
    non-criminal patterns of thought and conduct
    differ in frequency, duration, priority and
  • Delinquency is caused by an excess of definitions
    favorable to lawbreaking

Views of differential association
  • Criticisms
  • It focuses on juvenile crime committed in groups
  • Perhaps delinquents simply flock together
  • Not all who associate with delinquents become
  • Hard to test How can we identify and count the
    definitions favorable and unfavorable to
    lawbreaking in each setting?
  • Cannot apply to all kinds of crime
  • Difficult to use to explain differences in crime
    rates in different places and between different
    demographic groups
  • Defenses
  • Strength, intensity of associations vary
  • It includes a cognitive (active processing)
    component in learning
  • Those with more delinquent friends do commit more
  • Those with more definitions favoring lawbreaking
    commit more crime

Akers learning through differential
  • Behaviors can be learned as well as ideas
  • Differential association Behaviors can be
    learned socially, from others and from reference
    groups whose definitions are favorable or
    unfavorable to lawbreaking
  • Differential reinforcement Behaviors can be
    learned socially and non-socially, according to
    their actual or anticipated consequences
  • Learned socially through approval/disapproval by
  • Learned non-socially (e.g., getting sick/high on
  • Learned vicariously by observing consequences of
    behavior for others
  • Once criminal behavior begins, it continues if
    reinforced either socially or non-socially
  • Structural conditions (inequality, strain) affect
    a persons differential associations,
    definitions, models and reinforcements

Athens learning through violentization
  • How persons become violent criminals
  • Based on Athens observations growing up in a
    violent environment
  • Theory developed through in-depth interviews with
    58 prisoners
  • Four stages
  • Brutalization - victim of intra-familial
    violence, coached in violence
  • Belligerence - person decides to stop being the
    victim and take charge of their situation
  • Violent performances - person experiments with
  • Failures may lead to exit from violence
  • Successes may lead to more violence acquiring
  • Virulency - person treated differently by others,
    embraces image
  • Sees violence as best response to many situations

Learning theories and gangs
Walter B. Miller gangs form through class
  • Lower and middle-class cultures are distinct
  • Middle-class emphasizes achievement
  • Lower-class has different concerns, which are
    abreeding ground for crime
  • Toughness, smartness (street sense), excitement,
    fate, autonomy
  • Male role models often absent, so an exaggerated
    sense of masculinity results
  • Crowding and domestic conditions send boys to the
    street, where they form gangs

Wolfgang and Ferracutti learning violence in a
violent subculture
  • Violence is a cultural expression for
    lowersocioeconomic status males
  • Many homicides result from very trivial events
  • Defending honor of relatives, neighborhood
  • Significance of an event (e.g., a jostle) is
    differentially perceived by races and
    socioeconomic classes
  • Persons who respond as socially expected are
    admired those who do not are put down
  • Causes of passion behavior are ideas norms,
    values, expectations that originate in social
  • Dont focus on the origin of a subculture
  • Worry instead about the ideas it generates
  • Remedy is to disperse and assimilate
  • New York Times Gunfire Still Rules the Night

Elijah Anderson Learning violence in a black
street subculture
  • Criminogenic environment
  • High concentration of poverty
  • Decline in legitimate jobs, increase in
  • Drugs, guns, crime and violence
  • Declining welfare payments, no hope for the
  • Lack of faith in C.J. system
  • Code of civility respected by decent people has
    no value on the street
  • Code of the street
  • Cultural adaptation to living in declining
  • Respect, disrespect and manhood
  • Spreads to decent children through contagion
    and necessity
  • Theory is partly cultural, like Wolfgang
    Ferracutti partly social/structural, like Merton

  • How do people learn to commit crime?
  • Sutherland Crime is behavior that flows
    naturally from ideas and beliefs learned by
    associating with others
  • Akers and Athens basically agree, but extend the
    learning process to incorporate other factors,
    such as reinforcement and exposure to violence
  • If crime is a normal learned behavior, how
    society is structured and organized are important
  • Critical criminology Those who set and define
    the rules and values get to define crime
    Social structure ?
  • Learning theories (Matsueda) Social structure
    counts, but culturally-defined ideas and beliefs
    are a more proximate cause of crime
  • Social structure ? culture/subculture ?
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