Criminal Behavior: the Negative Attribution of Societal Nurturing

Last Updated: 17 Jun 2020
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Running head: SOCIAL CONTROL, STRAIN, SOCIAL LEARNING, AND CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR Criminal Behavior: The Negative Attribution of Societal Nurturing Criminal Behavior: The Negative Attribution of Societal Nurturing Imagine someone telling you that “you are the product of your environment”, what does that mean? Imagine a girl who has decided to pursue a career as a stripper. All of her friends are strippers and the new people she meets are those she has met while stripping. Would it be easy for her to quit that job?

What would happen if she moved away and was surrounded by well-educated individuals? - Individuals who gave her strong social support and a good positive influence. What about the youth living in a deprived neighborhood, surrounded by small hopes and dreams for the future and low supervision? Is it possible that they become just like everyone else in their community? Let us compare an individual who lives in a disorganized community with an individual in a more organized and structured community, which one is more likely to develop criminal and delinquent behaviors?

The purpose of this study is to investigate the measurable affirmation of criminal behavior contributing to a selective demographic based on three theories: social control theory, social learning theory, and strain theory. The idea in which the environment is the context within which all social relations occur has been brought to our attention by Lewin (1943) and can be used to make concept of a major factor in developing criminal and delinquent behaviors.

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Lewin proposed that the fundamental principle of social psychology research is that human behavior is a function of not only the person, but of the environment as well (Opotow & Gieseking, 2011). A large body of research has been done regarding the human behavior as a function of their “life space” and the person’s environment, such as neighborhoods, schools, work, and their friendships. Lewin states that particular places can serve as “contact zones” (Opotow & Gieseking, 2011) and support certain kinds of interaction.

These “contact zones” are formed between people and the physical characteristics of the built and natural world they live in (Opotow & Gieseking, 2011). Social control theory, strain theory, and social learning theory were all proposed by a variety of researchers strongly supporting the link between environment and the development of criminal minds. The theories supported are thought of as individual-level processes (Hoffman, 2003).

The social control theory, for example, is the thought that community disorganization lessens bonding mechanisms by making parental supervision and interpersonal attachments more vague (Hoffman, 2003; Elliot et al. , 1997; Shaw & McKay, 1931). With community disorganization comes little to no control. The community is usually distinguished by residential instability and a high ratio of broken families as well as single parents; reducing the likelihood of efficient socialization and supervision of the youth.

A research study was conducted by Baskin & Sommers (2011) to determine whether placement instability played a role in developing delinquent/criminal behavior; results indicated that the children with more instability were more likely to be arrested and have a criminal record. Community disorganization reduces social support structure and weakens an important source of conformed bonding and success in socialization: effective parenting.

Empirical research has sustained the idea that the influence of social bonds differs in each type of community and disorganized communities have a negative effect on the competence of social bonds to greatly reduce delinquent behavior. A lot of this is seen in our own communities and the communities surrounding us. It is all about where the person lives, where he goes to school, and whom he chooses to hang out with.

The initial development of the strain theory was developed by Merton (1968) where he proposed that opportunity structures greatly affect the ability to grasp common cultural goals, such as the pursuit for monetary gain (Hoffman, 2003). The individual-level component of the strain theory is basically the strain of striving to reach goals within various forms of opportunity structures that could lead to adjustments such as deviant behaviors, delinquency, and even crime.

With the assumption that opportunity structures differ in each community, it is safe to say that the effects of strains caused by the disunity between goals and means on deviant behavior will differ in every community (Hoffman, 2003). In other words, the strained youth in disorganized communities have a more realistic picture of their situation, so criminal adaption’s become more likely. Agnew (1992) elaborated this theory to form a concept by broadening the notion of strain with adding a variety of sources, such as families, schools, and cognitive skills (Hoffman, 2003).

Agnew assumes that the deprived communities are more likely to have strained youths and that these communities will suffer from more blocked or “strained” opportunity structures (Hoffman, 2003; Agnew, 1999). What is meant by Agnew’s new definition of this strain theory is that these communities develop an atmosphere that is based on anger and frustration; this could mean a greater chance of “going with the flow” to maybe prove themselves as “tough guys” to other communities.

The social learning theory or differential association proposes that criminal associations and favoring conflict differ within each community type; it is this differentiation that explains the distribution of crime rates (Hoffman, 2003; Cressey, 1960; Reinarman & Fagan, 1988). Individuals embedded within certain communities are either exposed to or opposed to criminal behavior. Akers (1998) sees the sources in these differences: “The less solidarity, cohesion, or integration there is within a group… the higher will be the rate of crime and deviance” (Hoffman, 2003).

In other words, social structural influences on criminal behaviors are fully reconciled by social learning processes. Many researchers stress that the DSM-IV diagnosis applied to criminals completely misses the mark and the idea of their environment is not enough (Stuart, 2004). Some researchers believe that sociological and environmental theories do not include the important concept of individual choice: “Crime resides within the person, not the environment” (Stuart, 2004). Other research, however, supports the importance of living in a good environment to prevent the development of a criminal mind.

Although some researchers may suggest the treatment should be to focus on changing the patterns of thinking of criminals and to hold them accountable for every violation of moral thoughts, other researchers now believe that these efforts are slightly misdirected (Hoffman, 2003; Stuart, 2004, Baskin & Sommers, 2011). Other research suggests that even with punishment one can only discourage the criminal act to a greater or lesser degree, restrain the secret manifestation of a criminal urge, but the punishment ill not reconstruct the criminal mind, or avert its development in the individual (The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1928). The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1928) proposes that the criminal mind is not different from that of the sane mind. Of course, many individuals do deviate themselves from the strain of their environment and negative influences simply because of their own personal values and the will to want to better themselves and their way of living. The proposed study will examine the moderating effects of the environment on developing criminal behaviors based on where the individuals grew up/came from.

The study is based on the social control, strain, and social learning theories. There have been very few studies that examine the impact of these theories and their consequences on the general individual-level processes that affect the person’s adaption’s to an environment exposed or opposed to possible criminal behaviors. Furthermore, by investigating these theories, this study might be able to determine which variables, if not all, indicate the development of criminal minds and delinquent behaviors.

It is expected that participants will display more criminal and delinquent behaviors in the more strained and disorganized communities. Some participants will be from a more deprived area of town; they are considered to be part of a disorganized as well as strained community. Others will be from an average to more up scaled living environment; they are part of a more organized community who are influenced by everyone around them to want to have a better living. Each group of participants is expected to react to the way of their environment; to adapt to their “way of living”.

However, in general, participants in a more disorganized and strained community will suffer from more blocked opportunity structures, poor supervision, negative bonding mechanisms, and poor residential stability because despite having personal choices, an individual is always a product of his environment. Method Participants There will be approximately 850 participants in the proposed study that will serve as a representative sample of ninth grade students from U. S. high schools. Participants will be selected from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).

In exchange for their participation, participants will be given a raffle ticket for a chance to win a variety of small prizes. Design The proposed study will be using the longitudinal method. The independent variables will be the type of community the participants live in (organized/disorganized), their friendships, monetary strain, blocked opportunity structures, and parental supervision. The dependent variable will be their acquired behaviors, which will be examined (according to the variation of delinquency theories), by the data drawn from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS).

The NELS is “a longitudinal study designed to explore the impact of families and schools on a variety of educational, vocational, and behavioral outcomes” (Howard, 2003). The friendship variable will be used to examine the learning theory, the stress for monetary gain and blocked opportunity structures will be used to examine the strain theory, and parental supervision will be used to examine the social control theory. Procedure The representative sample for this study will be drawn by NELS.

This sample will then be interviewed. At the beginning of the interview, the parents of the participants as well as the participants themselves will be specifically informed that all private information will be strictly confidential and will be used for research purposes only. The parents will then be given an informed consent to read through. As the participants from the subsample come in for the interview, they will be asked a variety of questions regarding delinquent behavior. All of this data will then be entered in NCES.

The NELS data will then be used to examine the community characteristics that condition the impact of pertinent variables on deviant behaviors in the modern lives of these adolescents. Data from NCES will match their residential addresses to census identifiers. Census tracts are used to examine the impact of neighborhoods on various outcomes. The participants will then be interviewed during their senior year in high school. Again, asking them a large sum of questions regarding deviant behaviors. The same data will then be entered in NCES and NELS to retouch the previous information.

The issue being utilized in this study is the individual’s environment on his behavior based on a long period of time. The questions asked by examiners will pertain to their relationship with their parents, their thoughts on fighting and violence, cultural goals for monetary gain, and so on. Measures As mentioned before, the friendship variable will be used to examine the learning theory; the stress for monetary gain will examine the strain theory; and parental supervision will be used to examine the social control theory. Conventional definition (Howard, 2003).

A conventional definition will be constructed from a set of ten questions that will ask participants whether it is acceptable to engage in deviant behaviors such as having a gun, being affiliated with a gang, fighting, vandalism, selling drugs, using drugs, and stealing. A sample question includes: “Do you believe it is acceptable to join a gang? ”. Response set ranges from one (often acceptable) to four (never acceptable). The Strain Theory. Questions that examine the strain theory will be based on cultural goals for monetary gain and blocked opportunity structures: “How important is money to you? ; “Do you have a high or low chance of graduating from high school? ”; “What are the chances of you joining a gang if you knew you would get lots of money? ”. The responses will be based on coding: 1 if money is very important, 0 not being important; 1 if high chance of graduating, 0 if low, and so on. The Learning Theory. The learning theory will be assessed by asking four questions about their friendships. Sample questions include “Do you feel pressured to be involved in everything your friends are in? ” and “Have you ver been influenced by a friend to engage in deviant behaviors? ”. Response set ranges from one (always) to four (never). The Social Control Theory. This theory will be examined by parental supervision. The respondent’s parents will be asked a total of ten questions, with answer choices ranging from one (disagree completely) to four (agree completely). Sample questions include “Do you believe it is important to know your child’s friends? ” and “Do you believe it is important to know how your child spends his money? ”.

Upon completion of each interview the respondents’ will be debriefed and given their raffle ticket for a chance to win a variety of small prizes. Discussion It is expected that participants will display more criminal and delinquent behaviors in the more strained and disorganized communities. Each group of participants is expected to react to the way of their environment; to adapt to their “way of living”. If the hypothesis is supported, then each group of participants would adapt to their way of living as a reaction to their environment.

Significant findings resulting from the proposed study can be used in better understanding the role of the environment on the development of human behavior. If social control theory, learning theory, and strain theory are found to magnify the chance of developing criminal and deviant behaviors, this understanding could be applied to many different research studies and therapeutic training. Some research has already demonstrated that identifying an individual’s environmental background is quite important in understanding his criminal acts.

In the psychological domain, recognizing the existing influences of each theory might be helpful in raising parental awareness of the importance of bonding mechanisms (supervision and interpersonal attachment) as well as children’s awareness of handling certain opportunity structures (cultural goals) and teaching the importance of maintaining strong values, raising society’s awareness of the importance of community organization, and implementing counseling programs.

If people are made aware of the negative as well as positive effects of their environment on the development of their behavior, they might be more persuaded to maintain or develop strong values, develop cultural goals, and have a more positive realistic picture of their future, especially if they are living in a strained community. If the hypothesis is not supported, then there will be no difference between the influence of strained/disorganized communities and organized communities on the development of criminal and delinquent behaviors.

Matching the social control, learning, and strain theories to each group of participants’ environment would have no effect in determining the possible implicit development of criminal behaviors. In this case, the type of environment (organized or disorganized community) would not justify the consequences on the general individual-level processes that affects the person’s adaption’s to the community exposed or opposed to possible criminal behaviors.

Therefore, there would be no reason to raise the awareness of parents, children, and society of the importance of strong values and cultural goals when it comes to preventing the negative influences of the community on behavior. Whether or not the message raises awareness, people would just continue “going with the flow”. Unexpected factors that can occur during this longitudinal research study, which may skew the outcome, may include the unexpected death of several participants (i. . illness, accident, gang violence), or if a participant moves to a different country. A potential limitation of this study is that it does not involve clinical assessments, which can include family history and background to determine the presence of abnormal disorders (mood disorders, personality disorders). Being aware of the presence of abnormal disorders is an important factor in determining the prevalence and etiology of criminal behavior.

As a result, assessing the environment would not be sufficient to determine the risk of becoming a criminal. Also, longitudinal studies of a large sample of the population require a large number of researchers and access to certain legal databases (depending on the study), which takes time and a considerable amount of money. Future research could investigate other factors that might have an influence on the development of criminal behavior (i. e. race, gender, psychological and biological vulnerabilities, and individual choices).

It is possible that sufficient justification to support the influences of these theories (control, learning, and strain) could also be accompanied by or perceived as different depending on these factors, such that psychological vulnerabilities (cognitive development), which can be caused by abuse, in any type of environment could influence the development of such behaviors as well. Some researchers believe that crime does not reside in the environment and others say that the idea of their environment alone is not enough.

Future research should be done to investigate the measurable affirmation of criminal behavior contributing to a selective demographic based on psychological, biological, and sociological vulnerabilities. Further investigation of the underlying causes of the development of criminal behavior is important not only to raise awareness, but to benefit our justice system as well as to contribute to the developing realm of research in psychology and criminology. References Hoffmann, John P. (2003). A contextual analysis of differential association, social control, and train theories of delinquency. Social Forces, 81, 753-785. Baskin, Deborah R. ; Sommers, Ira (2011). Child maltreatment, placement strategies, and delinquency. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36, 106-119. Opotow, Susan; Gieseking, Jen (2011). Foreground and background: Environment as site and social issue. Journal of Social Issues, 67, 179-196. Stuart, Bryan (2004). Inside the criminal mind. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 32, 547-549. No authorship indicated (1928). The problem of the mind. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 23, 1-3.

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Criminal Behavior: the Negative Attribution of Societal Nurturing. (2017, Feb 03). Retrieved from

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