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Chapter 4

CRIM 101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Social Learning Theory, General Strain Theory, Differential Association

Course Code
CRIM 101
Barry Cartwright

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Theories of Crime Brief Introduction
Learning Objectives
1. Explain what makes a good theory, and provide some specific examples
of how “good theories” have been proven over time
2. List the main members of the Classical School, and outline some of the
main features of Classical School thinking
3. Explain what the term “hedonistic calculus” means, and indicate from
which school of thought it originated
4. Explain why the term “neoclassicism” is associated with rational choice
5. Discuss the concepts of “limited” or “bounded rationality,” and explain
how they fit into rational choice theory
6. Describe the research study “Journey to Grow,” and explain how (and
why) it supports rational choice theory
7. Explain what the terms “Atavism” and “mesomorphy” refer to, and link
them to relevant criminological theorists
8. Discuss Gottfredson & Hirschi’s “general theory of crime,” and their
claim that all crime is caused by low self-control (general theory)
9. Describe Pratt & Cullen’s meta-analysis of research studies on low self-
control, and indicate whether their research findings support low self-
control theory or social learning theory
10. Identify the originator of differential association theory, and the
approach used to explain criminal behaviour
11. Identify the intellectual roots of social theory, and list the three main
types of theories incorporated in social learning theory
12. Discuss Albert Bandura’s work on vicarious learning and imitation and
modelling behaviour, and explain how this contributed to development
of social learning theory.
Biological, Psychological and Sociological Theories
- Many theories of crime can be classified as biological, psychological, or
sociological explanations
- However, some criminological theories do not fall squarely within the
parameters of biological, psychological, or sociological explanations
- Examples of such theories would include critical criminology, feminist
theory, rational choice theory, and opportunity theory.
Bio-Psychological (Psycho-Biological) Theories
- Examples of social psychology would include Akers’ social learning theory
and Agnew’s general strain theory
- An example of a psychological (or psycho-biological theory would be Terrie
Moffitt’s developmental taxonomy theory, which breaks criminals down into
two types adolescent- limited, and life course- persistent
What makes a good theory?

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- Must be logical, with a valid structure i.e., it must follow the basic rules of
critical thinking and logic, e.g., the requirement that premises be provided
that support a conclusion
- Should make statements or propositions about reality that can be tested, so
that theory can be accepted or rejected on the basis of solid evidence
- Ideally, a theory should be tested (successfully) on many occasions, under
many different circumstances
Before the Classical School
- Criminal wide
Rational Choice Theory
- Rational choice theory has its historical roots in Classical School thinking
- Classical School thinking is premised on a number of then-popular notions
about human nature, such as hedonism, I.e., that people would naturally do
what brought them the greatest pleasure, and avoid what brought them the
greatest pain
- The Classical School argued that individuals chose to engage in deviance, by
exercising their free will, and making a rational (logical) decision to choose
deviance over conformity
The Hedonistic Calculus
- The “Hedonistic Calculus” is associated with Classical School philosopher,
Jeremy Bentham
- Bentham believed that punishment was in itself evilthat punishment
should not be used as “retribution” for crime, but rather, used only to prevent
(deter) crime
- Bentham proposed a “penal pharmacy,” which prescribed certain
punishments for certain crimes, using a calculated “ratio” for the delivery of
pain, depending upon the seriousness of the offence
Neo- Classicism
- Contemporary rational choice theory is sometimes referred to as Neo-
Classicism, or neo-classical theory
- Based on Classical School notions of hedonism and utilitarianism, and the
idea that criminal offenders go through a cost-benefit analysis when deciding
whether or not to commit a crime
- The most well known criminologist in this field are Derek B. Cornish
(rational choice) and Ronald V. Clarke, (social learning) who published the
book, The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending in
The Purposive Nature of Crime
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