Deviant Behavior: A Social Learning Approach

The first section of this text provides an overview of the main problems and theories of deviance and examines the central questions about deviant behavior and the ways in which sociologists have answered them. The social learning theory of deviant behavior is then introduced. The remainder of the book then applies this theory to the principal forms of deviant behavior. The theory integrates the differential association explanation of sociologist edwin h sutherland with the behavioral learning theories of b f skinner and other psychologists. Briefly the theory says that a person learns to commit deviant acts through interaction with his (primarily social) environment. In this social setting, consequences are attached to his behavior, which reinforce (reward) or fail to punish deviant acts to a greater extent than they reinforce conforming behavior, and his association with others furnishes him with definitions that make the deviant behavior seem more desirable or justified than alternative conforming behavior. This theory is discussed in relation to such deviant behaviors as drug abuse, drinking and alcoholism, sexual deviance, suicide, mental illness, and such criminal behaviors as white collar, professional, organized, and violent crimes.

Publication Date

January 1973

Publication Name

Wadsworth Publishing Co


Ronald Akers