UNIT V STUDY GUIDE
Social Theories and Social
Course Learning Outcomes for Unit V
Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
4. Analyze the application of criminological theories to crime patterns and trends.
5. Explain patterns of offenses and victimization.
Chapter 7: Social Process and Social Development—It’s What We Learn
Chapter 8: Social Conflict—It’s How We Relate
Social Process Theories
Social process theories are associated with beliefs that criminal behavior is learned through interactions with
others. They are considered a foundation for both early criminological theories and those that exist in today’s
era. Social process theorists contend that crime is committed because of two primary reasons: biological
variances and psychological traits (Schmalleger, 2016).
How do humans interact with one another? Do we learn from one another? If so, how? In most instances, the
answer is “yes, we do, and on a daily basis!” These are the three questions that social process theorists
attempt to answer and prove with each and every individual interaction. These interactions include
socialization and cultural exchange processes through exchanges with individuals and groups. This
typically occurs through established relationships with others and groups. It can also occur in certain new
relationships and social interactions. Under the social process theory, the groups can range from as small as
two individuals to large audiences. Also, social theorists concentrate on how to associate meanings with
Social process theory example: An individual has been married to his wife for several years and has
ignored his spouse’s request for a separation and divorce. One day, when the man arrives home from work,
he discovers that his wife has moved out of the house with the majority of her personal belongings. However,
she has left several joint belongings behind. The husband decides to sell everything that has any meaning to
him since it was associated with his now ex-spouse. Was it because he was angry? Based on the example
above, it may have to do with the negative interaction of separation and divorce, which led to the association.
Social process theorists would take this scenario one step further, and examine why he chose joint
belongings and not some of the singular belongings left behind. Theorists would ask the following: (1) What
specific negative implications existed that led him to choose one group of belongings instead of the other? (2)
If enough time passed, would he choose the other group? (3) Would the interactions be violent at all? If so,
This early theory states that criminal behavior is learned rather than associated with biological traits.
Differential association theorists further state that this type of criminal behavior is learned by interactions and
communication with like-minded individuals. The communication can be in-person, over the phone, or through
mass communication methods. In today’s era, behavior can be communicated to small or large groups very
easily. This is one of the main ways that the theory has changed over time. In the beginning, differential
association only occurred in smaller groups. One of the components of differential association is that criminals
BCJ 2501, Criminology
test the boundaries of local, state, and federal laws. Individuals like to test the UNIT
how far they
go before attracting the attention of law enforcement.
Differential association example: As outlined above, differential association states that criminal behavior is
learned through interactions with one another or as group. Consider a typical teenager; is it difficult for a teen
to become inspired by another teenager to behave negatively? Many would argue that teens can be very
easily influenced. Teenagers want to fit in with their peers and may take extreme measures to please and
impress their friends in any way possible. If a teenager is associated with a “questionable” group, then it is not
hard for him or her to be exposed to illegal and troubling behavior. If the leader of the group uses peer
pressure as a motivator, he or she can then have others in the group commit criminal behavior by teaching
how to complete the task. An example would be the leader of a group smashing a car window and stealing an
iPod from the victim’s glove compartment. All of those involved have now witnessed and “learned” how to
complete this criminal behavior. The likelihood of this crime being duplicated by those involved is very high.
Also, the frequency of similar events is very high.
Social Development Theory
Social development theories encompass several factors to include psychological, biological, emotional,
interpersonal, cultural, societal, and other ecological levels (Schmalleger, 2016). These factors are highlighted
by socialization between both individuals and groups.
Social development theory example: A father takes his son to the lake to teach him to cast a fishing rod
and to fish for freshwater largemouth bass. In the beginning, the father wants to assess his son’s current
skills. He asks his son to complete a cast on his own. At first, the son is unable to cast the fishing line and
tangles the fishing reel. The father then fixes the fishing pole and shows his son how to properly cast. The son
then tries again and improves but fails to complete the task. After spending an hour or so at the lake, his
father has shown him an additional dozen times how to properly cast the fishing pole. On the 13th try, his son
then completes a full cast. His son acknowledges the positive engagement and encouragement. At that time,
his father moves to the other side of the lake to allow his son to master the task on his own without the
presence of a parent. Thus, the child builds competence and confidence in completing this new task.
Social Control Theory
Social control theories focus on reducing levels of criminal behavior by examining antisocial and social
behavior. When certain individuals' behaviors are challenged by external factors or individuals, then adverse
actions and crimes, such as violent assaults (behavior), can occur. Additionally, if an individual does not know
or has never been taught the proper behavior, then adverse reactions and behaviors can occur as well. The
duration of this delinquent behavior can vary from a short outburst to an extended period of criminally-infused
behavior. However, theorists also state that if an individual has high morals, good self-judgment, and selfcontrol, criminal behavior can be avoided, and these individuals can live in society within the boundaries of
local, state, and federal laws.
Social Control Theories
Containment theory: Containment behavior highlights the importance of abiding by the law. In most
instances, there are two components to preventing criminal behavior. This control theory outlines that both
internal and external factors force citizens to comply with the law. Individuals that typically fall under this
control theory are usually upstanding citizens and are not often tempted to break the law or to contribute to
individual/group criminal behavior.
Control balance theory: The control balance theory focuses on explaining the importance of maintaining
control in criminal behavior. How much control does an individual have over another? How much control does
that individual have over a group? Maintaining a balance is linked to maintaining a control ratio between those
involved with the behavior. The ratio can often be used to determine the probability and type of criminal
activity that will take place.
Social bond theories: This theory states that individuals link themselves with others in society (Schmalleger,
2016). These deviants typically do not operate as independent parties. In fact, many integrate themselves into
living and associating with like-minded individuals in society. Further, social bond theorists articulate that
BCJ 2501, Criminology
those who participate under this theory already know that the behavior is a criminal
complete the behavior regardless of the consequences.
Social bond theory example: As a young girl moves through the childhood stages and into her teenage
years, she forms a deep bond with her older cousin. Her cousin attends college, works part-time, and plays
volleyball. The young girl decides she wants to play volleyball for her high school just like her cousin. It is not
uncommon for one to become attached or bonded to another family member or close friend. In this unit and
throughout the course, we have discussed different theories on how individuals may be impacted by
observing and or being influenced by others. In the social bond theory, one often attaches him or herself to a
role model, best friend, or close sibling. By bonding over a period of years, the individual often develops the
same behaviors. If the individual he or she is bonding to commits deviant behavior, then he or she will often
do the same. If the bonding partner follows a non-deviant path, then the young friend will probably do the
As you can see, there are vast differences between social development, social process, and social control
theories in criminology. It is imperative to understand that all of the theories discussed in this course lesson
are ever-changing. The theories outlined above are derived from historical concepts and modern-day
theories. In this unit, your required reading and assignment will focus on social process; social development;
social conflict; gender; social life attributes; and crime patterns, trends, and theory.
Schmalleger, F. (2016). Criminology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson.
The below chapter presentations align with your required reading assignment. Viewing them can help
reinforce the concepts covered:
Click here to access the Chapter 7 Presentation.
Click here to view a PDF of this presentation.
Click here to access the Chapter 8 Presentation.
Click here to view a PDF of this presentation.
BCJ 2501, Criminology
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