The Social Learning Theory

By: Megan Ortiz

The Social Learning Theory, developed by Albert Bandura in 1977 suggests that individuals model behavior they witness. This theory has been the most relevant theory to criminology. Bandura asserted that aggression must explain three aspects:

1) “how aggressive patterns of behavior are developed;”

2) “what provokes people to behave aggressively.”

3) “what determines whether they are going to continue to resort to an aggressive behavior pattern on future occasions.”

Bandura states that “In many social groups…aggression has powerful status-
conferring value. Under these types of contingencies homicidal assaults are sometimes performed mainly to gain the approval and admiration of peers and to maintain one’s status in the social hierarchy of a deviant reference group.” Thus in regards to organized crime this is relevant to the acceptance of crime as it is learned through the development of beliefs that crime is acceptable. There is positive reinforcement of copying deviant behavior such as the approval of friends or monetary gains.

—“Momentarily I started to thinking about it inside; I have,my mind
made up I’m not going to be in no gang. Then I go on inside.
Something comes up, then here comes all my friends coming to
me. Like I said before, I’m intelligent and so forth. They be coming
to me–then they talk to me about what they gonna do. Like,
“Man, we’ll go out there and kill this cat.” I say, “Yeah.” They
kept on talkin’. I said, “Man, I just gotta go with you.” Myself, I
don’t want to go, but when they start talkin’ about what they
gonna do, I say, “So, he isn’t gonna take over my rep. I ain’t gonna
let him be known more than me.” And I go ahead.”

Not only is the approval of friends an important motivation for deviance, but so is status and reputation. Status is a strong motivator for criminal activity within organized groups as well.

“If I would of got the knife, I would have stabbed him. That would
have gave me more of a build-up. People would have respected me
for what I’ve done and things like that. They would say, ‘There
goes a cold killer.'”

In his book Bandura discusses a gang that used unprovoked attacks as a requirement for membership. Each attack by a potential member was worth 10 points, and a total of 100 points was required before admission into the gang.

Bandura asserts that individuals are not born with a knowledge of aggression. He states that there are intricacies of aggressive acts require knowledge and skills that must be learned. For instance, fighting with knives, or shooting a gun requires more extensive knowledge that must be learned socially.

The Next Theory

From the Social Control Theory and the Social Learning theory we see the basis for the Interactional theory of 1987. The ideas of the bond to society and modeling behavior merge to form a theory that suggests that both of these factors contribute to delinquency.

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