Social Learning Theory and Control Theory:
A comparison of two models for criminal behavior
Why do people perform criminal acts? Is it something in their genes? Something in the hand of fate? Is it something that they learn the way that other people learn to recite the names of the presidents or their parentsÆ trade?
Many criminologists, along with a high percentage of the sociologists and social psychologists that have studied criminal behavior, have selected this final explanation: People learn to be criminals in the same way that people learn any other kind of voluntary behavior. Scholars who believe this to be the case are adhering to social learning theories û or to related differential association theories û of criminality.
However, while social scientists who argue that criminal behavior is best explained as a form of learned behavior are probably in the majority, other scholars do adhere to competing explanatory models. Ranking high in the competition against social theory models are control theories. Proponents of these two types of models often set themselves in opposition to each other for their basic assumptions about human motivation and human behavior are very different. although in fact there is some area of overlap between the two camps, a point that shall be taken up in much greater depth below. Some scholars have even argued that control theories and social learning theories are in fact simply the proverbial two sides of the same, quite thin coin. However, while certainly theoreticians of good will could certainly find common ground between these two basic forms of explanation, the basic philosophical and phenomenological bases of the models remain quite distant from each other. This discussion shall, at least initially, emphasize the differences between these two models to highlight the divergent ways that they tend to explain criminality.
This discussion will begin by setting out very brief histori...