Week Seven The Differential Association Theory

All things that a person knows or can do are learned. People learn through various methods and tools at different space and time, and that builds their character. In her article, How Observational Learning Affects Behavior, Kendra Cherry identifies observational learning as a powerful tool, which passively influences behavior significantly (Cherry, 2019, par.19). Her article is related to week seven’s topic – social process learning, and the differential association theory. 

Cherry begins by appreciating that some behaviors are learned through actively, while others are learned passively. She asserts that most learning occurs passively through observation. In this learning model, people observe and emulate their immediate environment. For instance, a child joins other playing hide and seek, observes how the game rules, and begins participating. Also, as Cherry puts it, a child is likely to emulate their parent’s behavior (Cherry, 2019, par.4). Cherry reports from other scientific works that the human brain is naturally fashioned to learn through observation. Besides, the implications of behavioral learning are proportional to the amount of interaction a person has with their influencing factor. For instance, Cherry reports study results that children who spent more time watching TV programs with sexual sense are likely to engage in sex sooner than those who watch non-erotic TV programs (Cherry, 2019, par.15). Therefore, observational learning has a significant impact on people’s behavior.

In week seven coursework, we have addressed social process theories, which we reflected in the implication of socialization in the informal and formal institutions. For instance, a family is a powerful social institution where parental deviance is likely to result in the personality defects of a child (Siegel and McCormick, 2020). The authors add that social interaction in school has ramifications to the overall social conduct or misconduct of a student. From that perspective, we learned the Social Learning Theories, which investigate how social institutions affect human behavior. According to Siegel and McCormick (2020), human behavior is modeled through human interactions, by observation or media. The most influential social scenarios are family relations, education experience, peer relations, and institutional beliefs. From that, the differential association theory is applied in criminology, sociology, and psychology to explain or predict human behavior.

In criminology, differential association theorist approaches a crime as an act due to a person’s exposure to antisocial values. On this theoretical approach, people learn criminal behaviors through the acquisition of definitions of situations and moral attitudes that align with the personal commissioning of what is moral, ethical, or otherwise. Criminologists believe that crimes are learned and that the learning is influenced by the interaction with other people, especially the intimate ones. From that perspective, the differential association theory agrees with observational learning as a social learning process. For instance, Cherry finds that the most influential people in a person’s behavior are family members or peers (2019, par.4). Precisely, the behavior is inflicted passively by the social group one finds themselves in. That way, a child learns the normative social values from their parents or other people they hang around. In a Bobo Doll Experiment, children are exposed to a situation where an adult aggressively and violently hit a large inflated balloon doll. The same balloon doll is placed in a room with children who watched the adult hitting it, and others who did not. Children who watched the adult hitting act are found to play with the doll, mostly hitting it as they saw the adult doing. Also, once the children watch the consequence of hitting the doll as punishment, there are likely to avoid hitting it (Cherry, 2019, par.8&9). While this experiment is done on children, other studies have found the correlation in adults (Rokven, de Boer, Tolsma and Ruiter, 2016, p.3). In that view, some social values that condition a person’s behavior are predominantly learned through observation.

Regarding the relationship between observational learning and differential association theory identified above, crimes are learned through observation in various social institutions. According to Siegel and McCormick (2020), when acquaintances favor delinquency behaviors, a criminal will identify more beneficence than the consequences of violating a law. Also, the influence depends on the length of acquittance, emotional appeal, and priority. That is why Cherry finds the family and peers as most influential in behavioral shaping, since most times, people interact with their family members or peers. Besides, Siegel and McCormick (2020), explains that parenting plays a major role in defining what is right or wrong. On the same note, family dynamics such as divorce have a direct impact on delinquency. Also, educational experiences and peer relations determine what a person is exposed to. Siegel and McCormick (2020), suggests that educational experience, interactions with peers, and values instilled in various institutions impact a person’s criminal or honorable behavior. That is people mostly through observing their immediate environment.



Cherry, K. (2019). Observational Learning Is Used by Copying Behavior of Others. Retrieved 26 May 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-observational-learning-2795402

Rokven, J., de Boer, G., Tolsma, J., & Ruiter, S. (2016). How friends’ involvement in crime affects the risk of offending and victimization. European Journal Of Criminology, 14(6), 697-719. doi: 10.1177/1477370816684150

Siegel, L., & McCormick, C. (2020). Criminology in Canada (7th ed.). Toronto: Nelson.