Differential Association Theory

Differential association theory is a term used primarily in criminology to describe how people learn to become criminals. Developed by Edwin Sutherland, this theory proposes that people learn attitudes, techniques, morals, and motives for criminal behavior through their interactions with others.

This theory concentrates on "how" individuals become criminals without addressing "why" they do and is the most discussed of all the learning theories connected to deviance. This theory places emphasis on the social and learning aspects of learning deviant and criminal behaviors. Sutherland proposed that criminal behaviors were learned through communication of groups who shared attitudes, rationalizations, and methods for criminality. This theory suggests that areas with higher crime rates still have a social structure but that it is differential in that it doesn't correspond with what is considered legal.

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