Explaining Social Learning Theory Based On My Personal Experience

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For decades, law enforcement agencies have been studying the criminological theories, which have been designed to fight crimes. However, the approaches are based on different perspectives, such as why some people commit crimes. Out of a wide range of criminological theories, this paper will focus on the social learning approach. According to this theory, people are likely to learn how to commit crimes, including the main techniques involved. With the use of Mark, one of my best friends who has been a member of a gang group since childhood, it is necessary to determine the way some people end up engaging in criminal activities. Based on social learning theory, some people are involved in illegal activities for safety and personal gains, such as money. As one of the main approaches, social learning theory can be used to describe why Mark is not involved in criminal activities willingly, thus approving his behavior, although he needs to change.

Explaining Social Learning Theory

Just like most of the criminological theories, the social learning theory strives to illustrate why some individuals are involved in deviant behaviors or commits crimes. Referred to as the Aker’s social learning theory, this approach is significant in explaining why some people are likely involved in crimes. As one of the predominant theories, Akers’ social learning theory is a general framework that has gained acceptance as one of the most tested, supported, endorsed, and cited in criminological theories (Cochran, Maskaly, Jones, & Sellers, 2017). Furthermore, it has remained significant when compared to other approaches and has been supported cross-culturally.

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However, the social learning theory emerged from the effort to meld Sutherland’s sociological approach in his deferential association framework. The method of differential association is held under certain propositions. First of all, the theory ascertains that criminal behavior is learned from other individual and it occurs within intimate personal groups (Bishop,

Feld, Akers, & Sellers, 2011). As individuals learn the crime, they are likely to understand associated techniques, in which they might be complicated or straightforward. Nevertheless, some people commit crimes because of their surroundings. For instance, a child raised in a criminal environment is likely to learn social behavior from age mates. If an individual live in a situation where criminal acts persist, the character is expected to be repeated and reinforced to them unintentionally.

An Example of My Friend (Mark)

Using one of my friends and schoolmate, Mark, it is necessary to argue that some people are not engaged in criminal activities willingly. Since his childhood, Mark has been raised in a gang society, in which most of his cousins belong to different gang groups. Though maintained it a secret in school, Mark has been involved in gang activities, more so abuse of drugs. Mark joined the gang group while young because most of his family members were part of the gang. Surprisingly, Mark has been raised in a family that claims to protect the family from external attacks. However, Mark has grown to be a rude and harsh person since he can handle any situation without fear. As a member of the gang group, Mark was taught how to fight, terrorize enemies, steal, and sell drugs. Although Mark claims that his gang group aims to ensure family security, they are involved in illegal activities, such as stealing and drug abuse.

Why People Commit Crimes according to the Theory

Based on the social learning theory, people commit crimes because they have learned it from some of their friends or family members. In fact, they consider it as part of defending their families, although they are likely to get involved in criminal activities. As they learn illegal activities from other family members, they develop certain motives, which might not be acceptable by legal codes. According to social learning theory, criminal behavior is a way of expressing general needs and significant values of people (Yarbrough, Jones, Sullivan, Sellers, & Cochran, 2012). Despite the reasons for committing crimes, opposers of criminology theories do not support any criminal activity since it can harm other individuals. Even though this social learning theory postulates that people who develop criminal behaviors do not do it intentionally, they are likely to engage in unlawful activities in the future even if they are aware it is wrong.

Factors that Led to the Crime

Apart from security purposes, Mark joined the gang group, in which they are involved in consisted of criminal activities, to fulfill their personal needs, and seek pleasure. Furthermore, illegal characters can be learned via the reinforcement of materials as well as social factors. In most cases, gang members are likely to get something if they want it, even if it means stealing or using force. Another crucial factor that contributes to gang-related crimes is that most of its participants are perceives the behavior acceptable. Since childhood, it is part of their traditions, and, as a result, they do not find anything wrong engaging in criminal activities. With his perception, Mark did not fear to participate in criminal activities because it was not illegal based on his beliefs. Eventually, criminal behaviors among gang members have a reward, and it can attract numerous individuals. Besides, the identified factors can also determine whether an individual is likely to get engaged in criminal activities.

Why this theory Works based on My Personal Experience

Social learning theory works is crucial in that it can be used to regulate criminal activities. From Mark’s scenario, the theory proofed to be effective in controlling behaviors since it allowed him to discover that social and environmental factors can lead to the creation of characters that are not essential for individuals. According to research, social learning theory has been used in the prevention and treatment of crimes and delinquency (Brauer, & Tittle, 2012). From what I have witnessed among criminals, including Mark, I can support this argument because he has been able to change from his character. In juveniles, social learning theory has been used to modify and treat young people with delinquency issues. Therefore, this theory is crucial since it allows people to alter the behavior of children and youths. As they develop criminal acts through learning, they can be taught about the requirements of the law, thus changing them.

Why My Mark ceased the Criminal Activity

After a long time, Mark stopped to be a member of the gang group because he is well-versed with the law. Unlike before, in which he thought it is a way of protecting their families, Mark recently learned that he had been harming other people. Even though he can provide critical information about the group, he chose not to report them to the police for the sake of their lives and safety. Before quitting the group, Mark and his gang group almost killed a stranger in which they wanted to steal money from him. After such a fatal incident, Mark thought about the group and its consequences in the future. With explicit knowledge about the law, he decided to leave the gang group since it forces him to engage in criminal activities.

Would the Theory Predict this?

However, the theory could predict the decision made by Mark to cease from doing criminal activities because it allows people, more so law enforcement agencies, to create programs to counsel peers. However, the groups formed can include gang interventions, family counseling, and mentoring (Brady, 2017). The importance of mentoring is that it provides a prosocial model that allows people with criminal behaviors to interact effectively as friends. Nevertheless, social learning theory is critical because it does not only enable people to understand why some individuals are like to engage in crimes but also assists them in making the required recommendations to change their characters.

In conclusion, the social learning theory is one of the most significant criminological approaches since it has gained much acceptance from people. However, most of the individuals involved in crimes are introduced by their friends or family members. With the use of the theory, law enforcement agencies can develop appropriate programs to help affected individuals. As a member of the gang group, Mark was enrolled in the group by friends and family members. As he grew, he was not aware that such kinds of groups are not allowed in the country. Although he managed to quite the gang group, he should be counseled appropriately, to reduce the chances of joining it again in the future.


  1. Bishop, D., Feld, B., Akers, R., & Sellers, C. (2011-12-23). Social Learning Theory. In the Oxford Handbook of Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice.: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 Dec. 2019, from https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195385106.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780195385106-e-14.
  2. Brady, C. M. (2017). Social Learning Theory. The Encyclopedia of Juvenile Delinquency and Justice, 1-5.
  3. Brauer, J. R., & Tittle, C. R. (2012). Social learning theory and human reinforcement. Sociological Spectrum, 32(2), 157-177.
  4. Cochran, J. K., Maskaly, J., Jones, S., & Sellers, C. S. (2017). Using structural equations to model Akers’ social learning theory with data on intimate partner violence. Crime & Delinquency, 63(1), 39-60.
  5. Yarbrough, A., Jones, S., Sullivan, C., Sellers, C., & Cochran, J. (2012). Social learning and self-control: Assessing the moderating potential of criminal propensity. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 56(2), 191-202.


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