9. Learning Theories

9.8 Discussion Questions

Dr. Zachary Rowan and Michaela McGuire, M.A.

  1. Compare and contrast differential association theory and social learning theory. What are the major similarities and differences between the two learning theories?
  2. Within social learning theory there are four types of reinforcement derived from principles of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. Do you think specific reinforcements are more or less effective at changing whether someone engages in crime? If so, answer the following questions:
    1. Which reinforcement mechanism is most important in explaining whether someone engages (or does not engage) in crime?
    2. Do you think that certain reinforcement mechanisms are better at explaining whether someone engages in a specific type of crime (e.g., drug use versus violence)? Why or why not?
    3. How might the mechanisms of reinforcement be more or less important at specific points in an individual’s life course? Are certain mechanisms more important during adolescence versus adulthood?
  3. Based on the explanation of crime put forward by learning theories, what might be some policy recommendations for controlling or preventing crime?
  4. Social learning theory attempts to expand upon the mechanisms that explain the learning process of crime. Besides teaching someone the skills necessary to commit a crime, provide examples of other ways peers might increase the likelihood that someone will engage in crime.
  5. Are there other state (government) related institutions or contexts that might be important in understanding how learning perspectives might be implicated in an understanding of deviance among Indigenous people? If so, explain how these institutions or contexts contribute to definitions, behaviours, or reinforcement mechanisms that support criminal behaviour.
  6. Do you think it is possible to utilise social learning theory to examine the role of the state in criminalising and incarcerating Indigenous persons? If so, how might the theory be expanded to consider the state? If not, why not?


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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Zachary Rowan and Michaela McGuire, M.A. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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