Sociology Index


Developed by Edwin Sutherland in the 1930's, differential association was a radical explanation for criminal behavior since it argues that crime, like any social behavior, is learned in association with others. The phrase Differential Association simply means that people have different social situations and thus learn different things. Differential association leads to criminal behavior. If the individual regularly associates with criminals, and is relatively isolated from law abiding citizens, then they are more likely to engage in crime themselves as a result of such differential association. Differential association first leads to learning some specific skills needed to commit crime, and next, leads to ideas that justify and normalize crime. This differential association concept leads directly to a crime subculture that asserts that not all groups in society (sociology of groups) uphold the same values or norms and for some groups crime is normative.

Abstracts On Differential Association

An Examination of Differential Association Theory with Different Social Contexts: Urban, Suburban, and Rural Areas. Kim, Young S., Lo, Celia. and Church, Wesley T. Abstract: According to Sutherland’s differential association theory, an individual becomes delinquent because of an excessive definition favorable to violation of law which is learned through social interaction with significant others. We examined the propositions of the differential association theory with different social contexts: urban, suburban, and rural areas. 

An Examination of Differential Association and Social Control Theory, Wesley T. Church, II, Tracy Wharton, Julie K. Taylor. This study applies differential association and social control theory to juvenile delinquency. Using a path analysis model, relationships between family, self-image, and behavior are explored. Analyses suggest that positive self-image leads to decreased delinquency, and association with delinquent peers is the greatest predictor of deviant behavior, regardless of race.

Reporting Police Misconduct: Differential Association/Social Learning Among Police Officers. Harris, Casey. Abstract: Police misconduct has important theoretical and policy implications, but measuring its scope and extent is problematic, particularly when relying on officers to report incidents involving their colleagues. Drawing on differential association or social learning theory as a conceptual framework, I argue that an officer's failure to report misconduct is learned through social interaction among officers and reflects the important role of peer influence. Consistent with differential association and social learning, the expected behavior of an officer's peers and an officer’s perception of offense severity have the strongest effects on whether or not an officer feels they would report a colleague engaged in misconduct.

Examining the role of differential association and techniques of neutralization in explaining corporate crime, Nicole Leeper Piquero, Stephen G. Tibbetts, Michael B. Blankenship. Deviant Behavior, Volume 26, 2005.
Abstract: Studies have examined white-collar offending decision making patterns, but none have focused on testing Differential Association or Techniques of Neutralization theory in particular. This study evaluates the offending decisions of MBA students to commit corporate offending in the promotion/sales of a hypothetical pharmaceutical drug. The sample consisted of 133 MBA students enrolled at a university in the United States. Findings supported predictions that anticipated agreement of coworkers and the board of directors would be positively associated with decisions to further market and produce a hypothetical drug that was about to be recalled by the Food and Drug Administration. However, results also showed that the decision to commit corporate crime was inversely related to perceptions that close friends and business professors agree with the decision, which went against predictions based on differential association theory.