Differential Reinforcement

Topics: Criminology, Crime, Reinforcement Pages: 7 (2763 words) Published: September 8, 2005
Differential Reinforcement is defined to occur when behavior is reinforced by being either rewarded or punished while interacting with others (Siegel, 2003). With this said, the theory was developed as a way of labeling both positive, as well as negative aspects of individual action. This idea of reinforcement is a branch of the infamous Differential Association theory presented by Edwin H. Sutherland in 1939. Another commonly used term for this theory of reinforcement is called differential conditioning (Siegel, 2003). As mentioned, the types of reinforcement are either positive or negative, and operate on the results of specific crimes or random acts. Rewarding behaviors plainly urges such action to be repeated, while punishment often deters those offenders from repeating their same mistakes. Parenting practices, social groups, schools, television, and the community are just a few of the examples that are linked to this theory. According to Ronald Akers (1966), each behavior a person commits is a learned behavior, meaning some type of outside force paved the way to this various knowledge. This theory goes hand in hand with the ideology that he argued in his studies, but focuses on the after effects (or results), rather than prevention or control. This theory does not help support the effectiveness of deterrence, but it does give us a little insight on why people decide to engage in criminal activity. Perhaps the most influential group in shaping someone's behavior is their peer group. Take for example, gang activity. Street gangs, though usually found in highly urbanized areas, still exist and even thrive throughout most of the United States. It is the safety, security, and power that effects these members with faulty, risky and distant thinking, which usually ends up in some type of negative reinforcement. Guilt is often by association, as well as socialization. Purely, this relationship dominates the theory of crime as a learned behavior. No one is born with the general knowledge of how to break the law or to simply be criminal by nature, but through life experiences and perceptions of the events that surround them, the criminal activity is learned. Use the professional art of safe (or vault) cracking, for example. To perform such a trick, one must be taught how to do it. Such information is never provided at birth, or through genetic inheritance. Once learned, thieves must choose, or differentiate whether or not to put that skill into action. From there, the decision to abide by conventional norms or to break them is made.

As the above example primarily focuses on street gangs, we see a link between the theory of DR (DR= differential reinforcement) and business crime as well. Again, this theory is all around us and all the time. Theft, both petty and major, is a major problem businesses must face on a daily basis because of some troubled employees. "Hooking" your friends up with merchandise, taking supplies from work to your home, or stealing time from an occupation are also just a couple commonly overlooked business crimes. While moderate in the eyes of severity, a crime is just that – a crime. But those who engage in such activity almost always think about the possible outcomes, dare they get caught. These crimes, though often undetected, can potentially reap terrible disaster in regards to employment. Each of the above leaves the offender subject to not only termination, but prosecution and these are no where near the more serious employee offenses. Yet to most business owners and employers, such minor issues are hardly a joke and many times the corporate heads will send minor offenses to the courts. As expected, the correlation between positive and negative reinforcement on the job is crucial. Even far more serious offenses can occur in a work environment, dealing with identity theft, homicide, and arson. Corporate violence sees shades of DR practices when those crimes are...
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