Theory and Criminal Behavior Term Paper

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Theories

Skinner's radical behaviorism has been used to provide explanations for a number of behavioral phenomenon including criminal behavior (Skinner, 1966). For instance, the crime of burglary offers an example of how antisocial behaviors are learned through reinforcement. Members of society that commonly engage in theft or burglary learn their trade via the reinforcing aspects of stealing. The need to steal may be initially activated by means of some form of need or desire to have material gain; however, for many individuals who habitually engage in thievery repeated stealing is positively reinforced by the tangible acquisition of goods provided by these activities. For many of these individuals this behavior is reinforced by the notion that it is easier to steal from others then to apply oneself, work hard, and take the chance on getting the lees than desired rewards. However, many habitual criminals actually put in as much effort into their chosen vocation as do people who do not engage in criminal activities for living.

The reinforcing aspects of burglary most likely operate on both positive and negative reinforcement principles. For example, the positive reinforcing principles of theft include the tangible rewards from the theft itself, the sense of exhilaration from performing the crime, repeating behaviors that work and eliminating those that do not, and also the sense of power and dominance one achieves by taking the possessions of another. The negative reinforcing effects of theft most likely include the reduction of anxiety one typically experiences once the job is completed and the person has not been caught.

Skinner would suggest that the individual be placed on a learning regime where these same positive and negative reinforcements can be applied to more prosocial behavior. The thief would then unlearn their criminal behavior and learn to act in a manner that is more in accord with positive societal goals. Strict punishment can be effective in some cases but society would achieve greater success in combating recidivism if these criminals were taught to relearn their behaviors.

Social learning theory (e.g., Bandura, 1977) provides an alternative to the classical learning theories of Pavlov, Skinner, and others that suggest that some type of tangible reinforcement is necessary for learning. For instance, learning to become a drug dealer certainly has aspects of Skinnerian learning principles associated with it; however, social learning theory also explains how one acquires the desire, the skills, and knowledge one needs to become a drug dealer. Many children grow up in areas where they associate with antisocial peers and role models and…

Sources Used in Document:

References

Andrews, D.A. & Hoge, R.D. (1999). The psychology of criminal conduct and principles of effective prevention and rehabilitation. Forum on Corrections Research. Special Edition. 12 -- 14. Retrieved on April 1, 2013 from http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/pblct/forum/special/espe_b-eng.shtml

Bandura, A. (1977). Social leaning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Raine, A. (2002). The biological basis of crime. In J.Q Wilson & J. Petrsilia (Eds.) Crime:Public policies for crime control. Oakland: ICS Press.

Skinner, B.F. (1966). The phylogeny and ontogeny of behavior. Science, 153, 1204 -- 1213.

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