There are a variety of theoretical explanations that have been put forward to explain female abuse and violent crimes against women. These include feminist and gender theories and extend to theories of genetic pathology.
However, in the criminological literature a distinction is made between two categories of explanation. On the one hand, there are theories that tend to focus on individual pathology and forms of deviance that can lead to these crimes. On the other hand, the more socially inclined theorists tend to focus on the common patterns between individuals and the social milieu and its influences. The promoters of social control and other socially based theories argue that social factors rather then individual differences are the most suitable explanatory factors for these crimes. Social control theories argue, for example, that, the importance of social factors over and above individual stability" Juvenile recidivism: criminal propensity, social control and social learning theories" (Delfabbro, Paul, 2004).
Social learning theory on the other hand tends to combine these two aspects of the social and the individual causative factors for deviant and criminal behavior. As Bandura (1977) states, "...Social learning theory, in contrast to theories of criminal propensity and social control theory, include both individual and social factors" (Delfabbro, Paul).
A second aspect that is important is that social behavior is dependent on rewards and the perception of rewards. These rewards or the perception thereof are in turn determined by the essential criterion of learning history as well as attitude that have developed in terms of antisocial norms and other social factors. These can include the way that the individual is rewarded from family and peers. (Delfabbro, Paul)
Essentially, social learning theory is a theory that is used to explain, among others, the origins of aggressive behavior in society. In terms of this theoretical perspective, the view that forms of aggression are innate to the individual is contrasted with the view that these aggressive tendencies have social origins. Violence is therefore not something that occurs of its own. The important emphasis in this theory is that aggressive behavior and violent attitudes are learnt rather then being biologically structured. "The theory has focused mainly on the issue of how aggression is learned, and especially on observational learning." (Fry & Bjrkqvist, 1997, p. 32)
Another central facet to be considered in this theory is that aggressive behavior is conditioned by sociological and socio-psychological factors and variables. This conditioning may be either direct or vicarious. It is direct when the individual learns that this form of aggression has positive outcomes for that individual, or "...when the individual learns that aggression pays, by a kind of trial-and-error strategy, or through instrumental conditioning." (Fry & Bjrkqvist, 1997, p. 32)
Vicarious learning refers to learning that occurs through the imitation of others. In the context of the present study, this would mean the aggressive behavior that is learnt by watching the way that others attain goals and achieve satisfaction through aggressive means of behavior patterns. This theory therefore goes a long way to answering the question of why men, or women, who are abused in their youth or childhood become abusers in later lifer. Men who grow up in a violent and abusive family or social milieus often tend to become abusive and violent in their actions later in their lives.
When this pattern of vicarious imitation of behavior relates to male - on - female violence and the abuse of females, then the male who observes this behavior is likely to imitate these actions in his own relationships. In the case of John "Woody" Raymond Woodring discussed above, this theory can be applied to a large extent. As will be discussed in more detail in the next section of this study, there are clear indications that Woodring had a traumatic and violent childhood. This could be a main reason and contributing factor for his treatment of women and could be the central inner psychological rationale for the murder of his wife.
An understanding of the theory of social learning in terms of deviance and criminal behavior should take into account some foundational issues and presuppositions. First and foremost, theorists in this field assume that people are primarily social beings and are aware and cognizant of the environment and milieu in which they live. Secondly, is also assumed that in all instances people respond and react to the social environment. The assumptions are important for this theory in that they lead to the primary assumption that behavior can be learned or taught- especially behavior that relates to sexual behaviors in society. (Hogben & Dyrne, 1998)
Form a wider theoretical standpoint, theorists such as Vygotsky contend that "... learning and development are intertwined from the first day of life" (Constructivism) Furthermore, this theorist contends that learning is related to the " zone of proximal development." (Constructivism) This zone refers to that area of development space where development and psychosocial growth is influenced by family, peers and teachers. As Vygotsky states ".... In our conception, the true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the socialized, but from the social to the individual. (Vygotsky, 1988, p. 32)
Bandura adds to this view by stressing the importance of the imitation of parents, as well as seeking membership of groups and various other social goals. The discussion of the character and early life development of John "Woody" Raymond Woodring also reveals his need for social acceptance from peers and society.
Vygotsky (1988) also make an important point that is pertinent to this case. He states that, it would be impossible for children to "generate, demonstrate, and exhibit" without first imitating. Imitation is a necessary prerequisite for ultimate, deep understanding. Children imitate their parents, siblings, playmates, characters on television, and peer models.... The child's language, articulation, pronunciation and regional accent, style of dress, expressions, and political and religious attitudes are all initiated and reinforced by imitation.
Vygotsky, 1988, p. 32
Albert Bandura also suggests that the process of learning stereotypical behavior begins with the way children imitate their parents. (Media and Girls, 2004)
Children begin to learn personality and behavior patterns by observing and imitating their parents. Further research indicates that children are more likely to imitate same-sex role models - boys choose to mirror their fathers, while girls look to their mothers (Media and Girls, 2004)
This important aspect in social learning can also be gleaned from an example from one of Bandera's studies. This refers to the well-known "Bobo Doll" example. In this experiment, children were exposed to a man acting in a loud and aggressive manner to a Bobo doll. It was found that, "The children who observed the adult were more likely to be aggressive toward the Bobo doll at a later time than those children who did not observe the adult or who saw an adult interact with the Bobo doll in a nonaggressive manner." (Hogben & Dyrne, 1998) This experience applies to development and learning through imitation. As Hogben and Dyrne (1998) state,
In a similar scenario with another man's unpunished aggressive behavior toward a potential sexual partner, we could hypothesize that observers of the aggressive behavior would show an increase in aggressive behavior (via imitation) even without viewing an outcome such as sexual intercourse. (Hogben & Dyrne, 1998)
In addition, Bandura and other theorists are aware that reward tends to strengthen learned or imitated behavior patterns. In this regard it is important to note that this behavior can occur in the absence of quantifiable reward "...by making inferences about cognitions involving either expected rewards or task efficacy" (Hogben & Dyrne, 1998).
An important contemporary theorist in this field is Ronald Ackers. Ackers developed his theory of social learning from ideas that were developed by Edwin Sutherland and his views on Differential Association. He also used ideas form George Herbert Mead's theory of symbolic interactionism; as well as from B.F Skinner' Behavioral Theory.
Acker states that the centre or "heart" of this theory and the principle of differential association is that "...one becomes criminal because his accepted definitions of the law as something to violate are in 'excess' of his accepted definitions of the law as something that can, must, or should be obeyed" (Akers 1973, 39).
Symbolic interactionism was one of the foundations of this theory and Ackers was of the view that this aspect played a role in the process of cognitive learning. Symbolic interactionism refers to, "...the exchange between individuals using meanings and symbols; in order to understand themselves" (Stansups). This also plays a role in the understanding of the concept of "differential association," which is "...the process whereby one is exposed to normative definitions favorable or unfavorable to illegal or law-abiding behavior" (Akers 1999, p. 64). Simply stated, it is through the interaction in social setting and environment that people tend to learn to imitate one another.
Acker also explains deviation as the process that occurs when this form of…