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Eysenck’s Theory and Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory


The study of crime has been in existence for many centuries but has only gained prominence in recent times. This can mostly be attributed to popularization by the media especially in the West. Psychologists and criminal profilers have been gathering valuable data pertaining to the reasons behind any criminal act and behavior. They have managed to do this by conducting interviews and studying infamous criminals such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer among others.

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One of the most acceptable conclusions regarding this matter is that criminality is a result of nurturing and personality. To this effect, criminologists such as Edwin Sutherlands and Hans Eysenck have come up with various theories of crime that explore the various characteristics of criminals and the various factors that drive them into criminal activities.

This discussion shall set out to explore two theories of crime as brought out by these famous theorists. A critical analysis of these theories shall be presented and their understanding regarding the causes of crime exposed. The foundation of these theories shall be used as a basis through which an understanding of robbery can be derived.

Study of crime

A criminal by definition refers to an individual who is driven by evil intentions that lead him/her into committing harmful deeds to others. A “criminal mind” is therefore the characteristics of the thought-processes of such individuals. This implies that criminals have a special and unique thinking mechanism that facilitates their ability to commit and justify criminal acts.

Various opinions are held regarding crime and the topic provokes ardent emotions of admiration and rage from its proponents and opponents respectively. Hough (2003), notes that while some appreciate the paradigm as being a rich form of psychoanalytic art, others condemn it for being socially problematic and for encouraging “heinous acts” among members of society.

Perhaps the common denominator in all forms of crime is the somewhat unnecessary infliction of pain to others. Watt, Howells and Delfabbro (2004), notes that it is the perception of crimes that makes them so appealing to rebels and people who view themselves as social misfits as they show that they can defy the set rules and laws. This to some extent explains why acts such as burglary and excessive violence are prevalent in today’s gang members, incarcerated people and rebellious teenagers.

Fisher (2006), states that crime requires planning and an evaluation of the risks and the benefits. The execution of any criminal act is hinged upon the occurrence of opportunities, the location and the availability of targets. However, the extent of the crime depends on the belief system of the perpetrator. This means that if a criminal believes that committing a crime is justified, then there is no limit to what they can do.

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Robbery refers to the criminal act through which the perpetrator takes money or possessions either through the use of force or threatening to use force. Robberies always instill fear in the victims. There are various types of robberies. Among the most common forms of robberies are noted robberies whereby the perpetrators use notes to relay their demands. This is the least violent form of crime because the robber uses intimidation and threats to get the desired results.

The offenders of this type of robbery always work alone. The other common type of robbery is the take-over robbery. This is often executed by one or more armed robbers who are highly aggressive. In addition, it is executed by professional robbers who in most cases might take some hostages to prove their point and level of seriousness. Other forms of robberies include but are not limited to: Morning glory robberies (occur during the morning before business commences) and the closing time robberies.

Robberies are generally crimes of opportunity and are very unpredictable. This is because they are impulsive, disorganized (in most cases) and the rewards are often unknown (depends on luck). However, it has been documented that the more a person executes a form of robbery, the better they become in terms of target selection, intimidation and extortion techniques as well as evading capture. Most robberies are a result of drug abuse, poverty, peer pressure, and in some cases; greed. There are some theories that have tried to explain criminal behaviors and could be applied in the study of robbers.

The Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory

Burgess and Akers came up with this theory in 1966. It was a revision of the previous theory forwarded by Sutherland. Their main aim was to re-evaluate Sutherland’s theory which tried to explain differential association using behaviorism. They based their argument on the fact that non-social effects such as operant conditioning also played a pivotal role in reinforcing criminal behavior.

Akers asserted that differential association with deviant peers to a large extent contributed to the introduction of deviant behavior in an individual. He stated that differential association is strengthened by differential reinforcement. This refers to the process through which new criminals learn how to gain from their acts and avoid being caught. The theory asserts that an individual’s interaction with criminals may psychologically influence him/her to commit crime.

The theory proposes that lack of self, control, peer pressure and lack of adequate social roles (unemployment) are some of the factors that contribute to criminal behaviors. According to Fisher (2006), lack of proper supervision may lead some people into associating with criminals. From these associations, individuals are influenced into committing crime and becoming notorious criminals. This theory proposes that a criminal mind can be acquired through an individual’s association with criminals.

It assumes that from such interactions, an individual learns how to think, act and react to different situations like a criminal. Good examples of such criminals include robbers, pickpockets and conmen who are often indoctrinated on the art of performing their crimes without being detected. They are not crimes that anyone can commit and they require a lot of skills and intelligence to identify the “mark” and pull off.

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The Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory was based on seven pivotal assumptions. Burgess and Akers proposed that the execution of any criminal act is as a result of learned criminal behaviors. The second assumption was that criminal behaviors can be acquired not only from the social but also from nonsocial situation. In addition, they asserted that learning of such behaviors occurs in groups and it involved the attitudes and techniques as well as the procedures implemented to avoid detection and apprehension.

Also, they argued that the availability and frequency of the rein forcer was a great determiner of the class of criminal behavior possessed by an individual.

This theory applies to the robberies in the following ways: robberies require some significant amount of courage to execute successfully. As Payne and Salotti (2007) explain, crime no matter its intensity requires planning. Planning in this case refers to the procedures that should be followed from the start to the exit strategy. In addition to this, the perpetrator must analyze the costs (risks) and weigh them against the expected benefits. The Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory assumes that criminal behaviors are learnt through the association of individuals with deviant parties. It further asserts that aspects of crime must be learnt (Conklin, 2007).

Statistics indicate that most robberies are carried out by gang members. From these gangs, individuals gain useful insight on how and when to commit crimes as well as the measures that should be employed during a robbery to ensure that the perpetrators are not caught. This theory therefore supports the fact that robbery is a learnt crime which gets worse as it is repeated over time.

Eysenck’s theory

One of the aspects that make us as human beings so unique and special is our diversity both in looks and character. This diversity is experienced in all avenues of our lives as we interact with others. An understanding of the various psychological types that exist can help us to not only better relate with others but also to better understand ourselves. While this classifications do not served to explain the intrinsic details of one’s psyche, they do offer an understanding of psychological types thereby leading to better understanding of human beings (Butt, 2005).

The Eysenck’s personality theory holds that criminal actions and behaviors are to a large extent determined by genetic, biological and social factors. According to Fisher (2006), human behaviors may be inherited from one generation to another. This theory further asserts that factors such as physical trauma, nutrition and DNA work together to nurture criminal behavior. The theorist claims that the effects of hormones and various environmental contaminants may lead a person into committing crime.

As such, this theory argues that crime is an inborn trait. The fact that criminal behavior can be inherited means that people born with such traits are unique. Good examples of such individuals are the pathological lairs. According to Bartol (2010) lying to these people comes naturally (is inborn) and in some cases, it is very hard even for forensic experts to differentiate between what is true and what is not.

The theorist asserts that all humans have underlying desires. As such, it is only through socialization that these urges can be controlled. Therefore, a person with poor social skills develops a personality disorder which forces him/her to exhibit antisocial tendencies. Those that bring out these tendencies become criminals while those who suppress them become neurotics. This theory is therefore a proponent to the fact that criminals are social misfits trying to compensate for their weaknesses.

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The sociological theory of crime purports that crime is as a result of sociological influences. Examples of criminals in this category include gang members, robbers, rapists and serial killers. Their acts of violence are triggered by their need to empower themselves in a society that constantly undermines them.

This theory argues that the link between personality and criminal behavior is forged through socialization. According to Eysenck, criminal personalities can best be explained by three main dimensions which are; the level of extraversion (E), neuroticism (N) and psychoticism (P). The theorist claimed that these dimensions (ENP) are greatly affected by genetic. The criminologist believed that most criminal behaviors were noticeable during childhood and that viable measures could therefore be implemented if criminal tendencies were noticed.

Eysenck stated that through socialization, individuals are conditioned to be more perceptive to gratitude therefore becoming more social oriented. If conditioning is successful, an individual is likely to experience anxiety if pressured to commit a crime and would at most times avoid doing criminal acts.

The theorist asserted that people with high levels of E and N were not susceptible to conditioning and were therefore more prone to criminality because anxiety does not factor in when faced with antisocial impulses. In summary, the Eysenck’s theory implies that rapists and child abusers are social misfits with neurotic and psychotic tendencies. However, the theory does not explain why these individuals do it.

To a small extent, the theory does try to explain robbery. There are people who have sticky hands since childhood. Some robbers are just wired to steal without any logical explanation. They steal and rob people’s valuables because they like doing it not because these acts have any value to them. For example, there have been cases whereby robbers from well off backgrounds steal paintings and other valuables. The most shocking thing is that they can afford to buy these things if need be but they choose to steal them instead.

Among the two theories discussed above, the Differential Association-Reinforcement Theory is the most appropriate in explaining robbery. This is because; robbers are not really born but are indoctrinated into the heinous act through their association with criminals. Through this association, they are taught and trained on how they should conduct themselves during robberies, how to execute the robbery and how to evade capture.

The theory gives a detailed analysis on the various factors that nurture criminal behavior as well as those that reinforce the same. in addition to this, it has for a long time been rumored that petty offenders prosecuted and sentenced to serve time in prison often come out being worse criminals that they were initially. This is because they interact with other criminals in prison and learn their skills and techniques as regarding to the execution of crimes. As such, this theory is the best when it comes to evaluating robbery.


The study of crime has been instrumental in analyzing the factors that make people commit crime, why they do it and the probability of committing them again. Various theories on crime have been highlighted and discussed. As such, the role that the findings play in minimizing crime cannot be understated.

While it may be contended that an ideal society is one where people coexist in harmony thereby rendering punishments redundant, the realities of every day demonstrate the fact that the human race is far from achieving this utopia. A well organized criminal justice system is therefore a relevant tool and serves a significant role in the administration of the society.

An understanding of these aspects of crime are beneficial because they help me understand the criminal mind in terms of the factors that trigger or deter it. With such knowledge, it is easier to teach other people on how to analyze various components of crime.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2010). Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach. NY: Prentice Hall.

Conklin, J. E. (2007). Criminology. Boston: Pearson, Allyn and Bacon.

Fisher, B.S. (2006). Crime Prevention. Journal of Security Education, 2(1), 103 – 111.

Hough, M. (2003). Modernization and public opinion: Some criminal justice paradoxes. Contemporary Politics, 9(2), 143 – 155.

Payne, A.A., & Salotti, S. (2007). A Comparative Analysis of Social Learning and Social Control Theories in the Prediction of College Crime. Deviant Behavior, 28(6), 553 – 573.

Watt, B., Howells, K., & Delfabbro, P. (2004). Juvenile Recidivism: Criminal Propensity, Social Control and Social Learning Theories. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 11(1), 141 – 153.

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