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Criticism against Differential Association Theory

Criticism against Differential Association Theory

Criticism Against Differential Association Theory

Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory argues that every person has an association with criminals and non-criminals. He further argued that criminal behavior, the techniques, attitude, and motive for the crime, are learned through association with others within intimate personal groups. Furthermore, a person chooses a criminal path if the criminal interactions outweigh the non-criminal interactions (TRS Psychology, n.d.). However, critics have identified defects in this theory.

One of the main setbacks about the theory is that personality or personality traits are not adequately taken into account. It does not explain the effects of personality traits on an individual’s susceptibility to social influences (Casella, 2020). Differential association essentially stresses the social transmission of behavior but minimizes an individual’s learning process (Cressey, 1964). The theory fails to account for differences in; acceptance, receptivity, response to crime opportunities, and criminal behavior patterns manifested in various individuals.

Also, differential association overgeneralizes the process of criminal activity learning. It is inadequate in that it doesn’t allow for a process of criminality whereby a perpetrator independently invents a crime. Furthermore, Sutherland’s theory purports that one chooses a criminal path if the criminal associations exceed the non-criminal associations. However, Differential Association theory does not account for the accuracy or a method to measure the intensity between the two associations.

Personally, these critics’ arguments are valid. To illustrate, one person who notices a woman dropping her wallet may perceive the situation as an opportunity for crime, while another person, presented with a similar circumstance, may perceive the situation as an opportunity to show kindness by alerting the woman. In this scenario, if the two persons have not had prior criminal associations, Sutherland fails to account for the fact that people can be individually motivated and that they can be independent in their thinking.

In conclusion, criticism against Differential Association Theory has allowed for further learning of criminal behavior. Valid criticism has presented an opportunity to study criminal behavior from a sociological perspective and from biological and psychological backgrounds.


Cassella, K. (2020). Social Work and Deviant Behavior. Eastern Gateway Community College.

Cressey, D. (1964). Delinquency, Crime, and Differential Association. 1st ed. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

TRS Psychology. (n.d.) Differential Association Theory.



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Discuss the criticism against Differential Association Theory. In your opinion, explain whether or not you believe they are valid.

Criticism against Differential Association Theory

Criticism against Differential Association Theory

Note: Please read Chapter 3 of the attached textbook and watch the video. Thank you

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