Social-psychological Theory | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

Social-psychological Theory suggests that criminal behavior is a result of the interaction between an individual’s personal characteristics and their social environment, including their socialization experiences, relationships, and cultural context.

In criminology, this theory helps explain why some individuals are more likely to engage in criminal behavior than others and how social factors influence criminal behavior.

The social-psychological theory is a broad framework that encompasses a range of theories and concepts in criminology. At its core, the theory suggests that individuals’ behavior is shaped by their personal characteristics and their social environment. Personal characteristics include factors such as personality, cognitive processes, and emotional states, while social factors include experiences such as socialization, relationships, and cultural context.

One of the key tenets of social-psychological theory is that criminal behavior is not solely determined by an individual’s personal characteristics but rather is the result of the interaction between personal characteristics and the social environment. For example, an individual with a predisposition towards aggressive behavior may be more likely to engage in criminal behavior if they are exposed to a violent or abusive environment.

The social-psychological theory also emphasizes the importance of socialization experiences in shaping behavior. Socialization experiences refer to the process by which individuals learn social norms, values, and behaviors. For example, a child who grows up in a family where criminal behavior is normalized may be more likely to engage in such behavior themselves.

In addition to socialization, experiences, relationships, and cultural context also play a significant role in shaping behavior. Relationships with peers, family members, and other social groups can influence an individual’s behavior by providing social support, reinforcement, and pressure to conform to group norms. Cultural context refers to the larger societal and cultural norms and values that shape behavior, such as attitudes toward crime and punishment.

The social-psychological theory also suggests that individuals’ behavior is influenced by situational factors, such as the presence of environmental cues that trigger criminal behavior. For example, the presence of a weapon may increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior, or the absence of guardianship may increase the likelihood of property crime.

Finally, social-psychological theory recognizes that individuals are not passive recipients of social influences but are active agents who can shape their own environment and behavior. This concept is known as personal agency, and it suggests that individuals have the ability to exercise control over their behavior and environment.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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