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Learning Theory and Criminal Behavior

Criminal behavior is the result of a complex interplay of social and biological factors, but social learning theory has gained increased research efforts and academical support in recent years. Social learning theory considers the imitation from others from a young age and the development of rational choice.

Most researchers agree that criminal behavior is the result of a complex interplay of social and biological factors (Kitchen, 2009), but social learning theory has gained increased research efforts and academical support in recent years. Social learning theory considers the imitation from others from a young age and the development of rational choice through an experiential comparison between reward and risk. Where this relationship is seen to be favorable, the behavior is likely to be repeated and the frequency increased. Two crimes that could be explained and analyzed within the social learning theories are rape and computer crimes.

 

Many researchers agree that rape is a learned behavior (Ryan, 2004; Thornhill, & Palmer, 2000). Thornhill and Palmer (2000) explicitly stated that “rape only takes place when men learn to rape” (para. 8) and that rape is mainly motivated by desire, which is also a learnt motivation. The differential association theory places emphasis on the reward and risk ratio and the acceptance of the views and messages of role models in the choice of pro-crime or pro-conformity attitude and behavior. The act of rape potentially has various rewards, including fulfillment of a sexual desire, a need to control or humiliate another person, and establishment of a different social status. The situational parameters are also varied, but Ryan (2004) explained that “men’s cognitions foster rape” (p. 579), and that beliefs about sex and masculinity play a significant role in the tendency to commit rape. The methods and techniques, motivation, and minimization of the act as criminal or harmful are imitated from the behavior and attitude of role models such as parent, family members, public figures, peers and the media. According to Salfati and Taylor (2006) rape is “associated with a holistic set of criminal actions in which violence is applied in a controlled, goal orientated manner” (p. 124). Their research implied that rape is deliberate, planned, and motivated by a positive risk and reward balance. Glazov (2006) mentioned the potential role of a “culture’s collective psychology” (para. 2) in the occurrence of rape. In certain cultures, males are taught that women are to their disposal to be mastered, controlled, disciplined and enjoyed in any way. Here individual rights are subordinate to community norms, where sexuality might not only serve as a means to procreation, but also punishment. It is important to realize that community norms are in essence learnt, inherited, and developed from one generation to another. Rape is in my opinion as much a sexual behavior as an act of violence, or even perpetuated by community myths. In South Africa, there is a belief amongst certain communities that sexual relations with a virgin is a cure of AIDS, which effectively increases the motivation to rape a child or infant (Earl-Tyler, 2002; Govender, 1999). Although this belief is completely nonsensical, its perpetuation was ensured by denial and reluctance to address the issue by authorities. Whatever the specific motivation, the need to control and disregard for the status of the victim, plays a central role in the decision to rape. The motivations and act are undoubtedly learned and imitated from others in the situation context of the community and culture.

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