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Differential Association Theory

Differential Association Theory

Author: Paul Hannan

Examine differential association theory and its influence on sociology. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Clip-art images from; Public Domain

Video Transcription

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Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on differential association theory. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So do we have a relatively brief tutorial on a relatively simple concept, which is the differential association theory. So this theory was proposed by Edwin Sutherland. And Sutherland was a sociologist from the 1900s.

And he really specifically was looking at white collar crime. And he came up with this differential association theory. So what is a theory? Well, the theory is pretty straightforward. And it's just saying that people are much more likely to conform based on the amount of time they spend with people who either encourage conformity or reject conformity.

So let's break it down a little simpler. So again, people are much more likely to behave, to not break the laws if they hang out with people who also behave and obey the laws. And people are more likely to break the laws, to act deviant, if they hang out with other people who reject the conventional behavior. Here's an image to kind of help cement that in your brain. So it's all on a spectrum.

So there's not necessarily like a certain ratio, oh, you spend 10% of your time with this person who's deviant, you're going to for sure reject conventional behavior. No, it's not a simple equation, but I like to look at this, the setup here to kind of just think about it. The more that you spend time with people who encourage conventional behavior, the more likely you're going to act conventional. And the more that you reject conventional behavior-- or sorry, the more that you hang out with people who reject conventional behavior, the more likely you are to reject conventional behavior.

So the differential association theory is really just kind of saying that the people that you hang out with matter and have an impact on it. So today's takeaway message, Edwin Sutherland is a sociologist famous for studies on white collar crime and came up with the idea of the differential association theory. This theory is one that just says that people are likely a person's likely likeliness to conform is based on how much contact they have with others who either encourage or reject conventional behavior.

Well, it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Differential Association Theory

The theory that a person's likeliness to conform depends on how much contact they have with others who reject conventional behavior or who encourage conventional behavior.

People to Know
Edwin Sutherland

An important criminologist credited with developing differential association theory to explain crime and deviance in society.