Differential Reinforcement

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Differential Reinforcement is defined to occur when behavior is reinforced by being either rewarded or punished while interacting with others (Siegel, 2003). With this said, the theory was developed as a way of labeling both positive, as well as negative aspects of individual action. This idea of reinforcement is a branch of the infamous Differential Association theory presented by Edwin H. Sutherland in 1939. Another commonly used term for this theory of reinforcement is called differential conditioning (Siegel, 2003). As mentioned, the types of reinforcement are either positive or negative, and operate on the results of specific crimes or random acts. Rewarding behaviors plainly urges such action to be repeated, while punishment often deters those offenders from repeating their same mistakes. Parenting practices, social groups, schools, television, and the community are just a few of the examples that are linked to this theory. According to Ronald Akers (1966), each behavior a person commits is a learned behavior, meaning some type of outside force paved the way to this various knowledge. This theory goes hand in hand with the ideology that he argued in his studies, but focuses on the after effects (or results), rather than prevention or control. This theory does not help support the effectiveness of deterrence, but it does give us a little insight on why people decide to engage in criminal activity. Perhaps the most influential group in shaping someone’s behavior is their peer group. Take for example, gang activity. Street gangs, though usually found in highly urbanized areas, still exist and even thrive throughout most of the United States. It is the safety, security, and power that effects these members with faulty, risky and distant thinking, which usually ends up in some type of negative reinforcement. Guilt is often by association, as well as socialization. Purely, this relationship dominates the theory of crime as a learned behavior. No one is born with the general knowledge of how to break the law or to simply be criminal by nature, but through life experiences and perceptions of the events that surround them, the criminal activity is learned. Use the professional art of safe (or vault) cracking, for example. To perform such a trick, one must be taught how to do it. Such information is never provided at birth, or thr...

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... strategies to govern the influences these gangs have on crime and society.
Between gangs, youth and WWC/CV (white collar crime/corporate violence), criminologists have their hands full with analyzing the behavior of individuals. When punishments outweigh the benefit of criminal activity, most crimes are never actually committed. But if the threat of punishment is too weak, or ineffective then proper action is usually avoided and a crime gets committed. Criminologists search for a way to make connections by associating these theories with new cases reported each year. One problem is the discretion of police and the lack of crimes actually reported to police. Regardless, it is very easy to see the truth behind these concepts. For example, thieves that are safecrackers must have been taught to be able to do that trade. However, with the available data and records criminologists do have, there is tons of drawn out information supporting this theory of DR. Without doubt, differential reinforcement is a two-way street with human activity. One will always affect the other and it is up to the individual to reach for the positive, instead of the negative.
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