Strain Theories Part IILearning Theories Agnew’s General Strain Theory Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory Akers’s Differential Reinforcement Theory
Merton • Anomie is tied to economic status Early strain theory focused on relationship between low social class status and crime
Agnew (1992) and GST • General strain theory (GST) • In the theory, he postulated that strain need not be specifically tied to economic status because it was actually a psychological reaction to any perceived negative aspects of one's social environment
GST • Hypothetically, individuals from all social classes could engage in criminal behavior because they could all experience negative emotions arising from strain • This modification of Merton’s theory made GST powerful because it could explain all types of offending
Robert Agnew’s General Strain Theory (1992) • Anger has a significant impact on all measures of crime and deviance Strain ANGER Criminal Behavior
What are Strains? • Strains refer to events or conditions that are disliked by most individuals
Strains • Objective • Subjective
Objective or Subjective? • Objective vs subjective strains • “I lost the paper that I was working on my computer. I was almost done” • “I got into a huge fight with my best friend and completely terminated our relationship” • “I hate when my Dad is drunk…and he is drinking every day”
Objective Strains • Some events and conditions are disliked by most people (being physically assaulted or being deprived of food/shelter) • Domestic violence
Subjective Strains • Subjective evaluation of objective strains • Influenced by a range of factors, including people’s personality traits, goals and values, and prior experiences • Example: Death of a spouse vs death of a spouse-abuser
Three major types of strain • Failure to achieve positively valued goals • Loss of positive stimuli • Presentation of negative stimuli
Failure to achieve positively valued goals • Gap between expectations and actual achievements (not always long-term)
Loss of positive stimuli • Experiencing the stressful impact felt before and after moving • Parental Divorce • Death of a relative/close friend • Break Up • Lost privilege to use a family car/credit card
Presentation of negative stimuli • Peer pressure • Physical /emotional abuse) • Stress, bullying and depression ranked one, two and three respectively in a list of incidents as reported by elementary, middle and high school students.
As reported by students enrolled in schools using AnComm’s ‘Talk About It®’ anonymous online reporting service. The annual AnComm ‘Talk About It®’ Report sample includes more than 70,000 students enrolled in 52 schools across 12 states.
GST • While GST posited that each type of strain ultimately lead to deviance for slightly different reasons, all three types were thought to increase the likelihood that an individual would experience negative emotions in proportion to the magnitude, duration, and recency of the stress
Coping with strain through crime • Why are some people more likely than other to cope with strains through crime? • Bad temper • Low self-control • Previous delinquent behavior • Delinquent friends • If the initial goals are high and they have few alternative goals to fall back on, then the person may be more prone to committing delinquent acts
Links Between Strain and Crime • Strain Anger • Anger was found to incite a person to action, and create a desire for revenge • Crime allows individuals to obtain revenge against those who have wronged them • Crime may allow individuals to alleviate their negative emotions
Agnew’s Theory Factors affecting disposition to delinquency Strain ANGER Criminal Behavior Constraints to delinquent behavior
Coping Strategies Other Than Crime • Crime is not the only way that people will respond to strain • There are three different types of coping strategies that enable the individual to deal with the strain in their life through legitimate means • Cognitive • Emotional • Behavioral
Cognitive coping strategies • Enable the individual to rationalize the stressors in three ways (Agnew, 1992) • Minimize the importance of the strain by placing less importance on a particular goal • Maximizing the positive while minimizing the negative outcomes of an event. This is an attempt to ignore the fact that there has been a negative event • Accept the outcomes of the negative outcomes as fair
Behavioral coping strategies • Individuals may actively seek out positive stimuli (Social supports from friends and relatives) • Try to escape negative stimuli. In addition, individuals may actively seek out revenge in a non-delinquent manner (Agnew, 1992:69)
Emotional coping strategies • Relaxation methods • Sport • Meditation
GST and gender differences in crime • The levels and types of strain could be different for girls and for boys • Boys and girls may have different responses to the same strain • Gender variation in conditioning effects (gender differences in dealing/coping with strain)
The levels and types of strain • Boys are more likely than are girls to experience strain because of negative peer relations that are marked by conflict, competition, jealousy, and imbalance • Girls are especially susceptible to strain caused by problems in forming and maintaining positive relationships with family and friends
Different responses to the same strain • Consistent with gender socialization, when facing stressors, males would be more likely to behave aggressively • Females would be more likely to engage in more passive and self-destructive forms of delinquency, such as running away form home, alcohol use, etc.
Sex differences in coping strategies • Females employ escape and avoidance methods to relieve the strain • Females have stronger relational ties that might help to reduce strain (social support) • Males are lower in social control, and they socialize in large, hierarchical peer groups where they need to maintain their status • Therefore, males are more likely to respond to strain with crime (Agnew 1997).
Empirical support • Numerous tests of GST had also examined the relationship between strain and negative emotion, yielding mixed results • Several studies had found strain-induced anger to be the primary negative emotion to exert a significant effect on deviance (Broidy, 2001; Piquero and Sealock, 2000).
Empirical support • Others had found that the significant mediating impact of anger was limited to situations of violence • In some cases anger actually had an indirect effect on crime and strain a direct effect
Policy Recommendations • Agnew proposed several different programs to reduce delinquency which have shown success after being implemented
Policy Recommendations • Family-based programs are designed to teach the members how to solve problems in a constructive manner, and parents are taught how to effectively discipline their children (Agnew, 1995) • This will reduce the amount of negative emotions that result from conflict in the family and will decrease the amount of strain in the home
Policy Recommendations • School-based programs seek to improve relations in and between schools • Peer based programs seek to reduce the amount of strain that an adolescent feels as a result of relationships with peers • Relationships with peers can be negative when the peers are delinquent or when they are physically or verbally abusive toward other peers
Critiques • There is not much data to support or refute it • Objective/subjective strain • Measurement of strain