Social learning theories hold that criminal behaviors are learned in interaction with others, particularly (but not exclusively) those within close personal circles such as family, friends, and neighbors. According to this perspective, criminality is not inborn, biological, or genetic, nor is it limited to people of specific backgrounds, resources, or opportunities. Rather, all people are seen as having the potential to engage in criminal or deviant acts, and criminality is a function of the socialization process.
With the recent surge in active or mass shootings in public schools how does social learning explain these recent phenomenons?
How does the social learning theory explain why these students engaged in violent acts that led them to kill fellow their fellow students and teachers? Does social learning offer a possible solution to this epidemic?
How does social learning explain these recent phenomena?
Mass shootings are one of the social problems facing the United States of America and other parts of the world. A lot of scientific explanations have been put forward by various scholars in the field of sociology, law, political science among others to explain the phenomenal of mass shootings. The media regards mass shootings as a social challenge facing the United States of America. Therefore due, to the various social panics created by mass shootings, a lot of research is being undertaken to clearly gain a deeper understanding of the overall strength of the problem, causes, effects and how possible it can be eliminated. It is important to note that period between 1993-93 together with 2005-2006 registered high levels of death in schools being as a result of mass shootings which accounted to over 74 percent of the total death levels in that period.
The social learning theory was developed by Ronald Akers together with his counterpart Robert Burgess. The theory was formulated by modifying and expanding the differential association theory of Edwin Sutherland (Akers & Sellers, 2013). According to differential association theory developed by Edwin Sutherland, social patterns like law breaking or abiding are effectively exposed to by the differentially organized social groupings (Akers, 2009). Therefore, Sutherland assumes that the various associations with intimate individual groups lead to the learning of particular behaviours. It is important to note that criminal behaviours like mass shooting are effectively learned when individuals are over exposed to particular criminal activities. Also groupings or associations together with other people differ in intensity, frequency and duration. Therefore, social learning theory of Akers was developed by extending the theory of differential association (Akers, 2009).
Akers theory of social learning provides a comprehensive explanation of how the values and needs established in the process of learning cannot in any way be determined by basic assumptions (Akers & Sellers, 2013). His major focus was explaining on how learning is a result of identifying or learning specific definitions including among others various methodologies of committing crime and crime imitation through attention or gain reinforcement.
As per Akers social learning theory mass shootings or behaviours are as a result of the various associations with peers which are defiant in their very nature (Akers & Jensen, 2006). In other words the current mass shootings emanates from the environment in which children lives. The lack of clear and well defined gun control policies in the United States of America and other parts of the world has made it easier to easily access guns by all sects of the population (Sense, 2009). Therefore, a number of children have grown in an environment where there is free flow of arms. Thus such exposures to fire arms have affected the overall psychology mind of children which to some extent has resulted into gun violence.
It is important to note that children are not supposed to be exposed to firms or any form of violence behaviour until when they are ready (Unnever e tal, 2006). However, in the current society it is different in a sense that young children in some areas are being taught how to fire or shoot which is morally and psychologically illogical by its very nature. Even children who have grown up in environments where fire arms are restricted, they are negatively impacted their peers have been exposed to guns or gun violence making cases of mass shootings inevitable (Esbensen, 2009).
How does the social learning theory explain why these students engaged in violent acts that led them to kill their fellow students and teachers?
It is important to note that the theory of social learning is very important while gaining a deeper understanding of the effect of child experience to the overall individual’s adult behaviours and attitudes. In other words children who were victims or witnessed mass shootings or gun violence are more likely to indulge in such behaviours if exposed to guns (Smith, 2011). This can be a result of revenge and unending trauma they suffered. Young children need to be treated with extreme care to avoid them from being in environments that exposes to criminality given that any bad or good incident affects them psychologically even when they grow old(Dumitriu, 2013).
Further, socialization encompasses the various processes and stages which involve culture learning. In culture learning the important agents are the religious institutions, schools, peer groups and family. Therefore, socialization paves way for the learning of particular criminalities. More importantly is that gun violence can be learned through schools, peer groups, family and religious institutions (Dumitriu, 2013). In other words indoctrination plays a vital role in encouraging mass shootings in case where the ideology being impacted is bankrupt by its very nature. For instance terrorism can be taught and indoctrinated in children making them loose respect for humanity.
Observation of the deviant behaviours together with socialization with deviant peers paves way for the learning and reinforcement of the various definitions which are in line with deviant behaviour (Dumitriu, 2013). Through the process of modelling the learned and reinforced behaviours by the media and peers, imitation is effectively attained. It is important to note that the media its self can enable students to learn about violence which they may replicate in time to come. In other words, the environment in which children are being exposed to play a vital role in promoting cases of mass shootings (Unnever e tal., 2006). Therefore, Akers asserts that constant exposure to particular attitudes and behaviours makes them more desirable by utilizing differential reinforcement. Differential definitions and associations are the most empirically asserted aspects of the social learning process (Dumitriu, 2013). Hence in terms of the overall aspect of social learning, the strong predictors of deviant social learning are definitions and associations with others.
By undertaking research on mass shooting the overall elements of social learning can be seen and learnt. Also, mass shooting explanation in line with the social learning theory is critically significant to effectively understand the overall challenge and how possible it can eliminate or prevented from occurring in schools (Dumitriu, 2013). It is important to note that differential association encompasses a number of aspects leaving alone direct groups identification. Some of the groups that play a significant role in differential association include distal groups (Schmalleger, 2006).
Families play a vital role in shaping the social attitude and behaviours of individuals. In other words mass shooting and other forms of violent behaviour are correlated with experiences during childhood (Agnich, 2010). The cycle of violence is perpetuated by the various violence exposures. Violence copying skills and interpersonal skills are learnt by children through violent interactions or witnessing them. Also students whose behaviour has already been affected psychologically during child hood are more likely to be very aggressive, intolerant and extremely radical while dealing with their fellow children and teachers (Bartol & Bartol, 2006). Therefore, experiences from families are more likely to affect the overall conduct and behaviour of students at school and other public places hence it may look permissible for children to effectively learn some of the maladaptive behaviours.
Also Studies carried out reveal that individual perceptions and attitudes towards a given behaviour are dangerous than the real process of behaviour witness (Bartol & Bartol, 2006). It also important to note that most crimes committed by individuals tend to be similar to personal experience and crimes committed. Children who witnessed violence in their environment are likely to be radical in their very nature. Therefore such radical extremism is more likely to result into mass shootings. It is not surprising that most societies and children that have a bad history of exposure to violence are very radical and extreme in behaviour and interactions (Bartol & Bartol, 2006). Most cases of mass shootings are usually undertaken by children from societies or families with a history of violence. Hence the effect of gun violence and exposure to children is far reaching. Individuals with greater exposure to violence activity or guns have a higher probability of engaging in the same criminal activity (Bartol & Bartol, 2006). For instance where parents own guns, children are more likely to also own guns which may also increase the risks of gun shooting or violence (Unnever e tal., 2006). Violent behavior and violence exposure at a tender age increases the probability of gun violence. Therefore as per the social learning theory, using fire arms to cause criminality is a behavior that is learned through a gradual process and leads to the radicalization of society or children thus mass shootings are as a result of exposure to violence(Bauman & Del Rio, 2006).
Social theory also asserts that certain behaviours are also learnt. Therefore it can be stated that mass shootings are as a result of radicalization and influence from particular groups with a bankrupt ideology. It is important to note that learning and socialization is greatly affected by primary groupings like close friends and family (Meadows, 2007). To note as per the recent research findings, the overall cycle of violence is effectively learnt through various stages and processes. Violence exposure increases the risks at which violence occurs. Aggression and violence are in most cases learnt in the process of simple observation. Mass violence can effectively provide an overview and explanation of public school mass violence. It is important to realize that copycat shootings in public school environments are seen as a real direct imitation of the overall mass shootings events in schools (Meadows, 2007). For example social learning theory can be used to explain school massacres like the columbine shootings. It is important to note that columbine is referred to as a game changer in as for school violence is concerned. It is important to note that the psychological ways of learning are critically significant in the theory of social learning (Pittaro, 2007).
In other words as per the theories violence and attitudes reinforcement to crime are deemed as highly salient compared to individuals being taught violence acts and how to engage in crimes. For the case of social learning as children begins to interact more with the outside environment they learn specific behaviors. Similarly, children behavior is highly positively correlated to the environment (Travis and Michael, 2005). Therefore the current environment in the United States of America and other parts of the world is to blame for the cases of mass shootings. Young children in the US and other parts of the world at a very young engage are granted access to watch and learn violence. This is through media like movies, games and others. Therefore such has affected the overall attitude and behavior of students leading to cases of mass shootings in schools (Travis and Michael, 2005).
Social learning can be utilized while developing and implementing rehabilitative and preventive programs to influence student’s behaviours in a particular direction (Ngo, 2011). Social learning programs that can help in shaping the dynamics of society to bring about a fundamental change include among others gang interventions, peer counselling, mentoring, delinquency and behavioural modifications (Unnever e tal., 2006). The rationale behind the above kinds of interventions is to offer role models and positive experiences for students and other young children to avail them with values and norms capable of diminishing future criminality or delinquency.
Social contract theory, this was developed by Hirsch's in the year 1969 and can also be relied on to explain school shootings ((Roberts e tal.,2011). The social contract theory is one of the theories that can be utilized to explain the rationale behind crimes and mass shootings. The main focus on social learning theory is on institutional and environmental factors. While gaining a deeper overview of the likely risks associated with mass shootings in public schools social contract theory is critically relevant. Further the theory will give a deeper overview of how particular individuals are law abiding and hesitant to engage in any form of criminality. The theory gives various social bonds to explain criminality and they include attachment, commitment, involvement and belief (Daigle e tal.,2007)
Robert Merton, according to Merton deviant behaviour is encouraged by the pre existing social behaviours. In other words some of the violence activities are a result of denial to engage in certain privileges. In other words unrealistic expectations make individuals with criminal attitudes to engage in particular forms of violence (Haynie e tal.,2006)
Travis Hirschi, according to Hirshi reasoning the main rationale behind any form of criminality is fraud. In other words crime is perpetuated by low self control and criminal opportunity. Also child upbringing plays a huge role in affecting the overall levels of self control among children. In other words violence is a matter of upbringing and should be handled in that matter through tackling the root causes (Loeber e tal.,2005)
Shaw and McKay developed the social Disorganization theory and according to their analysis crime is a result of the dynamics in the neighbourhood. In other words crime traditions are as a result of social disorganized neighbour hoods and the absence of regulation. Therefore violent activities are a result of disorganization with in the neighbourhood (Losel e tal.,2007).
Reiss and Nyes, personal and social control failures lead to delinquency behaviors like mass shootings. To avoid such challenges children can be controlled by limiting opportunities or imposing constraints through punishments and parental rewards (Unnever e tal.,2006).
Conclusively, several critical assertions to explain mass shooting can be effectively explained basing on the theory of social organization. The period of the 1990-2000's show relatively lower levels of mass shootings in the United States of America. However, in the recent time there have been general increases in the level of mass shootings both in the United States of America and other parts of the world. Interesting to note is that most of the shootings are popular to specific demographics, lack of common personal attacks and place of attacks. To affectively gain a deeper understanding of the overall challenges, more research need to be undertaken in the field of criminology and sociology to effectively explain the overall cause of mass shootings and they can be prevented. Further, it can be argued that mass shooting cannot effectively be explained by a given response or theory but rather by a number of them. Also mass shootings in public schools are mainly as a result of community level factors and complex individual interplay. Hence the idea of mass shooting is very complex in its own nature and requires the contributions of all stake holders at different levels. These include among others state and local enforcements. It is important to note that majority of shootings that have taken place in the United States of America take twenty minutes. Further, more social mechanisms need to be undertaken to address mass shooting since to a larger extent it’s a social problem. Hence with proper awareness and education to parents, teachers, children and school officials the above challenge can be reduced
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