LEARNING TO BE BAD: ADVERSE SOCIAL CONDITIONS, SOCIAL SCHEMAS, AND CRIME

Authors

Errata

This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: ERRATA Volume 49, Issue 3, iv, Article first published online: 7 August 2011

  • This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH48165, MH62669) and the Center for Disease Control (029136-02). Additional funding for this project was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. We thank Tanja Link, Brea Perry, Travis Pratt, Eric Stewart, several anonymous reviewers, and Denise Gottfredson for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this article. Direct correspondence to Dr. Ronald L. Simons, Department of Sociology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 (e-mail: rsimons@uga.edu).

Abstract

In this article, we develop and test a new approach to explain the link between social factors and individual offending. We argue that seemingly disparate family, peer, and community conditions lead to crime because the lessons communicated by these events are similar and promote social schemas involving a hostile view of people and relationships, a preference for immediate rewards, and a cynical view of conventional norms. Furthermore, we posit that these three schemas are interconnected and combine to form a criminogenic knowledge structure that results in situational interpretations legitimating criminal behavior. Structural equation modeling with a sample of roughly 700 African American teens provided strong support for the model. The findings indicated that persistent exposure to adverse conditions such as community crime, discrimination, harsh parenting, deviant peers, and low neighborhood collective efficacy increased commitment to the three social schemas. The three schemas were highly intercorrelated and combined to form a latent construct that strongly predicted increases in crime. Furthermore, in large measure, the effect of the various adverse conditions on increases in crime was indirect through their impact on this latent construct. We discuss the extent to which the social-schematic model presented in this article might be used to integrate concepts and findings from several major theories of criminal behavior.

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