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Forensic Psychology – Cognitive Explanations for Offending

4. Differential Association Theory

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In this lecture, we think about differential association theory, focusing in particular on: (i) Sutherland’s 1939 proposal that people learn criminal behaviours from other people, with criminal behaviour arising from a combination of pro-criminal attitudes and learning criminal acts; (ii) Blackburn’s 1993 criticisms of the field’s research, proposing that it is not possible to know whether the learned behaviours or the associations come first, due to the correlational nature of the results; (iii) the influence of differential association theory on social learning theory.


In this course, Professor Ciarán O’Keeffe (Buckinghamshire New University) explores cognitive explanations for offending. In the first lecture, we think about Eysenck’s criminal personality theory, which separates personality measures into three dimensions: extraversion and introversion (E), neuroticism and stability (N), and psychoticism (P). In the second lecture, we think about Kohlberg’s developmental theory of moral reasoning, with a particular focus on his preconventional stage. Next, we think about cognitive distortions beyond moral reasoning, including hostile attribution theory, minimalisation, and Crick & Dodge’s social information processing model. In the fourth and final lecture, we think about Sunderland’s 1939 differential association theory, its criticisms, and its influence on Bandura’s social learning theory.


Professor Ciarán O’Keeffe is associate professor of education and research and head of the School of Human and Social Sciences at Buckinghamshire New University. Professor O’Keeffe’s research interests include investigative psychology and parapsychology, and has made numerous television and radio appearances alongside an array of celebrities. Some of Professor O’Keeffe’s recent publications include 'Things That Go Bump In The Literature: An Environmental Appraisal of 'Haunted Houses'' (2020) and 'Restorative Justice and Recidivism: Investigating the impact of victim-preference for level of engagement' (2014).

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APA style

O'Keeffe, C. (2022, March 24). Forensic Psychology – Cognitive Explanations for Offending - Differential Association Theory [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

O'Keeffe, C. "Forensic Psychology – Cognitive Explanations for Offending – Differential Association Theory." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Mar 2022,

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