Differential Reinforcement Essay

This essay has a total of 2764 words and 10 pages.

Differential Reinforcement

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 through
genetic inheritance. Once learned, thieves must choose, or differentiate whether or not to
put that skill into action. From there, the decision to abide by conventional norms or to
break them is made.

As the above example primarily focuses on street gangs, we see a link between the theory
of DR (DR= differential reinforcement) and business crime as well. Again, this theory is
all around us and all the time. Theft, both petty and major, is a major problem businesses
must face on a daily basis because of some troubled employees.

"Hooking" your friends up with merchandise, taking supplies from work to your home, or
stealing time from an occupation are also just a couple commonly overlooked business
crimes. While moderate in the eyes of severity, a crime is just that - a crime. But those
who engage in such activity almost always think about the possible outcomes, dare they get
caught. These crimes, though often undetected, can potentially reap terrible disaster in
regards to employment. Each of the above leaves the offender subject to not only
termination, but prosecution and these are no where near the more serious employee
offenses. Yet to most business owners and employers, such minor issues are hardly a joke
and many times the corporate heads will send minor offenses to the courts. As expected,
the correlation between positive and negative reinforcement on the job is crucial. Even
far more serious offenses can occur in a work environment, dealing with identity theft,
homicide, and arson. Corporate violence sees shades of DR practices when those crimes are
examined by criminologists. According to criminological study, "workplace violence has
become a well-known yet often misunderstood social problem in both the United States and
around the world" (Kennedy, 2002). Since this concept is held in such high regards, most
criminologists use it to label and detect those offenders who later become career

Interestingly, "in the U.S., data from the NCVS for 1992-1996 indicates that an annual
average of 2,010,800 citizens experienced violent victimizations while they were working
or on duty" (Kennedy, 2002). Kennedy then goes on to state that "workplace violence and
homicide have been identified as the fastest growing forms of violence in our country,
doubling in the past 10 years" (Carll 1999). Differential reinforcement weighs heavily on
that statistic; in that, if people would choose not to commit acts of crime on the job,
then the problem wouldn't be as major as it has become. It is the evident lack of fear of
employees and the potential gain that increases the CV rate. This kind of crime is
damaging in more ways than homicide and the previously mentioned (i.e. stealing time). It
is proven that the economy as a whole can and will be affected by the continued efforts of
corporate criminals. Economics are a backbone to every society making this field one of
the greatest topics of concern. Property destruction is a huge problem in the corporate
violence spectrum. Again, this is crucial to the economic value of crime and the choices
to participate in it. Some workers feel arson is a better means of obtaining wealth
through fraud and revenge, rather than conventional work. This motive is not usually
common, but there have been numerous reports of such activity happening to employers. The
danger in white collar crime remains present but the efforts in unveiling the threat
before it comes to pass is always tough, especially for those working in law enforcement.
It is difficult to moderate some of the labeled factors that identify corporate violence.
Some of these labels may include disputes between coworkers, problems among workers and
customers and also the heavy influence released by the media. The media is an extremely
powerful tool that can create, as well as destroy our everyday social norms which may lead
to further criminal activity amongst businesses. One last problem that aids the rates of
corporate violence is the high levels of assault. The various forms of assault include
both physical and mental attacks on coworkers, as well as verbal abuse. Hostile words
produce the same types of negative feeling which may eventually lead to criminal activity.
To Kennedy, "because the circumstances and targets of workplace violence vary widely, so,
too will the motivations of various perpetrators. Due to the wide range of workplace
violence incident types, no single etiological theory will generalize broadly enough to be
universally applicable" (2002). With this said, it is safe to assume that it may be
impossible to place the blame of CV rates solely on the shoulders of the differential
reinforcement theory, yet regardless the theory still remains a key factor in helping to
explain why as opposed to how.

The film, Ocean's Eleven (2001) helps to better illustrate an example of a more serious
offense in regards to DR and business crime. This blockbuster title featured an incredible
roster of talented actors that made this movie such a hit. Those like George Clooney,
Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Bernie Mac are just some of the big names that had a role in
this production. Each person who contributed to this project acted extremely well with the
roles they were asked to portray. The plot goes like this - "Freshly released from jail
Danny Ocean begins to recruit key players to put together a job as daring as it is
dangerous - the safe that holds the money for 3 casinos belonging to Terry Benedict. As
well as splitting the $150 million between the gang, Danny also plans to steal back his
ex-wife Tess who is currently dating Benedict" (Moo, 2001). Not your ordinary crime, but
still, attempts like this are made. Examining the main character brings forth interesting
questions. Why would one participate in all these things at one time? The woman, the
money, the group, and of course - not getting caught. He had just been released from
prison, and without hesitation, he jumped right back into the saddle again. Ocean had to
differentiate between the possible rewards of success versus the options of extreme
punishment. The loss of his "love", another prison sentence, and betrayal were never far
from reach, no matter how delicate the crime was treated. A huge risk, but for gargantuan
gain, if everything ran smooth. Naturally there were a few minor set backs and disputes,
but in the end, the project would ultimately succeed. Like in most cases, "reinforcement
was provided only when certain behaviors were performed and not provided at other times
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