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Deviant Behavior Essay, Research Paper
A person would be considered to be acting deviantly in society if they are violating what the significant social norm in that particular culture is. What causes humans to act certain ways is a disputed topic among researchers for some time now. There are three types of researchers that have tried to answer this question. There is the psychological answer, biological answer, and the sociological answer. With all of the studies that have been performed, no one group has come up with an exact reason to why people behave deviantly. Although, sociologists? theories have not been disproved as often as the psychologists? and biologists? theories because their experiments are too hard to define and no one definition for deviance is agreed upon by all experimenters (Pfuhl, 40). My own curiosity to find out what the influences are behind deviant behavior is the purpose for this paper. We have already discussed this topic during class in part two, chapter four of the textbook which explains deviance and crime. This section talks more about deviance being a learned behavior. I wanted to find out more information to see if biological factors are also behind this kind of behavior. The most knowledge acquired for why people act deviantly is from the sociological perspective. There is need for more research, if possible, in the psychological and biological perspectives, but there is a lot more known in the sociological viewpoint. The reality that the definition of deviant behavior is considered different by everyone makes it complicated and unknown if a truly accurate answer can ever be found (Pfuhl 18). This is why this topic is important to the study of sociology. Sociologists have more information, and therefore may be closer to finding the cause. For this reason, my main focus in this paper is at the sociological stand point of deviance with some explanations from psychologists and biologists.
The family is the link to socialization in one?s environment (Four Categories 1). In the family, divorce, conflict within family, neglect, abuse, and deviant parents are the main vindicates for the offspring?s actions. Early researches first only thought parental absence affects girls and whites. Modern research finds that the lack of supervision, or support a child needs is a link to delinquency in any race. It occurs more in single parent homes because they have a harder time doing those things. Poverty is also a reason in the family for conflict because it can lead to both family breakups and delinquency. Children need close, supportive, relationships with parents. What promotes deviance in the home is the inhibition to talk to parents. The child may feel that they need to get attention elsewhere, thus acting deviantly if their parents are not there for them. Parents can prevent this by being competent, non-punitive (to a point), non-aggressive or violent, and teach their child high self-confidence.
Family conflict has more damaging effects on children than divorce. Where as parental death has less impact than divorce (Four Categories 2). When a parent dies a child at least knows that the parent did not want to leave on his own terms and probably also did not inflict any abuse to his or her psyche before the parent passes away. Also, if a child still has contact with both parents after a divorce, the less likely they will feel neglected and react deviantly. Family size also leaves an adolescent without the necessary attention they need as an individual. Middle children are more likely to behave deviantly because they go unnoticed more than their younger or older siblings.
The legal definitions of abuse and neglect varies from state to state but does, in any form, create serious consequences for behavior. It occurs in patterns and not just once, which causes stress, poor self-esteem, aggressiveness, lack of empathy, and fewer interactions with peers. Child abuse is any physical or emotional trauma to a child for which no reasonable explanation is found. Neglect refers to the deprivation that children suffer at the hands of parents (Devinace 1). Such components that comply to these definitions are non-accidental physical injury and neglect, emotional abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, and abandonment. Over one million of the youth in America are subjected to abuse a year. In terms of sexual abuse one in ten abused are boys and one in three of them are girls. It is really unknown how many cases go unreported in any area of abuse or neglect a year. From 1980 to 1986 reported cases did go up sixty percent. The most common reasons found that parents abuse their children is because this is a learned function they acquired from their parents. This tendency to pass down deviant behavior through generations is a cycle of family violence (Lemert 48). Parents are unable to separate childhood traumas from the relationships with their own kids. A group called Child Protective Services are created to remove abuse from the sibling that can cause more harm to the victim. This is not always the best option for a family because bigger problems may arise out of seeking protective services. The rest of the family blames them for the shame in their name and the main “bread winner” could go to prison. Another unhealthy thing to learn from a parent is the feeling of isolation from family and friends. This is more common is single parent families and lower classes. If a person is living in a lower class, single-parent environment, they are then at a real disadvantage. It may be because they do not feel they are good enough to belong in the realms of society. Delinquency is when a child acts out their hostility towards the parent or abuser in a deviant manner (Lemert 59). Parents need to correctly punish their child when they see deviant behavior and give them love, but the problem is that some parents do not see it.
Other influences outside of the home can cause of person to act deviantly. Peers, media images, and other people in society set what the norm should be in a given area. In the South higher numbers of people commit hate crimes still today. This hatred for a race is practiced over one hundred years ago. The idea that one race should be inferior and hate another race is something a person is not born with, and must have learned. Men are taught that the norm is to be aggressive, and even violent. What is normal can be relatively different in various areas of the world. Some may even accept harsher offenses such as rape and murder. What is deviant can be changed over time once society as a whole feels more comfortable and accepting of the certain type of deviant behavior. Only certain people once got tattoos and now it is a current fad to cover your whole body with them. Media portrays models and famous figures who get “unusual” tattoos, piercings, and have certain attitudes for people, mostly teenager, to follow. There are more “devil-worshipers,” or so they portray, in the music business. This says to children that it is “cool” to wear the black clothes and act somewhat “gothic”, like them. This is just one example. It may just depend on the person to how much their peers and media influence them to go against the norms.
Although, once a person is labeled deviant they continue to respond to society as if they are. This aspect of deviance is called the Labeling Theory. They are sociologists who seek to find why certain acts are defined as criminal, and others are not. They also question how and why certain people become defined as a criminal or deviant. The acts that they perform, in this idea, are not significant to the criminals, but it is the social reaction to them that is (Overview 1). The response and label from other individuals in society, such as peers, are how the individuals view themselves. When a person does a deviant act they are then labeled by society and separated from the “normal people. Such labels in today?s society are “whore,” “abuser,” “loser,” and etc. These people are then “outsiders” and associate with other people who have been cast out of society. When more and more people think of these people as deviant they, themselves think they are too. The Labeling Theory says that once they feel this way they will continue to behave in the way society now expects them to.
The biological answer is found in heredity and genetic testing. This is where the argument of nature vs. nurture comes up. Not in sociology, but in psychology because the social causes are not being investigated. The question is, are humans genetically predisposed at birth with the characteristics that make them act deviantly, or do the people around them influence them to act this way. The early studies of Phrenology was used by experimenters to determine if an area of the brain had the properties to predispose a person the deviant behavior. They had more severe deviant behavior in mind such as sex crimes, rape, theft, assault, murder, treason, and fraud. They figure that they do not have the right controlling power for that area of the brain if they are acting abnormal. This theory, like many biological studies trying to find factors of deviance, is short-lived, but leads to another field of study, anthropology. Anthropologists say that crime is rooted at heredity. Their studies do not go far either because when they were measuring physical characteristics they found few differences to support their hypothesis. Johannes Lange and other later experimenters used twin studies to attempt to prove the biological theory. They looked at twins with criminal records to see if both of the siblings are more likely to commit a crime than just one of the siblings in a set of twins. This is also a contestable topic. The biological argument would say that delinquents are inferior and inferiority is inherited. Sociologists would counter act by saying that the person simply learned inferiority from their parents at a young age and is not inherited. The XYY Controversy disputes that males can have an extra Y chromosome that makes them extra aggressive. The YY sperm unites with and X ovum and creates an XYY male. They can not prove that it is not just the pressures from society that makes a person more easily inclined to act criminally. As is shown from all of the disproved theories, biologists probably will never be able to defend their research in trying to discover whether or not inherited characteristics predispose a child to acting deviant (Berg, 34).
The psychological perspective is popular amongst many crime committers in the United States today. What is meant by this statement is that a person can plead insanity for defense and get out of the crime they committed, but the difficult part may be that psychiatric support is needed. The psychological answer for deviance is the relationship between crime and mental defectiveness. In the Irresistible Impulse Rule insanity is emotional rather than an intellectual condition (Pfuhl 45). Mental illnesses can also either be caused or helped become worse from drugs and alcohol. The test done by psychologists were those to find out the mental characteristics found in offenders and non-offenders such as emotions, moods, and temperament. This explanation also is not accurate because it can be disproved by taking a circular form. For example, they ask a person why he did what he did? The answer to that is because he is ill. It is then asked how do we know he is ill? The answer to that is because he did what he did.
Finally, we come to the third perspective of how deviant behavior is created. The sociological perspective is the factor that has been the least questioned explanation of the three, even though it does not also give the exact justification for where deviant behavior comes from. Sociologists learn from culture?s influences, other than a biological or psychological bias. It is an emergence of a person?s character (Pfuhl 50). Rather than concern with behavior from certain people, sociologists view deviance as a behavior engaged in a person by having a common socioculture or the same experiences within a culture. Edwin H. Sutherland explains that deviant and non-deviant behavior are learned in the same ways through his Differential Association Theory. Sutherland demonstrates that criminal behavior is learned from intimate groups by the means of communication. When they learn how to act deviantly they then know what is involved in what drives a person to commit a crime. This does vary in people who have different characteristics in concerns of how much a person will learn if they learn anything at all. This is the most popular among sociological theories because it has not yet been disproved. This is due to the enormity and difficulty measuring differential associations in one with criminal or non-criminal patterns.
Whatever the cause is for deviant behavior is, it is still a problem in society. Although, behavior that was once thought of as deviant is no longer thought of in that way anymore. More people are starting to accept differences in people such as gays, tattoos, and piercings. It is even being taught to children that it is okay if they want to be different, or feel that they are because everyone is unique and should not be ashamed of that. The harsher acts of deviance are still looked extremely upon as horrid, and will hopefully never change. What causes a person to act a certain way is, the least to say a controversial topic. It may be from inherited traits, learned from society and family, or even a combination of both. In this case, an exact answer will probably never be known.
1. Becker, Howard S. “Overview of Labeling Theories.” http://home.ici.net/~
2. Berg, Irwin A. and Bass, Bernard M. (1961). Conformity and Deviation.
New York: Harper and Brothers.
3. “Deviance: Behavior that Violates Norms.” Http://www.elco.pa.us./
4. “Four Categories of Family Functions that Seem to Promote Delinquent
5. Lemert, Edwin M. (1972). Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social
Control. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
6. Pfuhl, Erdwin H. Jr. (1980). The Deviance Process. New York: D. Van
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