Differential Coercion Theory & Crime

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  • 0:04 Differential Coercion…
  • 0:44 Defintion of…
  • 2:11 How Does It All Relate?
  • 2:43 Predictions from the Theory
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Smith

Amanda has taught adult cognitive-behavioral programs in a corrections setting for the last ten years and has a bachelor's degree in Sociology/Criminology.

Have you ever wondered what leads some people towards a life of crime, while others may never break a major law? This lesson will explain differential coercion theory, any related terms, the various factors involved, and its relationship to offending.

Differential Coercion Theory & Crime

Have you ever thought about how someone's environment during their youth can affect the path they take in life? How do the different experiences that we encounter mold us into law-abiding or non-law-abiding individuals?

Differential coercion theory is a theory in criminology that explains the relationship between coercion and the likelihood of committing a crime. Developed by sociology professor Mark Colvin in the year 2000, the theory is based on the idea that juveniles who are exposed to negative experiences in their homes and social lives are more likely to lack in certain social and psychological areas. This increases their chances of committing a crime in the future.

Definition of Differential Coercion

What is differential coercion? To better understand this concept, we must first define the terms in relation to the theory. Coercion is a force that causes actions out of fear or anxiety. This coercion can exist between individuals, for example, physical abuse in the home. Or it can exist in larger social contexts, such as poverty, homelessness, or violent victimization in the streets.

Differential, in this context, means varying in consistency of exposure. Some juveniles might experience coercion only a few times in their daily life. It might only come from one source, or it might not be that serious. For others, it might be something they encounter daily and come from multiple aspects of their environment.

For example, say John and Thomas go to the same school. John lives in a supportive home where he's held accountable for his behaviors by his parents and encouraged to make positive choices. Because of this, he does fairly well in school and has no major issues. He lives in a relatively safe neighborhood where he rarely encounters crime or violence.

Thomas lives in a home where he regularly witnesses violent interactions between his parents and it often turns towards him. His family struggles to put food on the table or meet other basic needs. He lives in a neighborhood that is deeply rooted in gang culture and he is often exposed to drugs and witnesses violence near his home. These things cause Thomas a great amount of stress and he has a hard time focusing in school.

How Does It All Relate?

The theory states that juveniles who are exposed to coercion develop deficits like low self-control, anger, and weakened social bonds. The higher the degree of coercion or the more often that a juvenile experiences coercion, the more increased the deficits become.

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