Five Techniques of Neutralization

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  • 0:00 An Example of Neutralization
  • 0:39 Definition of Neutralization
  • 1:30 The Five Techniques
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we will discuss the five techniques of neutralization. Learn more about the five techniques from examples, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

An Example of Neutralization

Bill is a junior in high school preparing to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). He studies several times a week, yet his practice scores have not increased. Bill is worried, especially since he needs a high score to get accepted into his top college choice. When a college student offers to help Bill cheat on the SAT, he decides to take him up on his offer even though Bill has never cheated on a test in his life. Bill reasons that cheating will not hurt anyone; therefore, it is okay for him to do it. Bill might not know it, but he just used what Gresham Sykes and David Matza refer to as a technique of neutralization.

Definition of Neutralization

There are norms and expectations that we, as members of society, are expected to follow. Our socialization occurs in such a way that it allows us to internalize these norms and expectations so that they become a part of our value and belief systems. According to Sykes and Matza, even when we commit acts and crimes that violate society's norms, we still hold these values close to us. Therefore, we employ special techniques to help us justify our wrongdoings to ourselves and to others.

These techniques, referred to as techniques of neutralization, are named such because they neutralize our values temporarily so that we can commit acts that our values would otherwise not permit. Though Sykes and Matza focused on how delinquents used these techniques, anyone can really use them to justify his or her behavior. Sykes and Matza identified five techniques of neutralization. We will discuss each of them now.

The Five Techniques

Denial of responsibility occurs when we recognize that our behavior is a direct violation of society's norms and expectations, but we believe it was not our fault because we did not believe we had any other option. People who use this technique make statements such as 'I was forced to do it' or 'Given the situation, I had no choice.'

Denial of injury is when we recognize that our behavior was wrong, but we state that our behavior did not harm anyone, so it is okay. For example, a teenager who gets caught selling illegal copies of music might say, 'No one got hurt, so I don't see why I am in trouble.' The example in the beginning of this lesson in which Bill cheated on his SAT was also a denial of injury.

Denial of the victim occurs when we acknowledge that our actions may have caused injury to someone, but that person deserved it. For example, a husband who is physically and emotionally abusive to his wife might tell her that she deserves to be punished for making him upset.

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