General Strain Theory: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over something known as general strain theory. You'll learn its definition as well as how it applies to criminology with numerous examples.

Stresses of Daily Life

Jack is a seemingly regular 18-year-old. When he's stressed out about life, he does one of a few things to help him relax. Sometimes he listens to music. Other times he goes for a run. Maybe he goes and chills with his friends. Can you relate to Jack and the way he reacts to stress in his life? Probably.

Other people react to the stresses and strains of their life in potentially different ways. And the ways by which they might react may surprise you. Let's learn about these alternative reactions as we go over the main concepts of general strain theory.

What Is General Strain Theory?

We'll hop on over to an alternative universe. Here we see Jack again — except Jack isn't listening to music in his room after a stressful few months. He's locked up. Why? General strain theory might provide an answer.

At its core, general strain theory (GST), as put forth by sociologist Robert Agnew, refers to the notion that some people react to the various stressors they experience in life via unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as turning to crime.

In other words, Jack might commit a crime to escape or put an end to some sort of strain or stressor, one that may quite likely create negative emotions, like anger, or even mental states, such as depression. Some stressors include being broken up, the death of a friend, or the inability to reach goals. Some people like Jack may seek revenge or try to alleviate negative emotions through illicit drug use.

Relation to Criminology

Of course, not every type of life stressor leads to crime, and not every person commits a crime because of the same stressor.

In the world of criminology, GST helps put some things into perspective by explaining which types of stresses and strains are more likely to lead to a criminal act. These strains and stressors are more likely:

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