General Theory of Crime: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Trajectory Theory: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Criminals and Crime
  • 1:02 Crime Theories
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Loux

Currently working on DM in Management from CTU. College instructor at several universities.

Crimes are prevalent as depicted in the media, but the causes of those crimes are not always known. During this lesson, we will discuss some different theories of crime and provide some examples that relate to modern society.

Criminals and Crime

Crime is not a new concept. It has been around since the beginning of civilization, and the theories of why people commit crimes have changed as crime trends have evolved. Theories of crime causation are something everyone should know because anyone can become the victim of a crime. This lesson will serve as a basis to learn not only the definition of criminal theories but also how to apply those theories to modern society.

There are many competing theories, and no one theory is considered the 'gold standard'. Many theories have emerged to try to explain criminal behaviors. Some theories are not very common, while others have been changed over time. Criminologists take into account psychology, biological aspects, sociology, and many other aspects to further develop crime theories. Let's talk about those theories that are the most common in the criminal justice industry.

Crime Theories

Rational choice theory is based on the premise that people commit acts because of rewards; since those rewards are perceived as being greater than the risks of those acts, the acts are perceived as being rational. Those committing the acts see themselves as an individual rather than as a part of an organization, family, or society. It is a self-interest decision to commit a crime versus the chance of getting caught. A good example of the rational choice theory is white-collar crime. A bank employee may decide to take money from customer accounts and hide the theft by creating false invoices, debits, and credits to sustain his/her lifestyle. The banker weighs the options of his/her choice and concludes that stealing customer money outweighs the chance of being caught.

Social disorganization theory holds that the choices someone makes are made as a result of that person's physical and social environments. The location is key in this theory; it's theorized that areas with high crime rates are ones with a mix of cultures, are impoverished, or contain a decaying neighborhood.

Strain theory centers on the idea that people may have similar ambitions, but they do not have similar abilities or opportunities. When someone cannot achieve their aspirations through legitimate means such as hard work, they turn to crime as a means to achieve success. The strain theory holds that when a society has high standards, lower-income individuals may feel they are failing to achieve social status or a certain wealth, and as a result, may resort to crime as a means to an end.

The three main concepts of the strain theory include:

  • An individual cannot achieve his/her goals, such as status or money
  • The individual has lost positive reinforcement
  • Negative reinforcement occurs through physical or verbal abuse

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account