Primary Deviance: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Primary Deviance?
  • 1:24 Examples of Primary Deviance
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

In this lesson, we will define primary deviance and compare it with secondary deviance. We will look into various examples that display the sociological concept.

What Is Primary Deviance?

Say hello to 7-year-old Susan. Susan is a well-behaved, loving little girl who enjoys going to different stores with her mom. One day, Susan is in a drugstore with her mom, and she found her favorite bar of candy. Her mom was already paying for her items, and Susan suddenly had an idea to put the candy in her purse. She left the store with her mom and started eating the candy on the way home. Her mother saw her eating the bar and was shocked. She asked Susan if she had taken it from the store, and she admitted she did. Her mother brought her back to the store to confess, and she never took anything from a store again.

This incident of Susan taking a candy bar is known as primary deviance. Deviance is any kind of behavior that veers away from social norms and what is taught. Of course, Susan was not taught to steal, and her action was a change from the behavior her mother always displayed (paying for merchandise). Primary deviance refers to the initial act of deviance.

If the person continues to veer away from acceptable behavior then their actions are titled secondary deviance. Let's say Susan continues to steal store items as she enters her teenage years. She gets into trouble with the police and gets labeled a thief. When her deviant behavior is long lasting and she becomes known for it, her situation is no longer called primary deviance but secondary deviance.

Examples of Primary Deviance

Jenny was a high school student who had never been interested in going to parties. She knew that at most of these parties, her peers would be drinking and it made her feel uncomfortable. One day, her two best friends, who were also taught not to drink, told her they no longer wanted to be friends with her. She was devastated and scared that she would no longer have friends. She also noticed that her best friends started spending time with the students who did a lot of partying. So, she decided she would go to a party and try drinking.

She went to the party and drank more than she planned. She came home drunk, and her parents were shocked when they found out the next day. Jenny went to a few more parties but never drank again during high school. Her one time was primary deviance. However, her two best friends continued drinking and eventually began taking drugs for years. They were taking part in secondary deviance.

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