The General Strain Theory And The Social Learning Theory Compare and Contrast Essay

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What Is the General Strain Theory?

Robert Agnew developed the general strain theory. The theory argues that stress or stressors increase the likelihood of negative emotions. Such emotions create a probability of an individual committing serious offenses like murder. The theory is supported by the significant amount of evidence that has helped explain criminal behavior. The theory is also considered to be the leading version of strain theory. According to Merton, crime skyrockets when young people come to the realization that legitimate employment would not achieve monetary success. Upon such realization, most young people tend to find a way to obtain wealth through illegitimate means. However, when the employment rate is high, they get employed while minor crimes decrease (Wood & Frailing, 2016).

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Strengths Of The General Strain Theory

The theory builds on the stress theories in some ways, by pointing out some strains for instance loss of stimuli. It has helped explain how people undergoing different emotions react and cope. It has expounded on the crime avoidance strategy of Agnew. The theory has a substantial way of helping out people when it comes to dealing with the emotions they face. It makes its argument unique from the other stress theories and a much more excellent source of help (Wood& frailing, 2016).

While other stress theories emphasize lower social class, the general strain theory focuses on both the high and low social classes. It makes it a sufficient source of strain information. For example, it argues that stress is brought about by individuals having negative emotions for a particular place like work or an individual such as a spouse. It could also be a result of resentment, hate, and betrayal. Moreover, anybody is bound to be affected by stress regardless of his or her social class. Hence the general strain theory making is a reliable source of information that comprehensively explains why individuals react differently to various circumstances in life not only in a particular social class but also in the different social ladders a community can have (Wood & frailing, 2016).

Weaknesses of the General Strain Theory

The general strain theory is broad. It gives researchers little guidance on specific types of stress. Despite being a sufficient source of information, it is too wide, and certain stresses are not accounted for. It possesses a serious ground for critics to criticize the fundamental truth of the theory, therefore, rendering it unreliable. Some theories like the stress theory tend to be specific and expound on the weak spots of the general theory. Hence, the broadness of the theory makes it easy to falsify and thus poses a significant threat to the theory (Wood & Frailing, 2016). It is crucial that the General strain theory specifies the type of strains that are most likely to lead to major and delinquent crimes more precisely. It is because the theory has failed to explain why some people with various strains fail to react. Also, the argument states that people undergoing different strains in life tend to commit major and minor crimes as a result of being unable to cope with the stress they are going through. Hence, it is a major concern to the theory, and lack of such explanation makes it questionable therefore making it a great weakness to the theory (Wood & Frailing, 2016).

Policy Implications of General Strain Theory

It is appropriate for individuals to try anger management programs since the theory indicates that failed goals and targets heighten negative emotions and lead to wrongdoing. It should also be introduced to children at a tender age in learning institutions. Children will highly value their family and friends rather than only valuing money above all (Wood& Frailing, 2016).

What Is the Main Idea of Social Learning Theory?

The theory emphasizes that humans can learn from their fellow humans by just observing their behaviors without personally experiencing them and without being conditioned. The theory has developed an extension of the social learning theory. Observation learning and modeling are important factors of social learning. It states that an inexperienced person or a child is likely to imitate the behaviors of the people around them. Hence, a guardian has the duty of regulating what a child learns

On the other hand, social learning is much more than just modeling and observing; it is important for the guardian or parent to motivate the learner to ingest what they observe, store what they see for future reference. There are four component processes influenced by an observer of behavior. The components include; attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation (Wood & Frailing, 2016).

Weaknesses of Social Learning Theory

The argument ignores the biological status of an individual. The environment in which a person is raised also matters. Social media can also play a significant role in the development of a child’s behavior. It is unfair to justify that the behavior that a child learns is a result of the parents' practices and how they always behave before them. Other environmental factors should be taken into concern and the peer pressure that people are most likely to succumb to (Wood & Frailing, 2016).

Moreover, the social learning theory ignores the genetic brain and learning differences the response to a particular violent behavior differs with the individual. For example, people tend to react differently. Humans function differently, and the different biological factors that take place in the human body should be considered. It explains why the traits children pick are not necessarily socially picked or learned behavior because some are inherited (Wood & Frailing, 2016).

Strengths of the Social Learning Process

Aggression cannot get imitated. Many assault cases that lead to tragedy and murders are linked to television shows and video games. Despite picking up things from the TV shows and video games (call of duty) the children, as well as grown-ups, may never think of applying the adopted behaviors unless something is triggered. Experiments have been conducted and have shown that many things humans tend to expose themselves to are most likely the kind of character they develop to become. Watching sexual programs on the television and the internet feeds the mind with such. That is why nowadays brands advertise their products with sexual images, statements and videos to capture the attention of society, especially the young generation. Most of what people take in is what they take out and display to society. The theory quickly handles the inconsistency in response. The doings of the individuals can be traced back to the sources of information they were exposed to (Wood & Frailing).

Policy Implication of Social Learning Theory

The only difference between non-criminals and criminals is what is learned. The social learning theory, therefore, insists that the behavior picked up by children is something they were exposed to before. It is important to ensure that the young children may get influenced into adopting the right behaviors (Wood & Frailing).

What Makes A Good Theory Between The General Strain Theory And The Social Learning Theory?

The social learning theory can be considered better than the general strain theory since the social learning theory has a sufficient base of argument, and it has more strength compared to the general strain theory (Wood & Frailing, 2016). The learning process of the two as compared, the social learning theory is much better to Instil in an individual rather than the general strain theory which may require an individual to go through rehabilitation and this may take much more time and may fail to work. But the social learning theory is a practice molded when a person grows. This theory is better since it is much more practical and is the easiest to control. It is also easier to control what children are exposed to. On the other hand, the general strain theory is difficult to monitor because it is more of a psychological problem than a controllable problem. Also, the general strain theory is a problem that can cut across all people in society regardless of age, gender, or even social class. Such broadness and ability to misinterpret an individual is what makes it impracticable. Hence, social learning theory is the best approach for corrective measures in society and further its use in more than just learning institutions. It suggests that the children learn their behavior from the guardians and parents who take care of them and the kind of environment they are raised in (Wood & Frailing, 2016).


In general, we live in a society filled with different forms of information that can get accessed with the click of a button. The two theories, in general, are the source of information we feed the children. The information given to these kids should be limited and controlled to regulate what they feed their minds. Both theories are a good approach to determining the primary source of criminal activities in both minor cases and major criminal cases. It is better to build on the social learning theory since it is a strong theory than the general strain theory which suggests that strain is the source of criminal activity. In conclusion, the two approaches can be considered efficient and useful in the field of criminology (Wood Frailing & 2016).


Frailing, Kelly and Dee Wood Harper. (2016). Fundamentals of Criminology: New Dimensions, 2 nd edition. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. ISBN; 978-1-611636895

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