UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An analysis of six theories as to the origin of delinquent behaviour Johnson, Gordon Kempton


Two reasons for studying delinquency were offered, and four early theories of delinquency mentioned briefly; the doctrine of plurality of causes was also discussed. It was suggested that an adequate theory is essential if we are to understand how delinquent behaviour comes about. The following six theories were examined, in the order named, along with relevant evidence, primarily from the familial area of research: a psychoanalytic theory of delinquency, Abrahamsen's theory of delinquency and criminality, the Healy-Bronner theory of delinquency, the "frustration-aggression hypothesis" as it relates to delinquency, the Dollard-Miller learning theory as applied to delinquency, and the identification theory of delinquency. Each of these theories was discussed, for purposes of analysis, under five main headings, wherever applicable, and criteria for evaluating the relative adequacy of the various theories were developed. A tentative definition of delinquency was offered, and the first four theories were discussed in terms of this definition; it was assumed to be true, or postulated, that delinquent behaviour is learned behaviour. Chapter VIII represents a digression in that it was deemed necessary to redefine delinquency before proceeding to discuss the latter two theories, the Dollard-Miller learning theory as applied to delinquency and the identification theory of delinquency. It was concluded that psychoanalysis is a good starting point for personality theorizing, but that it does not really explain how delinquency comes about, and does not enable us to predict delinquency; that the main variables introduced by Abrahamsen and by Healy and Bronner, "family tension" and "intense emotional discomfort," are too vaguely stated; that these theories do not incorporate specific, testable hypotheses; and that prediction is impeded; and that the "frustration-aggression hypothesis" as related to delinquency incorporates a logical fallacy. The Dollard-Miller learning theory as applied to delinquency, it was stated, may lead to more accurate predictions. The identification theory of delinquency, also, it was suggested, might, in its present state, enable us to make gross predictions. A cross-comparison of the six theories was then made in order to assess their relative adequacy and to indicate the propositions upon which they agree or disagree one with another. A critique of research dealing with delinquency was offered. In conclusion, a few general suggestions were set forth as to the nature of future research which would prove most fruitful. Implications for future theorizing were derived from the study, and it was suggested that an adequate theory, of delinquency, at this stage, deals in terms of intervening variables as well as independent or stimulus variables and dependent or response variables; that the theory must explain the individual as well as the "group" or class of delinquents; that it must state in an exact manner the antecedent conditions leading to delinquency; that it must be predictive in nature; and that it must be parsimonious. Finally, a brief discussion of the role of theory in science was presented, with particular reference to the kind of theorizing and research which has been evident in attempts to deal with the scientific problem as to how delinquency comes about.

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