Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Christine S. Sellers, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John K. Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wilson R. Palacios, Ph.D.

Committee Member

L. Thomas Winfree, Jr., Ph.D.


Differential association, Reinforcement, Disorganization, Community, Cross-level, Mediation


Social learning theory (Akers, 1973, 1977, 1985, 1998; Burgess & Akers, 1966) is an established general theory of criminal, deviant, and conforming behavior that finds substantial empirical support (e.g., Akers, Krohn, Lanza-Kaduce & Radosevich, 1979; Akers, La Greca, Cochran & Sellers, 1989; Alarid, Burton & Cullen, 2000; Krohn, Skinner, Massey & Akers, 1985). Although the theory provides insight into the processes that influence criminal behavior, the theory does not speak to the environments that produce such behavior--the domain of structural theories.

Akers (1998) has suggested that social learning theory accounts for differences in crime rates through its mediation of structural effects on individual criminal behavior. He postulated that social structure acts as the distal cause of crime, affecting an individual's exposure to norm and norm-violating contingencies through the social learning process. Although the integrated cross level social structure-social learning theory (Akers, 1998) has received empirical attention, criminologists have not adequately tested the model (Akers, 1998; Bellair, Roscigno, & Vélez, 2003; Lanza-Kaduce & Capece, 2003; Lee, 1998; Lee, Akers & Borg, 2004). Akers (1999) and colleagues (Lee et al., 2004) have suggested that future research should test models that incorporate broader social structural measures, especially those derived theoretically.

The present research contributes to the theoretical body of literature through its more complete measurement of the macrosocial correlates and theoretically defined structural causes dimensions posited by Akers (1998). Secondly, the study introduces possible linkages between social structure and the social learning process in an attempt to address the concerns of Krohn (1999), who suggested that the theory does not adequately do so, and Sampson (1999), who suggested that the theory is incapable of producing a priori, refutable macrosocial propositions.

Although finding a relationship between social structure and social learning, the study finds no support for Akers' (1998) use of the mediation descriptor. Instead, the present research finds support for several moderator hypotheses, concluding that the social structure-social learning statement requires modification.