U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Learning To Be Bad: Adverse Social Conditions, Social Schemas, and Crime

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 49 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2011 Pages: 553-598
Date Published
May 2011
46 pages

The authors of this article developed and tested a new approach to explain the link between social factors and individual offending.


The authors argue that seemingly disparate family, peer, and community conditions lead to crime because the lessons communicated by these events are similar and promote social schemas involving a hostile view of people and relationships, a preference for immediate rewards, and a cynical view of conventional norms. Furthermore, the authors posit that these three schemas are interconnected and combine to form a criminogenic knowledge structure that results in situational interpretations legitimating criminal behavior. Structural equation modeling with a sample of roughly 700 African-American teens provided strong support for the model. The findings indicated that persistent exposure to adverse conditions such as community crime, discrimination, harsh parenting, deviant peers, and low neighborhood collective efficacy increased commitment to the three social schemas. The three schemas were highly intercorrelated and combined to form a latent construct that strongly predicted increases in crime. Furthermore, in large measure, the effect of the various adverse conditions on increases in crime was indirect through their impact on this latent construct. The authors discuss the extent to which the social-schematic model presented in this article might be used to integrate concepts and findings from several major theories of criminal behavior. (Published Abstract)

Date Published: May 1, 2011