Key Theories

Key Theories




Thereare significant differences between a trait personality theorist andthose suing the social learning theory to explain the behavior ofpeople. A trait theorist believes that human beings have differentinherent traits that characterize their behavior (Ellis, Abrams, &ampAbrams, 2009). Some of the traits include pessimism, shyness,optimism, introversion, and extroversion. To a trait theorist, peoplealways tend to behave or sway their attitude in a certain way nomatter the situation.

TheDiagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) defines traits as the dominantpersonality aspects that an individual exhibits in different personaland social conditions. Examples of personality theorists are: GordonAllport, Raymond Cattell, and Hans Eysenk. Although they agreed thatpeople have different unique traits that determine their behavior,the differed on which traits are more significant in shaping one’spersonality. For instance, Eysenck came up with the two maincategories of traits: extroversion and introversion. Allport proposedthree main ways of classifying people’s traits: cardinal traits,central traits, and the secondary traits. Catell divided personalitytraits into sixteen types based on a statistical measure of factoranalysis to determine the commonality of different traits.

Unliketrait theorists, social learning theorists believed that one’ssocial, political, and other types of environments have a bearing onthe way they behave (Leonard, 2002). The behavior is furtherreinforced by other external forces such as rewards and punishment. The rewards or punishment inflict different feelings in anindividual, but they both seek to reinforce desirable behavior in anindividual. Thus, social learning is a product of behavioral andcognitive aspects of people. While one may behave in a certain waydepending on how their environment influences them, cognition alsoplays a vital role in this. Cognition weighs the value of theexpected outcome of a particular behavior. Some behaviors may havepositive outcomes, but if one does not value those positive outcomes,they may not behave in a way the leads to such outcomes. Examples ofsocial learning theorists are Rotter and Albert Bandura. They agreedon the impact of the environment in shaping behavior. However, it wasBandura who explained, in depth, the idea of observational learning. He explained that the consequences of certain behavior on others candetermine with or not people will choose to learn certain behavior. Thus, people tend to observe and take rational decisions based on thepositively reinforced behavior rather than one that attractspunishment.

Thetwo theoretical perspectives are similar in their recognition ofinternal factors that lead people to behave in a certain way. It issocial learning theorists that appreciate the influence of theenvironment in reinforcing certain behaviors.

Bothperspectives can influence rehabilitation policies in thecorrectional system. In understanding how different personalitytraits predispose people to criminal behavior the justice system canfind DSM procedures that treat prisoners of disorders that could haveled them to commit a crime (Siegel, 2012). Considering thatpersonality traits can help predict the response of prisoners toreward of punishment, the choice of rehabilitation methods willinclude considerations about the personality traits of the prisonerto be treated. The traits theory can considerably help thecorrectional systems in bringing about changes through availinginformation on how to craft individual-specific rehabilitation andtherapy programs from which the offender and the society stand tobenefit. However, social learning theories are the most effectivewhen it comes to rehabilitation. The theory stresses that peoplelearn how to commit crime through reinforcement from environmentalfactors. For example, a delinquent juvenile with violent traits, maycommit more crimes if they live in a neighborhood affected bywidespread juvenile delinquency. Thus, rehabilitation based onsocial learning not only provides behavioral therapy but alsocognitive therapy that seeks to help the prisoner unlearn behaviorthey acquired from their immediate environment.


Ellis,A., Abrams, M., &amp Abrams, L. D. (2009). Personalitytheories: Critical perspectives.Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Leonard,D. C. (2002). Learningtheories, A to Z.Westport, Conn: Oryx Press.

Siegel,L. J. (2012). Criminology.Belmont: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.