Differential Association Law and Legal Definition

Differential association is a theory that criminal and deviant behavior is determined through close and frequent association with criminal or deviant behavior patterns, norms, and values.

Edwin H. Sutherland, a sociologist and professor is credited with the development of the Differential Association theory in 1939. Sutherland developed Differential Association theory to explain how it was that criminals came to commit acts of deviant behavior. According to him criminal behavior is not to be explained away by deeming the criminal simple. He avers that just as societal norms are learned through social interaction and observance, so too are social deviations.