Deviant Behavior

Written by Dr. Mary

What is Deviant Behavior?

Deviant behavior is an unacceptable behavior or action that is unorthodox to social norms and cultural norms. An individual with this behavior deviates from what is truly acceptable in the society or what is expected in a normal pattern.


A specific standard behavior is called norms in which people are supposed to act in a predictable manner. Deviant behavior is a violation of this norm although it can be interpreted in many ways as social norms are different from one culture to another.

Deviant Behavior Examples:

  1. Picking of nose in public
  2. Naked exposure in public
  3. Licking of ground
  4. Binge drinking
  5. Homicide
  6. Suicide
  7. Theft
  8. Robbery
  9. Rape
  10. Prostitution

Types of Deviant Behavior

There are basically two types of deviant behavior and these are:

  1. Formal Deviance – a deviant behavior of violating enacted laws such as homicide and theft. This formal deviance can be violations of codified laws, rules, regulations and codes of conduct.
  2. Informal Deviance – a type of deviant behavior that violates social norms which are not codified by laws. Such examples may include picking of nose in public and belching loudly.

Robert K. Merton proposed typology of deviant behavior which is a classified scheme to understand this behavior. This typology was proposed to be classified according to two criteria:

  1. Person’s motivation to cultural goals
  2. Person’s belief in attaining the goals

Merton proposed five types of deviant behavior which are based on the two criteria and these are:

  1. Conformity – this type of deviant behavior is involves acceptance of cultural goals and ways to attain it.
  2. Innovation – this type of deviant behavior involves acceptance of cultural goals only it does not attain the goal in acceptable means.
  3. Ritualism – the behavior involves refusal of cultural goals but does the routine of achieving the goal.
  4. Retreatism – this deviant behavior type refused both the cultural goals and the acceptable means of achieving it.
  5. Rebellion – this type refused both the cultural goals and means of achieving it and replaces them with unacceptable or different goals and different means of achieving it.

Causes of Deviant Behavior

There are three sociological classes that describe deviant behavior. These three sociological classes define the cause of an individual to have a deviant behavior.

Three Sociological Classes:

1. Structural Functionalism

Structural functionalism describes the social integration of an individual to groups and institutions and describes social regulation as obedience to norms and the values of society. Social integration is categorized as altruism, individuals who are very integrated, and egoism, individuals who are not very integrated.

2. Symbolic Interactionism

This social theory emphasized on micro-scale social interaction to define a human behavior in a subjective manner including social process and pragmatism. It is made out of three basic premises.

Three basic premises of Symbolic Interactionism:

  1. That human acts toward things on the basis of meaning ascribed to it
  2. Meaning of such things that arises from the social interaction one has with others and the society.
  3. Meaning of the things are handled and modified through an interpretative process use in dealing with things that are encountered.

3. Conflict Theory

This theory states that society functions for an individual and group to struggle to maximize the benefits.

Biological theories are another theory that defined cause of deviant behavior. It has been claimed by this theory that genetic factor contributes to deviance. Cesare Lombroso was among the first to study and develop the Theory of Biological Deviance that stated some people are genetically predisposed to criminal act and behavior. This theory was influenced by Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution relating human to primitive and animalistic urges.

Deviant Behavior Symptoms

Deviant behavior can be seen as early as childhood or in early adulthood. Not all symptoms must be present but at least two of concurrently symptoms must be recognized to tell if an individual will have a deviant behavior.

Symptoms in early childhood of deviant behavior:

  1. Sadism – this symptom is often expressed through cruelty towards animals.
  2. Pathological firesetting
  3. Lying
  4. Theft
  5. Aggressive reactions toward peers and family members

Deviant Behavior Diagnosis

  1. Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) – most commonly utilized for diagnosing psychopathy. It is a clinical rating scale of up to 20 items. The score achieved in PCL-R is also used in predicting risk for criminal re-offense and probability of rehabilitation.
  2. DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders
  3. Cleckley Checklist

Deviant Behavior Treatment

Personality disorders are rarely treated as it remains untreatable neither preventions can be proven effective. Rehabilitation is required for deviant behavior and is usually done in psychiatric hospitals and secured units such as prison.

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