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General Strain Theory in Criminology Proposal

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2022


Developed by Robert Agnew, the General Strain Theory (GST) just as it suggests is a theory that associates social structures with strain/stress in a person or people that in turn induces their desire to commit some criminal actions to lessen the strain. According to Agnew, general stain theory hypothesizes that the strain results in unenthusiastic emotions that may lead to several conclusions with delinquency being one of them (604). The precise strains that are talked about in the theory include disappointment to attain esteemed goals (for instance, finances or position), the taking away of treasured stimuli (for example, parting with a treasured asset), and the encounter with a demoralizing instance such as corporal maltreatment (Agnew et al. 44). While a good number of precise sorts of strain may fall in these groups, attempts have been done to identify the situations in which strain may result in criminal activity. The paper is a summary of the various common themes brought out by various publications on the subject of GST. Specifically, the paper points out how the theory has been expanded since its development besides highlighting several processes and mechanisms that are key in the articles.

Expansion of the theory since its Development

Agnew’s general strain hypothesis was an advancement of the strain theory since sought to “expand the strain theory by pointing to new categories of strain including the loss of positive stimuli, the presentation of negative stimuli, and several new types of goal blockage” (Agnew 603). It is crucial to note that the original strain theory was limited in terms of the parameters it sought to determine strain in people. The general strain theory suggests that people who experience strain may acquire negative feelings together with anger especially when others inflict diversity on them. Agnew points out how they may be bitter whenever they recognize unfair treatment by others and gloom or nervousness whenever they take the blame for the worrying consequence (604). These negative sentiments, in sequence, require coping reactions as a method of relieving pressure. Strain reactions may be touching, cognitive, or behavioral. However, not every reaction is delinquent. Nevertheless, the theory of general strain is for the most part concentrated on delinquent adaptations. It recognized several categories of criminal tolerance including misuse of misleading and addictive substances, influential undertakings such as crimes on possessions, and disciplinary consequences such as fighting (Agnew 320). Not all these parameters were included in the original theory.

GST advanced the strain theory by bringing on board vicarious and anticipated strain as two aspects that can bring deeper insights into the strain theory because the two play an essential role in interceding the effect of strain on aggression and law-breaking (Agnew 604). It highlights the role of anger in adding the level of self-injury in a person, generates the desire for vengeance/retaliation, and gives the person the energy to do the act at the same time lowering his or her inhibitions. Agnew et al. also recognized the gap in the original theory, which could not explain why certain people had higher chances of responding towards strain with delinquency as opposed to others (43). Some of the research done on the paradigm of intercession in the GST hypothesis have seen irritation as the main intercessory strategy in the event of wrongdoing and damage.

Therefore, as an advancement of the former theory, Agnew et al. use data whose analysis reveals, “Juveniles high in negative emotionality and low in constraint will be more likely to react to strain with delinquency” (43). The data was used from the survey of Youth in Transition. The first study of a similar kind was done amongst teenagers of the tenth grade (Agnew 616: Thaxton and Agnew 771). The result indicated that the tension that the youngsters had gone through in their learning institutions and back at their various residential areas had contributed both to express and meandering consequences instigated by anger on possessions, aggressiveness, and position crimes. It was also found that anger contributed strongly to the effect on offenses that were violently done. After a keen study was done on how anger had the toughest impact of strain on aggressive reactions amongst the students who were in college, it was found that exposure to several types of strain affected the assaultive actions of students, straightforwardly and obliquely, via annoyance.

The original strain theory gave no hint on how gender and racial variations relate to an individual’s response to strain. Kaufman et al. point out how GST can now help one to make valid deductions on the relationship between racial variations and the likelihood and magnitude of response to any strain (430). In fact, “GST argues that African-Americans are more likely to react to a given strain with crime than whites because they are more likely to experience such strain as stressful or upsetting and are more likely to view it as unjust” (Kaufman 430). According to Piquero and Sealock, GST can be utilized to show the dissimilarities in offenses connecting bigger gatherings, for instance, the variations in offense commitments frequency among societies and the sky-scraping felony rates amongst adolescents. The theory of general strain has also been used in criminology in the explanation of the sky-scraping crime rates in males relative to females.

GST has been expanded to explain the added crime rates in males and the reasons why females engage in criminal undertakings (Piquero and Sealock 132). In the efforts to investigate the increasing rates of men’s criminal behaviors relative to those of women, Broidy and Agnew did a study on sexual characteristic variations that connect tension insights and reactions to strain. The first region that was looked at was the strain amount that was experienced by all the genders. As per the stress investigation that was collected, the females are inclined to experience a lot of additional strains about the males. In addition, females are inclined to be advanced in subjective strain too. The claim that women encounter many cases of tension concerning men does not evidence the alarming pace of felony in men as postulated by GST. For this reason, Broidy and Agnew discovered further distinctions in male and feminine strain (280). Since women participate in less inoffensive activities based on their lessons learned in their many encounters with strain, Broidy and Agnew examined the various kinds of strains that men and women encounter (275). Their findings were that the males were more worried about material accomplishment, which elevated the rates of assets and violent offense, whereas the females were more concerned with the creation and maintaining of close bonding and relationship with others thus bringing down the rates of assets and violent offenses.

Mechanisms and Processes are Identified in the Articles

Several mechanisms and processes are identified in the articles concerning GST. For instance, the role of psychological mechanisms such as nervousness and despair on deliquescent results has been addressed in the letter. What is the responsibility of other negative sentiments, for instance, nervousness and despair on delinquent results (aggressive or non-aggressive)? In response to the above GST aspect, a longitudinal study done on students found that nervousness never mediated the strain impact on any form of an act that was delinquently done. However, as per the findings, the mediating responsibility of annoyance in the connection of behavior of high aggressiveness and violence was evident. The research was done among some enslaved children on the consequences of annoyance and despair in intervening the effect of tension on both cruel and possession offenses. On the other hand, Agnew et al. point out a handful of studies that show the responsibility and function of other variables that mediate with the exception that annoyance should never be sent away fast (61).

Kaufman also addressed much on the coping mechanism. Criminal activities are likely to occur when people have low lenience of strain and when their resources and skills for tolerating are poor (Kaufman et al. 431). Such activities will also arise when people have less or less conservative support especially when they recognize that the costs for crime commitment are limited or low or when they are disposed to crime commitment based on factors such as minimal self-control, negative emotions, or their history in education or learning. Some affirmative backup has been offered by the experimental examination of the findings. Researchers also found out that people with qualities of negative emotions and minimal or less strenuous constraints were more prone to respond to the strain with criminal activity. This category of people is reckless and excessively energetic with their anger rising fast.

Broidy and Agnew also conjectured that there might be similarities not only in the categories of strain but also in the disturbing reactions to strain too (278). The findings on the differences in reaction to strain emotionally showed that males were prone to react and respond angrily, whereas females were more prone to react with annoyance and despair. Secondly, the anger observed in males was followed by outrage that came morally whereas the anger that was experienced in the females was going hand in hand with fright, fault, and disgrace. Thirdly, males quickly blamed others and were less worried about causing harm to others. Their female counterparts were prone to hold themselves responsible and be concerned with the effects of their fury or rage. Lastly, in males, moral annoyance contributed to asset and violent offense, whereas depression and guilt led to behaviors of self-destructing, for instance, eating disorders in females. Men and women are familiar with different sorts of strains and unlike emotions as per the theory of general strain. Subsequently, Broidy and Agnew examined the grounds why men may act in response to strain with misdeed (279). Research pointed out that women might not have the self-assurance and a sense of worth that could be favorable to entrusting crimes to make use of escape and evading methods to mitigate the strain. However, women may have tougher relational binds that may assist to decrease strain.

Men’s participation in offenses has been deliberated in several different hypotheses, for instance, the control process and the process of differential association. As developed in the articles, men are believed to be inferior in social management. They meet people in outsized hierarchical colleague groups. Women, conversely, structure close communal bonds in petite groups. Consequently, men are more probable to take action to strain with a misdeed. A large extent of research needs to be conducted on this subject. The majority of the information comes from preceding studies that paid attention to tension. In recent times, a study was done on gender dissimilarities in participation in the usage of drugs. The study never found any significant disparities between sexual characteristics. However, the examiners noted their study restrictions in contrast to the wide aspects of the theory of general strain.

The issues of gender processes that drive men and women into crimes have been identified in the articles. In fact, on the length of explaining the sky-scraping rate of crime among men, the theory of general strain can as well be practical to explaining why women engage in crime. Broidy and Agnew recognized the kinds of strain that women face. In considerations to goal obstruction, a rupture in interpersonal ties and bias in attempts to attain financial objectives result in strain for women. In addition, as a case in point of a shortfall of constructive stimuli, women may face blockades to social situations because of social discrimination. Women are the objects of sexual, sentimental, and bodily abuse, which are regarded to be unenthusiastic stimuli. These kinds of strain might result in the woman acting out unlawfully (Piquero and Sealock 132). Female criminals give the impression to be different from females who are not criminals given that they encompass an increased chance for crime, are inferior in social management, and have criminal peers. Broidy and Agnew discovered that, not only can the theory of general strain put in unmistakable words the elevated rate of crime in men, but also it can as well explain why women would take part in criminal undertakings too (305).


The theory of general strain has approached the view of criminology with a renewed attention on strain’s capacity to induce transgressions. Because this theory is a comparatively new hypothesis that is broad in its extent, there are less data to hold up or disprove it. Straight to the actuality that it is a wide theory, it is impossible to test it all straight away. It has to be crashed into its constituent parts. Agnew also distinguished that it is not an entirely developed option to further theories in the view of the fact that it does not expand into the macro social world and that it rarely takes into account factors such as strains brought about by non-communal means. It was also accentuated that the theory of general strain is given out as a base on which to construct a link between strain and criminal activities. Further research is required in almost every region. Definite goals can be prepared. In the attempt to explain the group dissimilarities in crimes, there is a need to settle on how many kinds of strain are knowledgeable in a bid to explain how and why groupings deal with the strain in characteristic ways. At the macro social level, structures of opportunity and or how they result in the individual requirement need to be examined.

Works Cited

Agnew, Robert. “Experienced Vicarious and Anticipated Strain: An Exploratory Study on Physical Victimization and Delinquency.” Justice Quarterly 32.3(1992): 320-89. Print.

Agnew, Robert. “Experienced Vicarious and Anticipated Strain: An Exploratory Study on Physical Victimization and Delinquency.” Justice Quarterly 19.4(2002): 603-32. Print.

Agnew, Robert, Timothy Brezina, and John Wright. “Strain, Personality Trait, and delinquency: Extending General Strain Theory.” Criminology 40.1(2002): 43-72. Print.

Broidy, Lisa, and Robert Agnew. “Gender and Crime: A General Strain Theory Perspective.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 34.3(1997): 275-306. Print.

Kaufman, Joanne et al. “A General Strain Theory of Racial Differences in Criminal Offending.” The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 41.3(2008): 421-37. Print.

Piquero, Nicole, and Miriam Sealock. “Gender and General Strain Theory: A Preliminary test of Broidy and Agnew’s Gender/GST Hypothesis.” Justice Quarterly 21.1(2004): 121-156. Print.

Thaxton, Sherod, and Robert Agnew. “The Non-linear Effects of Parental and Teacher Attachment on Delinquency: Disentangling Strain from Social Control Explanations.” Justice Quarterly 21.4(2004): 763-91. Print.

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