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Psychoanalytic Theory: Understanding the Persistent Deviant Essay

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Updated: May 18th, 2020


Deviant behavior among college students in Australia has caused concern among stakeholders in the educational sector. Sometimes this behavior may be extreme, creating risk among the affected student or their schoolmates. Many institutions have been grappling with this problem over the years, especially among the freshmen. When newly enrolled in schools, these students always find themselves in a new environment that needs a different approach to thinking and behavior (Anderson, 2014). Some of them would respond positively to these changes, while others tend to be violent in their response. This research seeks to apply psychoanalytic theory in understanding the persistent deviant behavior among college students in Australia.

Research background

Time spent at college is seen as one of the most exciting periods of a person’s life. However, this period is also associated with deviant behavior among freshmen who are exposed to a variety of issues. In the first place, they may be overloaded with academic tasks. At the same time, this period is seen as the first year of freedom and, hence, freshmen may try to have new experiences, but such inclinations tend to result in such issues as pregnancy, diseases, fights, which, in their turn, lead to expulsion. Freshmen can be regarded as the most vulnerable group of students, as they are not experienced enough to develop proper behavioral patterns. More so, they deem that their new status is their chance to be genuinely free and totally responsible for their behavior though they often prove to be irresponsible (Leppel, 2006). Ford and Schroeder (2009) stress that the first year in college is also a period when students try illicit drugs, which is young people’s response to considerable academic load and peer pressure. Young people are often unable to control themselves and act violently.

Furthermore, peer pressure and neglect of major rules may case freshmen to engage in sexual intercourse without paying attention to the consequences. Deviancy in Australian colleges has risen in the recent past as many cases of unbecoming behavior among college students recorded. Many incidences of drug abuse, violence, and disrespect to the basic tenets of the moral codes in Australian society have been reported as perpetrated by the college students. These events have raised the public debate on the possible reasons behind the rise in deviancy among college students since their unbecoming behavior causes social problems to the community (Ford & Schroeder, 2009). Therefore, the paper will apply the problem behavior theory to understand the deviant behavior among college students in Australian learning institutions.

Theoretical perspective

Problem behavior theory is a socio-psychological framework that explains the nature and development of problem behaviors such as alcohol abuse and drug misuse, which are symptoms of deviancy. This theory views problem behavior as purposeful, psychologically meaningful, and a component of individual development (Hickson & Roebuck, 2009). In other words, person-environment interaction issues cause problem behavior. This theory has been widely applied to drinking and other risky and problem behaviors associated with deviancy among college students. The primary focus of problem behavior theory is on three systems of psychosocial influence; the personality system, the perceived environment system, and the behavior system (Ford & Schroeder, 2009). The variables in the personality system are at the socio-cognitive level and reflect social meanings and developmental experience. These can be values, expectations, beliefs, attitudes, and orientations toward an individual and others.

The variables in the perceived environment system refer to environmental characteristics, including supports, influence, controls, models, and expectations of others. The variables in the behavior system indicate the degree to which an individual’s interest in the domain of problem behavior has been both differentiated and relatively comprehensive (Koch, Roberts, Armstrong, & Owen, 2010). In this paper, socioeconomic status is the socio-demographic variable; self-esteem, self-regulation, impulsiveness, acculturation, and alcohol expectancy are the variables from the personality system; parents’ drinking behavior is the variable from the perceived environment system, and cigarette use and vigorous physical activity are the variables from the behavior system. These elements will be related concurrently to establish a distinct link between problem behavior theory and deviancy among college students in Australia.

Problem behavior theory and deviancy among college students


This literature review will analyze several scholarly publications and books on deviant behaviors in college freshmen. The sources reviewed will be grouped based on the nature of deviant behaviors tackled, the method of investigation, and the similarity in their findings. An examination of the articles that will be reviewed shows that deviant behavior is associated with substance abuse in college freshmen. For example, most of the items have categorized binge drinking as a direct cause of abnormal action in students. In most instances, as demonstrated in the articles, substance abuse arises as a result of the protest among students against academic or family issues.

Peer influence and the freedom enjoyed by college students in Australia have created a social dilemma due to the emergence of behaviors that contravene the social norm. Such acts, otherwise known as deviant behaviors, are defined as a set of practices or approaches to life that go against the existing set of rules (Koch et al. 2010). The growth of deviant behavior in college students in Australia has been associated with some biological, environmental, and social factors inherent within the institutions. Though behavioral deviance is affected by time and place, college freshmen have adopted a relatively uniform sociological, behavioral pattern (Leppel, 2006). Deviant behavior is directly responsible for poor academic performance, substance abuse, and increased student involvement in criminal activities (Anderson, 2014). In most instances, students have engaged in activities such as binge drinking, body piercing, hard substance abuse, among other criminal activities, as a result of deviance in their behaviors (Leppel, 2006).

Deviant behavior and substance abuse in college freshmen

Most of the articles have categorized binge drinking as a direct impact of deviant behavior in students (Anderson, 2014). As demonstrated in the articles, in most instances, substance abuse is triggered as an immediate response of a student to numerous academic or family issues (Sunstein, 2000). An increase in deviant behaviors has been associated with an increase in substance abuse among college students across Australia. Many literature sources that examined the relationship between deviant behavior and increased substance abuse in college freshmen have been reviewed (Anderson, 2014). Hickson and Roebuck (2009) analyzed the relationship that exists between increased substance abuse in college freshmen and deviant behaviors.

They found that deviant behaviors may vary from one college freshman to another, but have a common denominator of showing rebellious attitude. For example, most college freshmen engage in activities such as skipping classes, stealing from colleagues, starting a fire within the school compound, and the destruction of property. In this study, freshmen from Virginia Commonwealth University were engaged in quantitative research. In their research, Hickson and Roebuck (2009) explain that a correlation exists between deviant behavior and frequency of substance abuse among college freshmen.

In Leppel (2006), the impact of deviant and mainstream behavior in influencing college binge drinking in freshmen was evaluated. By examining the issue of binge drinking from the two different cultures, Leppel (2006) showed the role of deviant behavior in guiding this development in college freshmen. Using the logistic (“logic”) regression, Leppel (2006) explored the impacts that different cultural factors had in controlling this behavior in college freshmen. In this article, the genesis of deviant behavior among college freshmen was evaluated. Contrary to the common perception of people, abnormal behavior in college freshmen did not begin after the admission into the institution. Instead, the cultural setting and environment that a freshman had been exposed to as a teenager influenced the stability of their behavior and willingness to engage in such activities as binge drinking.

Likewise, Anderson (2014) addressed the fundamental concepts of deviant behavior and the factors causing it. According to the author, deviant behavior among most teenagers rarely goes beyond copying some of the elements of celebrities’ style, including tattoos, piercing, and clothes. The author notes that paying little attention to the innuendoes hidden behind the stylistic choices of their idols, teenagers copy a large variety of behaviors (Anderson, 2014). For example, the tattoos above can be attributed to a wide range of cultures. However, it is even more intriguing that teenagers not only copy the elements above of style, thus, defining the very concept of deviant behavior, but also alter the specifics of culture that these elements of style are attributed. As a result, rebellious teenagers change the reputation of the tattooed “from that of criminals and laborers to that of artists and free thinkers” (Anderson, 2014, p. 34).

The transformation is truly fascinating; more to the point, it makes one wonder whether the notorious dependency of teenagers on fads is actually the evidence of teenagers’ suggestibility. Instead, the phenomenon in question can be viewed as the ability of teenagers to transform the symbols of the existing cultures into something entirely new. Though the idea might seem alluring, it is still worth admitting that the transformations, which delinquent teenagers make to specific symbols of other cultures, are always enhanced by the role models foisted onto young people by modern media. Therefore, either way, the so-called rebellion of teenagers is, in fact, a result of careful manipulations of corporations promoting a particular teenage lifestyle to cash in on teenagers’ naivety (Anderson, 2014).

Sunstein (2000) approached the issue of deviant behavior from the perspective of the social bond theory to define how the specified type of action affects the development of binge drinking in college freshmen. Some social variables affect the growth of deviant behavior traits in college freshmen, and their involvement in binge drinking can be viewed as one of these variables since environmental factors have a direct correlation with the rates of deviant behavior among teenagers. This will reduce the likelihood of their engaging in substance abuse-related activities such as binge drinking. In the development of young people, Sunstein (2000) argued that family attachment and a healthy relationship is of primary importance. Anderson (2014) identified a connection between increased drinking problems in college students and deviant behaviors. In this study, major psychological forces that influence binge drinking among college students are analyzed. These include demographic variables, family history, and social challenges, among other motives that are related to the development of deviant behaviors.

Deviant behavior and self-injury

To express their dissatisfaction with the system, the environment, or the academic issues, as well as the issues related to relationships with teachers, deviant college freshmen often consider self-injury as deviant behavior. Consequently, students use piercing, tattooing, and related techniques to manifest their protest against the system (Anderson, 2014).

In Koch et al. (2010), the links between bodies of art, piercing, and self-harm and deviant behaviors among college freshmen were examined. This examination was done with a background comparison to the impact of media on fresh college students. Based on the sub-cultural theory, Koch et al. (2010) noted that students who indulge in self-injury and body piercing are more likely to have deviant behaviors. In such a case, students need assistance to resist the subculture notion of beauty that is foisted on them. To test this proposition, Koch et al. (2010) surveyed 1753 Australian college students, who were required to provide a report on their history of deviant behaviors. They realized that peer pressure was the main reason why youths engaged in such acts. The researchers legalized that with proper counseling, this problem can be solved.

High school origin of college freshmen deviant behavior

In Hickson and Roebuck (2009), the role of technology and the internet is reshaping the perception of high school students before joining college is evaluated. The background that students acquire from high school significantly affects their attitude and behavior during the freshman stage in college. Hickson and Roebuck (2009) interrogated the role that technology plays in shaping the development of deviant behaviors among college freshmen while they do their final year in high school. The authors realized that exposure to the internet at an early age was one of the factors that motivated deviant behavior among the youth.

Sunstein (2000) interrogated the link between high school deviant behaviors and an increase in substance abuse among college freshmen. According to Sunstein (2000), abnormal behaviors are manifested at an early age and do not necessarily begin from college. In this study, the duo interrogated the impact of deviant behaviors among high school students once they join college. The deviant behaviors considered by Sunstein (2000) are related to the symptoms of conduct disorder.

Just like in Sunstein (2000), Leppel (2006) evaluated the relationship between deviant behaviors in high school students and how this spills into freshmen college students. The prevalence of deviant behavior within the college setup was assessed, and the factors that affected their growth or decline were shown. A total of 175 college students from Wooster College were engaged in the study that looked at their engagement in criminal activities, among other deviant behaviors. Parental care, peer pressure, and access to the internet were identified to be the leading factors that influenced deviant behavior.

Stress and deviant behavior

The pressure is any response to an external change. The change can either be positively or negatively oriented since the bottom line is changed. The primary cause of stress is the conflict of choices (Anderson, 2014). A conflict may arise from options with either good decisions or bad choices, with some individuals regretting their decisions. Ones’ decision should, therefore, be based on cognitive dissonance theory, which assumes that a choice one makes a better alternative.


Personality refers to an individual’s relatively consistent and unique pattern of feeling, thoughts, and behaviors. Though deviant behavior cannot be directly related to specific causes, the problem behavior theory highlights the influence of the environment in developing deviancy traits. In an attempt to understand the personality of the deviant college students in Australia, it is necessary to use the publicly demonstrated behaviors to analyze the models that might influence their actions. The model from which deviancy behavior would be understood is the trait model. The lack of ownership of problems and shifting of blames portrays deviant college students as goal-shifters. Such characters demonstrate their optimistic nature, placing them on Eysenck’s wheel of the neurotic, which is with unstable attitudes and as extroverted fellows.

This character is viewed more than Norepinephrine and Serotonin that mixes with the prefrontal context and the amygdala to form such behaviors (Ford & Schroeder, 2009). The assumption behind this model is that it appears more fixed than malleable, bearing in mind that the traits are dependent on either excess or deficiency of some neurotransmitters. Based on this analysis, the psychoanalytic model should be appropriate for understanding the public reactions to the rising cases of deviancy among college students in Australia. The model which is malleable in nature describes a full open personality of a group of individuals sharing similar behavior as influenced by the environment (Hickson & Roebuck, 2009). It explains the reasons that support the group’s actions and choices. From the analysis, the deviant behavior among college students in Australia can be related to environmental pressures that young minds have to deal with at a different level in their quest for self-realization.


Anderson, T. L. (2014). Understanding deviance: Connecting classical and contemporary perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ford, J.A., & Schroeder, R.D. (2009). Academic strain and non-medical use of prescription stimulants among college students. Deviant Behavior, 30(1), 26-53.

Hickson, M., & Roebuck, J. B. (2009).Deviance and crime in colleges and universities: What goes on in the halls of ivy? New York, NY: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Koch, J., Roberts, A., Armstrong, M. & Owen, D. (2010). Body art, deviance, and Australian college students. Social Science Journal, 47(4), 151-161.

Leppel, K. (2006). College binge drinking: deviant versus mainstream behavior. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 32(4), 519-525.

Sunstein, C. (2000). Deliberative trouble? Why groups go to extremes. The Yale law journal, 110(71), 71-119.

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