Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
Zach Mann
Western Kentucky University














The Whites of West Virginia are a perfect example of Aker's Social Learning theory. The theory contains four main components discussing how criminal behavior is learned based on the people you surround yourself with or associate with. The beginning of the documentary starts off with different attorneys and sheriffs talking about the Whites and the different crimes that the whole family commits. They don't single out any one family member. They reference the White family as a whole. That in and of itself shows how each family member falls under this Social Learning theory.
The first component of the Social Learning theory according to Akers is differential association. "Differential association refers to an individual's exposure to normative definitions favorable or unfavorable to illegal or law-abiding behavior" (Trojan, Learning Theories Powerpoint). The first and most frequent illegal behavior that every member of the White family is drugs. They all like to get messed up and they say that in the documentary. Kirk did a line of pills or some drug in the hospital room right in front of her baby. Each member is exposed to it at some point or partakes of it. There are two dimensions to differential association: Interational dimension and Normative dimension. Interactional dimension basically says that a person has a direct association or interaction with the people who commit these illegal acts. So because one family member, no matter how distant, does drugs or sells drugs, that effects an individual and makes it more likely for that individual to commit that same crime. Normative dimension is the different norms and values that an individual is exposed to and finds to be acceptable because the people they associate with have the same values.
The next component of the Social Learning theory is definitions. Definitions isn't like what a word means, "it refers to an individual's own attitudes or meanings attached to a given behavior. An act in itself is not wrong or right until we attach a meaning to it" (Trojan, Learning Theories Powerpoint). Some of the things that both the attorneys and the Whites themselves mentioned that they do on a regular basis is fight, do drugs, and party. Because of how much they do these things they don't define them as wrong. Doing drugs and fighting and committing crimes has become a norm for people of the White family. They don't define these crimes as inherently wrong and they associate with each other as a tight knit family, which effects each branch that grows out of the tree. This pattern of crime will continue because that's how the kids are raised and what the kids are exposed to. Another thing that was mentioned in the powerpoint and in the lecture is Neutralizing definitions. It means that even though the act is terrible the individual given the situation is justified to commit that act. An example would be Brandon trying to murder Billy. Brandon traded Billy some guns for a truck. Turns out that the truck was broken down so Brandon accused Billy knowing it was broken down. Billy then mouthed off to Brandon and told him to do something about it. Brandon drove to see Billy and shot him three times in an attempt to murder him. In my opinion I don't think that Brandon woke up that day thinking murder was a good and desirable thing, but because somebody wronged him, he thought he was justified to go and try to kill Billy. How someone defines a certain action can show how willing they are and how often the commit that act. To tie in differential association, who a person associates with also effects how they define an act. If the people an individual associates with defines an act desirable even if it's a wrong thing in society's eyes, the individual is more likely to define it desirable as well.
The third component of the Social Learning theory is differential reinforcement. This discusses how an individual anticipates what the rewards or consequences of an action will be. The punishment for more serious crimes is usually jail time. In the case of the Whites family, so many have