Create a situation in which an adolescent male engages in persistent assaultive behavior and describe two possible explanations for his delinquent behavior utilizing cognitive theory.
The first part of this question is relatively easy to do. All we have to do is imagine a situation in which a young man acts in this way. So, let us say that this is a 14 year-old in 8th grade. He consistently gets in fights and has been known to threaten teachers as well as students. We must now give two reasons, based in cognitive theory, that explain why he does this.
Cognitive theories of delinquency hold that delinquency occurs in part because of problems in the mental processes of delinquent individuals. One of these theories is Kohlberg’s idea that people have different stages of moral development. If we use Kohlberg’s theories, we might say that our 8th grader is in Stage Two of his moral development. At this point, he does not really see his behavior as wrong because he does not identify himself as a member of an overall group. Instead, he does what he wants to do and his actions are tempered only by fear of punishment. If he does not think the likely punishment is great enough, he will simply assault people because he has not developed enough to believe it is wrong to do so.
Another cognitive theory has to do with the boy’s mental processes. Most adolescents can process information well enough to understand that assaulting people is a bad thing. This boy, by contrast, may have cognitive problems and might not really understand what is going on around him. For example, he may feel that other people are acting aggressively towards him even when they are not. His perceptions may cause him to attack them out of a feeling of self-defense. His cognitive problems prevent him from perceiving the world properly, thus causing him to act in inappropriate ways.