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Neutralization Theory

Neutralization Theory was coined by Gresham Sykes and David Matza to explain how deviants justify their deviant behaviors. This is done by providing alternative definitions of their actions and by providing explanations to themselves and others for the lack of guilt for actions in particular situations.¹

There are five major types of neutralization¹:

  1. Denial of responsibility: The deviant is helplessly propelled into the deviance and under same circumstances anyone would do the same.
    • Example: Someone claiming they stole because another person or gang forced them to.
  2. Denial of injury: The deviant believes that injury caused no harm to other individuals or to society so it was not morally wrong.
    • Example: Someone convicted of of insider trading claims that it was non violent and did not actually hurt anyone else.
  3. Denial of the victim: The deviant believes individuals on the receiving end of the deviance were deserving of results due to victim’s lack of virtue or morals.
    • Example: Someone assaults an ex-felon and claims they deserved it because of their criminal history.
  4. Condemnation of the condemners: The deviant believed enforcement figures or victims have tendency to be deviant or corrupt and are hypocrites to stand against.
    • Example: Someone who was found to have illegal drugs claims they were racially profiled by police when they were searched.
  5. Appeal to the higher loyalties: The deviant believes that there are loyalties and values that go behind confines of way that may be more important than legal boundaries.
    • Example: Someone assaults a rival gang member to avenge a fellow gang member.




1. University of Minnesota Duluth. Neutralization theory: Gresham Sykes and David Matza. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from