IX. Future Directions
The future of social learning theory lies along three paths. First, there will continue to be further and more accurate tests of social learning at the micro- or process level (i.e., at the level of differences across individuals), including measures of variables from other criminological theories, and these studies will use better measures of all of the central concepts of the theory. Having said this, it is not likely that the empirical findings will be much different from the research so far, but these future studies should continue to include more research on social leaning explanations of the most serious and violent criminal behavior as well as white-collar and corporate crime.
Second, there is need for continued development and testing of the SSSL model, again using better measures. A very promising direction that this could take would follow the lead of Jensen and Akers (2003, 2006) to extend the basic social learning principles and the SSSL model “globally” to the most macrolevel. Structural theories at that level are more apt to be valid the more they reference or incorporate the most valid principles found at the individual level, and those are social learning principles.
Third, social learning principles will continue to be applied in cognitive–behavioral (Cullen, Wright, Gendreau, &Andrews, 2003) prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and correctional programs and otherwise provide some theoretical underpinning for social policy. Research on the application and evaluations of such programs have thus far found them to be at least moderately effective (and usually more effective than alternative programs), but there are still many unanswered questions about the feasibility and effectiveness of programs designed around social learning theory.
Future research along all of these lines is also more likely to be in the form of longitudinal studies over the life course and to be cross-cultural studies of the empirical validity of the theory in different societies. If social learning is truly a general theory, then it should have applicability to the explanation and control of crime and deviance not only in American and Western societies but also societies around the world. There have already been some cross-cultural studies supporting the social learning theory (see, e.g., Hwang &Akers, 2003; Miller, Jennings, Alvarez-Rivera, & Miller, 2008), but much more research needs to examine both how well the theory holds up in different societies and on how much variation there is in the effects of the social learning variables in different cultures.