Deviancy amplification spiral

From ArticleWorld

According to media commentators, a deviancy amplification spiral is the process whereby small incidences of deviant behavior are inflated in the mass media. This inflation encourages copycat acts, thus creating a mutually-reinforcing loop of deviance.

Author Stanley Cohen, in his 1972 book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, links the deviancy amplification spiral to the phenomenon of moral panic. A moral panic is usually defined as a drastic public overreaction to a perceived epidemic of immoral behavior. Examples of moral panic include the Salem witch trials of the 17th century, widespread fears about the safety of Halloween candy in the 1970s, and the pedophiliac priest scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the early part of the 21st century.

Stages of deviancy amplification

The deviant act

In the beginning, there is a particular isolated crime or episode of "deviancy" that is disproportionately emphasized by the media. The act is generally unusual from typical crimes. Examples include the following:

While any of these examples may be newsworthy, critics argue that the mass media often engages in hype and sensationalism when reporting such events. As a result, isolated incidents give rise to the perception of widespread epidemics of deviant behavior. The public is led to believe that these issues are more prevalent than they really are. Other less notable, but similar acts, are conflated with the original to further validate the initial outcry. These secondary acts are added to a pool of evidence to support claims of a moral crisis.

Effects of media coverage

Lawmakers find themselves pressured to respond to the perceived crisis. This may lead the passage of unnecessarily restrictive laws. These legal actions further justify the current panic by legitimizing it.

Furthermore, according to media critics, the widespread, inflated reporting of criminal activity may lead to the rise of copycat behavior, as this behavior comes to be seen as common and even desirable as an act of rebellion.