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Neutralization (often referred to as Techniques of NeutralizationWikipedia's W.svg) is a psychological process in which an individual internally subject to a particular values system (whether by overt subscription or emotional impulse) mentally justifies personal behavior in direct defiance of that value system without first surrendering the value system in question, and while maintaining a self image of one in good-standing compliance with that values system. (All while continuing to carry out the contrary behavior.)[1] It is generally conceptualized in terms of the categories derived by two of its early proponents: Specifically SykesWikipedia's W.svg and MatzaWikipedia's W.svg who in the 1950s set out to observe and describe the process by which "delinquent" (in their terms) youths overcame (their theorized) inherent shame of criminal acts and learn to even take pride in them. While this perspective presupposes a number of different ideas about human nature that have since come under serious reconsideration (or rejection) by the broader psychological community, the categories they derived pursuing it have been quite influential since.[1][2]

Sykes' and Matza's Categories[edit]

  • Denial of Responsibility: Self image is maintained through displacing fault.[2] ("I was only following orders." "It wasn't my place to intervene.")
  • Denial of Harm: Self image is maintained through minimizing or denying the consequences of admitted actions.[2] ("It was just a joke." "So I hit him, it's not like I shot him." That didn't hurt and you know it.)
  • Victim Blaming: Exactly what it sounds like. The person harmed is made out to be responsible for the behavior that harmed them, at the convenient excuse of the person who committed the action.[2] ("Look how she was dressed!" "If he hadn't been such a pussy I wouldn't have beat him down."
  • Reflexive Blame: Self image is maintained through casting accusations back at the accusers from a position of denial, claiming instead to be the innocent victim of their aggression.[2] ("I didn't do that! You're lying! And not only are you a liar but an abuser too!")
  • Appealing to the Greater Good: Self image is maintained by asserting that seemingly contradictory actions will ultimately aid the values system in question.[2] ("By beating the child, we stop them from getting into trouble." "If we rob this old lady, we can finance our organization.")


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Neutralization Theory" by Heith Copes (2015) DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0140
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Techniques of Neutralization" by Bradley Wright (2008)

See also[edit]