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Neutralization (often referred to as Techniques of Neutralization) is a psychological process by which an individual justifies personal behavior that contradicts their held values system, without surrendering either the values system in question or their conception of self as one in good standing with it.[1] It is generally structured according to categories first proposed by two of its early proponents: Specifically Gresham SykesWikipedia and David MatzaWikipedia who in the 1950s set out to observe and describe the process by which "delinquent youths" overcame what Sykes and Matza theorized to be an otherwise universal inherent shame to the committing of "criminal acts." While this perspective presupposes a number of different ideas about human nature and objective morality that have since come under serious reconsideration (or rejection) by the broader psychological and philosophical communities, the categories themselves retain explainative power within the framework of the theory even when extracted from Sykes and Matza's sloppy editorializing.[1][2]

Sykes' and Matza's Categories[edit]

  • 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.")
  • 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, or discounting their aspersions on the basis of their unrelated "guilt."[2] ("You disrespected me first!" "You're a god-hating atheist! I don't need to listen to your words!")

See also[edit]


  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 October 26 2008 Everyday Sociology