What Is Secondary Deviance in Sociology?

Deviance in sociology refers to traits that fall outside accepted cultural norms, and a secondary deviance alters a person's self-perception after the performance of a deviant act; the initial deviant act is considered the primary deviance. Secondary deviance is believed to be more serious, because the labeling or stigma becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Examples of primary deviance in the United States include alcoholism, gambling, stealing and lying. While acts of primary deviance are culturally relative and self-contained, secondary deviance can affect a person's character in the long term, haunting and changing the perpetrator's life.

For example, individuals who are labeled as chronically ill can alter their behaviors to conform to a stereotype. In this case, the illness is the primary deviance, and an invalid status is the secondary deviance.

Sex offenders who commit a primary deviant act such as child molestation can be branded by their legal history, which can lead them to see themselves as sexual predators.

In some cases, a stigma is applied retroactively to explain a person's behavior. The perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre were retroactively labeled as deviant, and their earlier behaviors were recast in that light.

Juvenile gangs may learn acts of violence and dishonesty (primary deviance) from their peers and then go on to lead a criminal existence (secondary deviance).