What Is Primary Deviance?

Primary deviance refers to behavior inconsistent with societal norms and standards that people perform for short periods of time. Primary deviance appears in societies around the world, and expresses as minor violations. This deviant behavior might accompany a growth stage, such as adolescence, and terminates quickly, often without society attaching the label of deviance to individuals engaging in primary deviant activities.

Psychologists associate primary deviance with the labeling theory, which refers to the reasons for applying labels on members and groups in societies and the impacts of those labels. The development of primary deviance dates back to the 1950s which also saw the emergence of a second deviance category, called secondary deviance. Of the two types of deviant behavior, researchers consider primary deviance more transient and benign. Individuals engaging in primary deviance consider themselves conformists of society, and society reciprocates those feelings. Secondary deviance refers to sustained rebellion, where people and groups continually perform socially unacceptable behaviors as part of a group identity or to protest certain aspects of society. Some researchers suggest secondary deviance develops following the application of a negative label to people and groups performing primary deviance activities. The public application of negative labels, they suggest, make people more likely to continue carrying out deviant activities.