Neutralization, also called verbalization by Cressey (Cite), is the process by which individuals justify their violation of accepted behavior in an effort to protect themselves from self-blame and the blame of others. They profess a conviction about a particular law but argue that special circumstances existed that caused them to violate the law in a particular situation ((Cite). By using positive or neutralizing definitions of a criminal behavior that justify or excuse it in certain circumstances, persons can rationalize their own criminal behavior ((Cite). But, every person who commits a crime does not need to neutralize his/her behavior since some people have little moral inhibition against committing certain types of offenses (Cite).
Neutralizations are commonly accepted rationalizations for committing criminal acts (Cite). However, neutralization is not just ex post facto rationalization, since it occurs before the offense actually occurs and it forms a part of the motivation for the original act (Cite). Neutralization not only allows the offender to commit a crime; sometimes it may also encourage it (Cite). Neutralization of society’s ethical constraints is one component that is necessary for cheaters to formulate motivations for their cheating (Cite). Students, who are not caught cheating and who are not concerned with sanctions from fellow students, often need to neutralize their own ethics that act as an internal barrier to their cheating. Neutralization allows them to believe that general cheating is wrong, but that in certain circumstances it is acceptable or even necessary (Cite). In 1957, Sykes and Matza proposed their neutralization theory. In their study of delinquency, they found that delinquents used specific methods to justify their behavior in attempts to neutralize their actions (Cite). They considered neutralization to be types of “definitions favorable” to crime as referred to in Sutherland’s differential association theory (Cite). Sykes and Matza developed five techniques of neutralization to explain how delinquents move back and forth between traditional and delinquent norms (drift theory) and to explain how delinquents rationalize their delinquent behavior. These same techniques can also be applied to the way college student cheaters justify their inappropriate behavior.