Neutralizations are commonly accepted rationalizations for committing criminal acts. 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. Neutralization not only allows the offender to commit a crime; sometimes it may also encourage it. Neutralization of society’s ethical constraints is one component that is necessary for criminals to formulate motivations for their crimes. Criminals, who are not caught committing crimes and who are not concerned with sanctions from their peers, often need to neutralize their own ethics that act as an internal barrier to their cheating. Neutralization allows them to believe that general crime is wrong, but that in certain circumstances it is acceptable or even necessary.
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. They considered neutralization to be types of "definitions favorable" to crime as referred to in Sutherland’s differential association theory. 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.