Discuss one social psychological theory of aggression - social learning theory

A 24 mark essay describing the social learning theory and how it can lead to aggression. 

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Discuss one social psychological theory
of aggression
Aggression is any form of behaviour which is directed towards the goal of harming or injuring another
living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment. One social psychological theory of aggression
is the social learning theory. According the Berkowitz and Bandura, although aggressive behaviour of
non-human animals can be explained in terms of instinct aggression, in humans it is the product of
learning. Aggression can be learnt directly through classical and operant conditioning.
However aggression is mainly learnt indirectly through observation, modelled learning without a
reward or punishment and through vicarious learning with a reward or punishment. Bandura found
that those who witnessed a model behaving aggressively showed higher physical and verbal
aggression than those who didn't, implying that aggression is learnt through observation and
therefore giving evidence to the theory.
Bandura also claimed that aggression is learnt through 4 processes, the first being attention. We pay
more attention to role models and those who are prestigious. The actions are then remembered via
retention and then we reproduce what we remember in production. This action can also be
motivated or reinforced.
Imitation is more likely to occur if the model is similar to you (sex, age), is desirable (a celebrity), you
have low self-esteem, you are dependent on others or direct reinforcement (rewards). Therefore if
someone you admire and was similar to you behaved in an aggressive manner you are more likely to
imitate them and act aggressive yourself than if it was someone you didn't like.
An advantage of the social learning theory is that there is research evidence in support of it. We
would assume that if the social learning theory is correct and aggression is learnt then we would
expect different behaviour in different cultures. Margaret Mead observed the Mundugumor and
Arapesh tribes from Papua New Guinea found that the Mundugumor tribe were highly aggressive
wheras the Arapesh were very non-aggressive with each other. This suggests that the social learning
theory can account for aggression and it suggests that it is a product of nurture as differences have
been found cross culturally.
There are controversies in the idea that violent video games lead to aggressive behaviour in real life.
The social learning theory would argue that aggressive behaviour in video games would be modelled
if they are perceived as successful. Anderson and Dill found that those playing more violent video
games at school age, engaged in more aggressive real life behaviour. This suggests that playing
video games can have a long term effect as the game plating can give more practise in constructing
and running aggressive schemas, which would then transfer to real life behaviour.
The social learning theory of aggression can lead to practical applications in media. Policy makers
have put into place limits to reduce the amount of aggressive behaviour that children can witness so
they cannot observe aggressive behaviours. For example, there are age ratings on certain violent
films and games as well as little aggressive actions can be shown on television before 9 o'clock "the

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In spite of evidence the social learning explanation has been criticised by those who favour a nature
approach and believe aggression is inherited. For example, Rhee and Waldman found that identical
twins were more similar in antisocial behaviour than fraternal twins. Therefore we cannot dismiss the
role of nature in explaining aggression which means the social learning theory is reductionist as it only
considers the role of learning on aggression and not the role genetics can play.…read more


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