Essay on Social Learning Theory: Psychology

An essay written regarding the social learning theory for aggression

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Discuss one psychological explanation for aggression.
Social Learning Theory
In this essay I will evaluate and explain the Social Learning Theory (SLT), which
explains aggressiveness from a behaviourism point of view. The opposite point of view is the
biological point of view they believe that aggressiveness stems from genetic makeup.
Together these two views can be seen as the nature and nurture debate according to
social psychologists aggression is learnt (nurture), from the view of the biological
psychologists they believe aggression is innate (nature).
Bandura and Walters's believed that aggression is learnt through indirect and direct
reinforcement however they did not dismiss the biological views on aggression and said that
the behaviourist approach looks at how and when we aggress.
The social learning theory has many research study's, the most popular being
Bandura's study with the bobo doll. Bandura has children observing a model who interacted
with the bobo doll, either aggressively or nonaggressively. The children were then `frustrated'
by taken to another room filled with toys, but they were told it was an error and had to leave.
The children were then left alone with the doll whilst Bandura observed their behaviour.
Bandura found that children who had observed the aggressive model would be aggressive
towards the doll, and the children who watched the nonaggressive model either played with
the doll in a nonaggressive manner or left it alone.
Bandura's furthered the study by rewarding the model for bad behaviour he found that
children will copy behaviour when rewarded, this is known as vicarious reinforcement, thus
making the children repeat the behaviour due to the rewards they obtain, however if the
imitation is not reinforced, the behaviour is less likely to repeated in the future. If a child is
rewarded for behaviour throughout their lives i.e. a child who bullies other children
successfully will lead the bully to put value on aggression this is called maintenance through
direct experience.
On of the criticism of Bandura's study is that it is not associated with adults and can
only be applied to children, however Phillips who looked at homicide rates after a major
boxing match in the USA, found and increase in homicides. This could be a type of imitation.
As boxing is seen as a mainly male sport it can only be generalised to American Males, also
due to the study being a correlation we can't determine cause and affect.
One of the strengths of SLT is that it can explain aggression in absence of direct
reinforcement and can also explain individual differences and context dependant learning.
It is possible to assume in Bandura's study, the children were aware what was
expected of them, (demand characteristics). Noble, reports that one child arriving at the
experiment said to his mother "look Mummy, there's the doll we have to hit". Bandura's study
also looks at a doll rather than a person (who would tend to hit back). However Bandura
responded to this criticism by conducting another experiment where women hit a toy clown
whilst children observed, the children were then let into a room with a real clown, they
proceeded to hit him and punch him. Due to the clown not being aggressive back towards the
children, this can also be seen as criticism.
The SLT can be applied to explain cultural difference within aggression, however
within the practices of the !Kung San or the Kalahari desert, aggression is completely rare,
this is due to the way the children are brought up, the parents separate the children who are
aggressive towards one another, neither punish or reward them for the behaviour the children
use, nor do they use physical abuse towards the children thus making direct reinforcement
and aggressive models absent within their upbringing.
Due to the theory being part of the nature/nurture debate it is viewed as highly
deterministic. However this deterministic interpretation is mistaken evolutionary
psychologists, for example, suggest that genes predispose us to behave in certain ways, but
this does not dictate what individuals choose to do. Other factors also determine behaviour,
such as culture we live in, and ultimately our personal experiences and decisions. The SLT
Emma Kirby 20/10/2009

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Discuss one psychological explanation for aggression.
Social Learning Theory
can only be seen as an aspect as why people behave aggressively and we cannot dismiss
other explanations.…read more


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