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Discuss one or more social psychological theories of aggression (24
We learn aggressive behaviour through observation and imitation. People learn the specifics of
aggressive behaviour and its consequences by observing others being rewarded or punished for
their aggressive behaviour; this is known as the Social Learning Theory.
For example if a child pushes another child and gets a toy they want as a result, this behaviour is more
likely to be reproduced. The aggressive behaviour may also be indirectly enforced by observation so
behaviour that is seen by a child is possibly reproduced in the same situation.
Huesmann suggested that more recently children may use television programmes as a source of
scripts. For example, if they see a hero kill a villain they might re-create this behaviour given the
opportunity. The viewer will identify with the aggressor, making it is unlikely that a child will
reproduce the behaviour of the villain who is usually beat up.
To test the social learning theory, Bandura conducted a study in Stanford university with 3 conditions;
a child would observe either a role model act aggressively to a bobo doll, non-aggressively or a
control group with no role model.
The children placed in the aggressive condition produced more violence towards the bobo doll when
allowed to play suggesting that observing the role model active aggressively reinforced this
behaviour for them.
Although boys were more physical, both genders reproduced the same verbal response that they
had heard from the model, thus supporting how vicarious reinforcement within the social learning
theory encourages aggression.
Supporting evidence for Bandura's study comes from Patterson who distributed surveys questioning
the aggression levels in homes and the behaviour of the children. He found that the children raised in
homes with high aggression were more likely to behave aggressively outside because they are
exposed to behaviour which can be replicated.
However, methodological issues raise concerns over its credibility because participants may show
social desirability bias by lying on their questionnaire to make themselves look like better parents
and avoid discrimination for their bad parenting. This therefore may reduce the internal validity of
Patterson's results and thus not wholly support the social learning theory.
In addition, Bandura's study is prone to culture bias. The setting of the study was a upper class
American university, using the white upper classed children of wealthy professors. As a
consequence, the results obtained from this sample and setting may not be generalised to other
populations and cultures.
On the other hand, investigations by Mead show how the Arapesh tribe who value non-aggressive
behaviour are more likely to have passive children, as opposed to the Mundugmor tribe who display
excessively aggressive behaviour and have higher aggression levels in children.
This suggests that the social learning theory is universal and can be applied globally to all
explanations for aggression.
Overall, the social learning theory can be labelled as a reductionist explanation of aggression
because not everybody reacts in the same way when exposed to aggressive stimuli. Flanagan (2000)
suggests that the hormone testosterone has been cited as a cause for aggression when coupled with
other genetic and neuroanatomical structures. The Social learning theory does not stress the
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This suggests that the
Social Learning Theory is a reductionist explanation of aggression.
Another social psychological explanation of aggression is the Deindividuation theory which is a
psychological state characterised by lowered self-evaluation and evaluation for others, thus losing
one's sense of individuality and identity leading to anti-social behaviour.
Zimbardo described individuated behaviour as rational beliefs and socially acceptable, whereas
deindividuated behaviour involves primitive urges and a lack of conformity.…read more