Social Learing Theory of Agression

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Social Learning Theory [24]
A01 ­ Description
Social learning theory proposes that aggressive behaviour is learnt through observation.
Bandura children learn by observing role models with whom they identify and then
imitate that behaviour.
The theory also proposes that aggressive behaviour is learnt through vicarious
reinforcement; children learn about the consequences of aggressive behaviour by watching
others being reinforced or punished.
By observing the consequence of aggressive behaviour, the child learns what is considered
appropriate (and effective) conduct.
The child must form mental representations of events in their social environment.
The child must represent possible rewards and punishments for their aggressive behaviour
in terms of expectancies of future outcomes.
When appropriate opportunities arise in the future, the child will display the learned
behaviour as long as the expectation of reward is greater than the expectation of
Furthermore, the maintenance of aggressive behaviour is through direct experience.
If a child is rewarded for an aggressive behaviour, they are likely to repeat the same action
in similar situations in the future.
Children develop confidence in their ability to carry out the necessary aggressive actions.
Children for whom aggressive behaviour has been disastrous in the past (e.g. they weren't
very good at it) have less confidence (lower selfefficacy) in their ability to use aggression
successfully and vice versa.
A02 ­ Research Support
There is research support for the predictions of the social learning theory which comes
from a serious of studies carried out by Bandura .
Participants = male and female children ranging from 3 ­ 5 years old.
Half exposed to adult models interacting aggressively with a bobo doll and half exposed
to nonaggressive models.
Children in the aggressive condition reproduced a great deal of physically and verbally
aggressive behaviour resembling the behaviour of the model.
Children in the nonaggressive group exhibited virtually no aggression towards the doll.
This provides empirical evidence for the role of observation as the children learnt their
aggressive responses through observation ­ watching the behaviour of models and
imitating that behaviour.
Although the study tells us that children do acquire aggressive responses as a result of
watching others, it does not explain why a child is motivated to perform the same
behaviours in the absence of a model.
Bandura and Walters found that children who saw the model being rewarded for
aggressive acts showed a high level of aggression in their own play and those who saw
the model punished showed a low level of aggression in their own play.
This provides support for vicarious reinforcement as it shows that children learnt about
the likely consequence of actions and adjusted their behaviour accordingly.

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The fact that there is consistent empirical evidence for most of the predictions of the
social learning theory means that is it possible to put a high degree of validity on the
A02 ­ Applicability to Adults
One limitation of the social learning theory as an explanation for aggression is that it may
only be able to explain aggressive behaviour in children.
Empirical evidence i.e.…read more


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