Social Learning Theory

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Social learning theory
Social learning theory suggests that children learn aggressive behaviour by observing aggressive
behaviour and imitate the behaviour. They can also learn by observing an individual being rewarded
for their aggressive behaviour (vicarious reinforcement). If a comparative situation occurs or the child
has increased self-efficacy (increased confidence in being successful, leading to reward).
Bandura's study
Procedure: Showed 3-6 year olds adult models behaving aggressively towards the `bobo doll'.
Another 24 children were shown a non-aggressive model. They were then allowed to play in a
separate room with many toys including the `bobo doll'. Their reactions to the `bobo doll' were
Findings: The children imitated the aggressive acts they observed whereas the control group
showed virtually no aggressive behaviour. There were variations to the study which were
If the child saw the model being punished, fewer imitated the behaviour
If the child saw a model being rewarded for the behaviour, more imitated
the behaviour.
If the child was directly offered a reward, all were able to imitate.
Lacks ecological validity- The bobo doll is not real therefore it will not fight back. In a real life
situation, there will be a reaction from the other individual and so it is difficult to apply the findings to
real life situations.
Supporting study: Philips- found that US homicide rates rise the week following a boxing match.
This suggests that observing aggressive behaviour in the boxing match caused some observers to
imitate the aggressive behaviour, supporting the social learning theory.
Face validity- There is anecdotal evidence to support the theory. For example, the graphic murder
of Jamie Bulger by two 10 year olds in the UK was linked to the boys watching a movie called Child's
Play which contained graphic murders. According to the theory, they observed the acts and it is
thought that they imitated these therefore supporting the theory.
Explains context dependent aggression- Social learning theory explains why people behave
differently in different situations. It is because they are rewarded in some situations and not others.
Ignores biological influences- The theory does not look into gender differences in aggressive
behaviour. If they found differences, aggressive behaviour is more likely due to biological influences
such as testosterone levels. However, the theory does not consider biological influences.


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