Social learning theory essay (8+16 marks)

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Discuss one social psychological theory of aggression
One social psychological theory of aggression is social learning theory, social learning
theory focuses on the way in which we learn aggression from role models in the
environment ­ aggressive behaviour is learnt by observing behaviour that is rewarded and
copying it. There are four stages to be fulfilled according to social learning theory in order
for behaviour to be reproduced. Aggressive behaviour must be observed by an individual,
the individual must retain this behaviour in their mind, the individual must physically be
able to reproduce behaviour retained and they must have a motive to reproduce the
behaviour. If all of these factors are present then the behaviour can be repeated.
Bandura suggests SLT is a form of vicarious learning ­ this is when the individual
learns what is appropriate or not through observing consequences. SLT can be
demonstrated in the real life scenario of bullying, people who have been bullied in the past
often see the rewards the bully gets ­ this behaviour is retains in the mind therefore they are
more likely to reproduce behaviour than people who have not been bullied in the past.
Confidence/self efficacy impacts repetition ­ if behaviour has bad consequences in the past,
expected rewards and motivation decrease therefore confidence to reproduce the behaviour
SLT is supported by Bandura et al (1961) the study compared male/female groups
of 4 and 5 years old, male and females separated and split in to 4 groups named aggressive
and non aggressive. The study used a Bobo doll to portray some form of imitation using
adult role models, the children's behaviour was observed and it was concluded that children
who witnessed aggressive behaviour were more likely to show aggression towards the bobo
doll ­ this suggests children learn by vicarious reinforcement (watching and then imitating)
therefore this evidence increases the validity of social learning theory as an explanation of
Bandura's study lacks ecological validity ­ as the situation is artificial children may
have been able to judge that repeating the behaviour in the experimental situation may
produce a reward whereas in a real life situation would not. The Bobo doll is designed to be
hit and therefore not a target of aggression in the real world ­ thus imitation in experimental
situations does not translate into imitation of behaviours in real life. Therefore the study is
weak support for SLT as aggression demonstrated in study cannot be applied to real life
However, real life cases can provide support for the idea aggression is socially
learnt from role models ­ although not a research study, therefore lacking an objective
scientific nature, the case of James Bulger, who was abducted and murdered by two young
boys after observing similar behaviour in the horror film `Childs Play' ­ this provides a real
life incident where aggression can be some way linked to social learning theory, showing
that SLT can be linked to aggressive scenarios in real life.
Social learning theory also has support from Patterson et al, who suggests role
models are important in the development of anti social behaviour in children. Surveys were
used to assess households found aggressive children were most likely to come from homes
of high aggression, little affection and little praise. When parents were trained to model
appropriate behaviour aggression levels dropped, this therefore demonstrates SLT in action
as role models play a vital role in forming and developing children's personality.
Research support for SLT is also demonstrated in a study by Bandura et al, this
study found that viewing aggression by cartoon characters produces as much replicated
aggressive behaviour in children as if they were to observe a role model conduct aggressive
behaviour in real life. This demonstrates credibility for SLT as aggression can be learnt
through a variety of different observational formats e.g. in this instance the media.

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Additional support for the social learning theory comes from Phillips who
conducted a study in the USA ­ he found that aggressive behaviour was statistically higher
the week following a national boxing tournament. This suggests behaviour can be learnt
through imitation and therefore provides support for SLT.
Studies surrounding SLT e.g.…read more


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