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Social Learning Theory
The Social Learning Theory suggests we learn aggressive behaviours by observing
others. Biological factors are not ignored, rather that biology creates the potential for
aggression but the actual expression is learnt.
Children learn aggressive responses though observing and imitating the behaviour of a
role model. They would learn about the consequences of the behaviour, observing what
behaviours are punished and what are reinforced. This is known as Vicarious Reinforcement.
As a result, they would learn how to perform aggressive acts when it is appropriate i.e. when a
reward is followed (not when it is punished).
For social learning to take place, the child must form mental representations of the behaviour;
as well as an expectancy of any future outcomes of them performing the learnt behaviour.
When opportunities arise in the future, the child will display that behaviour provided the
reward is greater than the punishment.
If a child is rewarded for aggressive behaviours they are likely to repeat the act in similar
situations. In addition, this would develop their confidence in their ability to carry out aggressive
acts, and therefore be motivated to do it again.
There is clear support provided for the social learning theory by Bandura called the Bobo
doll study, to see whether children would learn aggression behaviour through rewards or
punishments. It was a control setting, with two groups of children, who watched a film of a
model behaving aggressively towards an inflatable doll; however each group watched a
different ending; the model being punished or being rewarded for their behaviour. It was
concluded that the group that observed the aggressive behaviour being rewarded acted
more aggressively than those who saw the model being punished. This suggests that
children learn behaviours through observation and imitation, particularly when it is rewarded.
However, there is a methodological flaw within this research; as the study was a lab
experiment, which makes it difficult to apply the findings to the real world as it was an
artificial setting, therefore it lacks ecological validity.
Also, as the model was an adult, it is not likely that they are going to attack toys, which also
makes the experiment lack ecological validity, as it is not the natural behaviour of an adult.
Conversely as the study was an experiment, this means that there would have been control
of the IV and DV and therefore a causal relationship can be established between observing
the reward and punishment and the aggressive acts.
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It was also clear that there was an element of demand characteristics, as it was recorded
that the children said `look mummy, this is the doll I have to hit', this makes the study
Bandura's study raises Ethical Issues as today, the Social Learning
Theory would not be able to test experimentally, as it involves
exposing children to aggressive behaviours. This may have
long-term applications, due to the fact that they may produce this
kind of behaviour within their own.…read more