Social Learning Theory in Aggression (24 mark essay)

24 Mark essay on Bandura's Social Learning Theory on Aggression :-)

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  • Created on: 07-01-12 21:28
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Outline and evaluate one social psychology theory of aggression (5+16 marks)
Aggression is the feeling of anger or antipathy resulting in hostile or violent behaviour. According to the Bandura's
social learning theory, aggressive behaviour comes from our social environment where we learn to be aggressive
through social interactions. In this essay I shall be discussing Bandura's social learning theory to aggression.
Based on Bandura's bobo doll experiment, the social learning theory has distinguished there are two ways in which
children may learn aggressive behaviours, direct and indirect reinforcing. Based on Skinner's operant conditioning,
this is where a child will learn aggressive behaviour through rewards and punishment, for example if a child pushes
another child & gets what they want, this behaviour is positively reinforced, therefore there is more of a chance they
will learn and repeat this behaviour. However, if a child kicks another child and is scolded, aggression is negatively
reinforced and less likely to be repeated. Indirect learning, otherwise known as vicarious learning is where a child
learns about aggression through observing others being rewarded or punished for aggressive behaviours. Through
learning the consequences of aggressive behaviour, they internalise what's right or wrong to do. In order for social
learning to occur, children must be able to pay attention to the model's behaviour, make a mental representation of
the event and retain it in their long term memory, be able to reproduce the behaviour observed and finally
motivated to copy the behaviour.
Bandura believed that children's main influences in terms of aggressive behaviours are role models. These could be
parents, peers or even cartoons. He believed children are more likely to exhibit violent and abusive behaviours if
their role models did, however Bandura found that children are more likely to internalise same-sex model's
behaviours more than opposite-sex role models.
The bobo doll experiment by Bandura which was aimed to see whether children may learn aggressive
behaviour through rewards and punishment provides supports for the social learning theory. In a controlled
environment, children were separated into two groups in which they both watched a video of a male or female
model behaving aggressively towards an inflatable doll. One group observed the model in the video being told off
(punished) and the second group saw the model being rewarded with sweets (reinforced). The results were
compared to a control group which saw the model be neither rewarded nor punished. After the video, they were
free to play with the toys in a room along with the bobo doll. Children who observed aggressive behaviours being
rewarded those in the control group and acted more aggressively than those who saw the model punished. It was
concluded that children learn behaviours through observation and imitation of others, particularly when rewarded.
The models used distinctive actions, so the children's behaviours could be distinguished as imitation. However, it was
a laboratory which had an artificial environment making it difficult to apply to reality, also adults are not likely to
attack toys, therefore lack ecological validity. Children may have known the aim of the experiment, some were
even recorded to have said `this is the doll we have to hit', risking the results being unreliable due to demand
characteristics. The study didn't distinguish the difference between aggression towards other people and play
fighting. Behaviours of the children beforehand weren't considered and not re-test was done to see if the
behaviour learned was long term. The fact that the bobo doll was not alive, therefore cannot retailiate, and is
designed to be hit has penalised. Individual differences need also be taken into account as Johnson et al
explained that children who were most aggressive towards bob had been rated most aggressive in class, suggesting
personality factors may be more important than social learning. There are also ethical issues with using children as
encouraging aggression may have long term implications.
One strength with the social learning theory is that it can explain cultural differences in aggression, such as Amish
and !Kung San people are not aggressive and individual differences as aggressive behaviour is the result of
different learning experiences. Although Bandura doesn't deny the role of biology, SLT is reductionist as it relies on
social factors alone to explain our aggressive behaviour without considering other approaches such as our biology or
cognitions. Bandura's approach has also been used to explain eating disorders as well as gender development and
proposes that if maladaptive behaviour are learned, they can then be unlearned.

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In conclusion, the social learning theory makes cognitive sense that aggressive behaviours can be learned through our
social environment, explaining aggression through learning alone limits the approach. In order to establish a plausible
explanation to aggression, an interaction of psychology, biology and social factors must be taken into account. More
research is needed.…read more

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