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Outline and Evaluate One SocialPsychological explanation of Aggression (8+16) (200+400 words)
Social Learning Theory
One social psychological explanation for Aggressive behaviours is Social Learning Theory. Developed by
Bandura, SLT states that aggressive behaviour is learnt through the observation of role models. Although it is
similar to Traditional Learning theory, it places greater emphasis on the role of cognition. To be effective the
observer goes through 4 stages, the first being attention in which is the observer simply notices the behaviour
being performed by the model. Retention involves the observer storing the information as a memory about the
behaviour in order for it to be imitated through the action stage.
There also needs to be motivation for the observer to carry out the action, if they have a high selfefficacy they
are more likely to have motivation to carry out the behaviour as they have greater belief in their abilities.
Vicarious reinforcement also provides motivation to imitate, if the models actions are observed to have negative
consequences (e.g. being shouted at), the behaviour is less likely to be imitated compared to if there was positive
consequences (being praised) which increases motivation. Other factors such as similarities to the model
influence motivation, (e.g. age or gender) the more similar the observer is to the model the more likely the
behaviour will be imitated.
There is a large amount of research evidence that provides support for SLT and the learning of aggressive
behaviours. For example Banduras 1961 study showed that the children who observed the aggressive model
showed more aggressive behaviours towards the Bobo Doll. This study supports the idea that aggressive
behaviour is learned through observation of a model as in comparison the children who did not observe the
aggressive model showed fewer aggressive behaviours towards the doll.
Although this study provides support for the theory, there are problems with its validity that can undermine the
support it provides. One problem is the fact that the aggressive behaviour was not directed towards another
human, if this had have been the case then behaviour may have been different. Furthermore, the purpose of the
Bobo Doll in its design is to be hit, the behaviours the child exhibited may not in fact have been aggressive but
rather a form of play. As well as this, demand characteristics due to the artificiality of the situation could have
been an influence the children may have thought that such behaviours were expected of them.
Further research to support the validity of SLT is from Rizzolatti's study into Mirror Neurons. Although this
research is still in its early stages and so the validity is somewhat weakened, it still provides excellent evidence
into the concept of vicarious reinforcement, it also gives SLT a biological grounding in explaining behaviours.
There are also ethical concerns raised by the studies into the learning of aggressive behaviour, the main one
being that is it ethical to use children in research. The exposure to the aggressive behaviour may influence their
future development, and follow up studies are rarely undertaken. But because the exposure is brief and not long
term, the potential risk of future behaviour being affected is low.
SLT supports the issue of nurture and environmental determinism as it states that aggressive behaviour is a
result of our environment and is caused by external factors that we can't control. But, this view can be criticised
as it does not take into account the role of biology or free will. For example, an excess of testosterone may make
aggressive behaviour more likely to occur, or the person may have a personal reason or intent to carry out an
aggressive act towards another. SLT cannot provide us with a definite cause of aggressive behaviour because
there is no interaction between other influences.