Social Psychological Theories of Aggression - Social Learning Theory

Notes outlining the social psychological theories of aggression, focusing on the social learning theory. With relevant research examples and evaluative points.

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  • Created on: 15-06-11 10:50
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Aggression -
Social psychological theories of aggression:
There are several broad approaches to explaining aggression, such as by
reference to biology. However, social psychological theories see aggression as
arising out of social interactions.
Social Learning Theory:
Although animal aggression tends to be a result of instinctual drives, the Social
Learning Theory sees human aggression as learned in two ways, both involving
operant conditioning:
Direct Reinforcement - when a behaviour is directly rewarded, making it
likely to be repeated again.
Indirect Reinforcement - when behaviour is observed and imitated
through vicarious learning.
Through social learning, humans learn the value of aggressive behaviour and how
and when to imitate specific acts of aggression.
Bandura (1965) outlined four steps of modelling:
Attention - attention is paid to high-status role models
Retention - observed behaviours are needed to be memorised
Reproduction - imitation only occurs if a person has the skills to reproduce
the observed behaviour
Motivation - direct and indirect reinforcements influence the motivation
to imitate the observed behaviour
Although a role model is necessary for imitation, good levels of self-efficacy
(confidence) are also required.
There are many sources of aggression for social learning to occur through, but
media influences form the bias of much research. It has been found that if an
observer identifies with the perpetrator of an aggressive act and/or the act of
aggression is realistic and believable, it is more likely to be imitated. However,
if the perpetrator of an aggressive act is punished for their behaviour, it
decreases the chances of the behaviour being imitated.

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Bandura et al (1961-1963) showed children various scenarios involving
aggressive behaviour being performed on a Bobo doll. He found that the
children were likely to behave aggressively after being deliberately
frustrated, and imitated the specific behaviours they had observed
through the films.…read more

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Ethical Issues - there are doubts about the possibility of distress and
the potential long-term consequences for encouraging children to be
Huesmann (1988) reported that children use television role models to direct
their own actions. Observed aggressive acts are stored in memory, where
they are strengthened and elaborated through repetition. They are used to
guide behaviour in situations perceived as appropriate, suggesting that
media influences are a source of social learning.…read more


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