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Outline and Evaluate the social-psychological explanation of
aggression (24 Marks)
Social learning theory suggests that children learn aggressive behaviour by observing
others act aggressively. They learn under which situations people are rewarded for
aggressive behaviour (i.e. through vicarious reinforcement) and under which
situations they are punished. As a result, they learn under which situations
aggressive behaviour is appropriate (where they are likely to be rewarded) and will
not act aggressively if they are likely to be punished.
For social learning to take place the child must have a mental representation of the
aggressive behaviour as well as expectancies of any future outcome of them
performing that behaviour. If any future opportunity arises where they can act
aggressively they will do so as long as the expectancies of reward exceed the
expectancies of punishment.
The SLT theory is supported by Bandura et al who found that children who were
exposed to a model acting aggressively towards a Bobo doll also repeated the same
behaviour. The children even improvise their own aggressive action towards the doll.
This was particularly the case when the model was seen to be rewarded for acting
aggressively. Therefore, this provides reliable evidence for the SLT theory and so
supports the idea that reward influences the likelihood of the aggressive behaviour
This study may contain demand characteristics as the child may have worked out
what the experimenters wanted and what the study was testing. Thus this decreases
the validity of the study as it may not have tested what it set out to test. This then
means that it doesn't provide reliable support for the SLT theory suggesting that the
SLT theory may not be applicable to real life aggression. This study also used a Bobo
doll which doesn't represent real life aggression towards real people as hitting a doll
is not the same as hitting a real person. However, in a subsequent study using a
clown, the researchers also found similar results to Bandura's and so demonstrates
that this study does provide reliable evidence to support the SLT theory of
aggression towards other people.
Bandura's study also contains ethical issues as it could have caused psychological
and emotional harm to the children. Since then, laws have been made to ensure that
studies such as Bandura's aren't repeated in order to minuses the effect of
psychological and emotional harm. This means that this study cannot be subjected to
experimental validation and so this theory cannot be tested to its maximum limit.
In contrast, a major strength of the SLT theory is that it van explain aggressive
behaviour in the absence of reinforcement. The children of the Bobo doll's study
weren't directly reinforced for acting aggressively towards the doll, thus the concept
of vicarious reinforcement is important in explaining these behaviours.
The Deindividuation theory may explain aggressive behaviour. Deindividuation is
where a person loses their sense of identity and becomes anonymous which can lead
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It involves the loss of public awareness (concern about how
others view you) and loss of private awareness (concern about your own thoughts
and feeling). This loss of self-awareness minimises the concern about how other
evaluate you and about your own moral standards, thus weakening the normal
barriers to aggression.
Deindividuation can occur when you become anonymous (effectively reducing
accountability) by becoming a member of a large group or by wearing a mask.…read more