The Social Learning Theory of Aggression

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The Social Learning Theory of
What is the social learning theory of aggression?
The social learning theory (SLT) was developed mainly by Bandura, and it suggests that aggression is
learnt from the environment through reinforcement and the process of modelling. Modelling involves
learning through the observation of other people, which could lead to imitation if the behaviour
which is imitated is seen to have desirable consequences.
Albert Bandura said that aggressive behaviour is learnt through:
Direct experience. Aggression could be learnt through operant conditioning; so behaviours
are learnt through punishments and rewards.
Vicarious experience (observational learning). This is where behaviour is learnt through
watching others and learning from them, i.e. watching others be aggressive.
SLT argues we learn aggression by observing aggressive acts of significant role models, imitating
these acts because they have been reinforced.
Once aggression has been observed as being rewarding, a number of factors affect the likelihood of
the observer being aggressive:
1. The previous experience of aggression
2. How successful their past aggressive behaviour was
3. The chances of reward or punishment on the occasion
4. External factors (noise/heat/retaliation).
Bandura also stated that cognitive factors were also important when it came to the likelihood of
aggressive behaviour:
Attention. A person has to pay attention to the behaviour of the model if it is to be imitated.
Models need to be significant in order to be attended to.
Retention. The behaviour has to be remembered if it is to be imitated.
Reproduction. The observer has to be able to replicate behaviour. They also need to have
the skills or equipment to replicate it.
Motivation. The observer must want to imitate the behaviour.
Key Research:
Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961):
Aim: To demonstrate that learning can occur through observation of a model and that imitation can
occur in the absence of that model.

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There were 72 children, 36 boys and 36 girls, with a mean age of 52 months.
There were three conditions:
- Aggressive model shown
-Non-aggressive model shown
-Control condition, no model shown.
A matched pairs design was used with 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) in each condition, with an
effort to match subjects according pre-existing levels of aggression. Also, in the experimental
-half the subjects observed a same sex model
-the other half observed a model in the opposite sex.…read more

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Aggression was shown and imitated against a bobo doll, not a real person-may lack mundane realism.
Aggression was induced in and taught to, children. Exposure to an adult's aggression may have been
frightening for the children.
This research provides reasonable support for the SLT idea that behaviour can be learnt through
observation and not direct experience.
Bandura (1963)
66 nursery children were put into three groups.
Each group watched a film where an adult model was aggressive towards a bobo doll.…read more

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Cultural differences in aggressive behaviour
There are different levels of aggression being taught in different cultures. The `Theory of Violence'
(Wolfgang and Ferracun) shows that some cultures emphasise the aggressive behaviour while others
learn from non-aggressive models and are likely to produce individuals who have low levels of
Social Learning Theory versus Biology
The male hormone testosterone has said to have been linked to, or even cause, aggression.…read more


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