Social Learning Theory of Aggression

  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 22-09-14 22:26

SLT theory

5 Key points:

  • We can learn by observation and imitation.
  • We are more likely to imitate if the person we are observing is a role model, because we admire them, or relate to them. This is even more so if they are consistent in their behaviour, and the observer has a low opinion of themselves.
  • We also learn by vicarious reinforcement, which is when we see the consequences of other's, or our own, actions.
  • We can then choose to repeat these actions or not because of mental representations, which combine all the information on an action, and let us judge their sutiability for the situation.
  • Bandura does not ignore biology, and believes it does play a role in aggression, but you need to learn the act of aggression first.
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SLT:Banduras Bobo dolls

Banduras Bobo Doll

Three, four and five year olds observed an adult model aggressively acting towards a Bobo doll.

Those who saw the adult being reinforced for adult behaviour were consistently more aggressive themselves towards the doll, than those who has observed an adult being either reinforced or punished. Those who saw the adult being punished made fewest responses at all.

Further study: Children who has seen an adult being punished, but were themselves offered reward, had still learnt the behaviour. When offered the reward, they would show the behaviour.

Grounding: Bandura's study shows how vicarious reinforcement plays a huge role in the future appearance of a learnt behaviour. If a role model is punished, the behaviour is less likely to be imitated. It provides a case for mental representations, as all the children who were offered reward, despite earlier punishment, still knew the behaviour. This means that all behaviour can be learnt by observation, but the consequences around it allow a decision to made by the child.

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SLT: Walters and Thomas

Walters and Thomas  1963

Participants were set up in a Milgram-style laboratory, and led to believe they were giving a learner shocks. They were asked to choose what voltage to shock the learner with.

Participants who had watched a violent film before the experiment chose higher voltages than those who had watched a non-violent one.

Grouding: This supports Social Learning Theory because the participants seemed to been imitating more violent aggressive behaviour after observing it through the film. It seems to weaken their previous views. Also, films often portray role models, and violence in a glamorous way. This could justify the importance of role models in SLT.

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SLT: Individual research evaluation

Bandura Bobo Doll

Artificial environment and victim- the laboratory could have caused the children to act differently to normal; also the blow up doll is not alive, so the behaviour could have been learnt as 'play'. Therefore, external and internal validity is lowered, and results cannot be generalised to real life aggression. Grounding: This means the evidence cannot be used to completely justify the social learning theory of aggression, because the children may not imitate the behaviour on a real person, in a real life setting.

Walters and Thomas

The participants believed they were truly harming a human, and in this way this experiment is more internally valid. However it was still an artificial environment, as learning from real life could be different,and most displays of aggression doesn't use electric shocks. This reduces external validity, and cannot be generalised.  However the adults may be showing demand characteristics, and understood the hypothesis, and changed their behaviour. Also, this experiment was carried out in 1963; violent films could have more or less impact on people's behaviour now.

Grounding: Observation and imitation may be different in real life and modern life, so the research cannot fully justify the SLT theory.

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SLT: Overall research evaluation

  • The reserach is highly replicable, as it has high control over variables. This means it has fairly high internal validity.
  • The research has low ecological validity, as both pieces were carried out in laboratories, using artifical aggression and victims. In Bandura's study, the children were not hitting a real person, and we cannot generalise aggression shown to a doll to real people. Whilst Waletrs and Thomas's participants believed their violence was authentic, electric shocks aren't a everyday aggressive behaviour; can the results be generalised to wider aggression in public?
  • Temporal validity: Both experiments were carried out decades ago; people may be more or less susceptible to observation of aggression nowadays. The research could have lost historical validity.
  • Research could have been detrimental to participants, as they were made to be violent which could be distressing. The children in Bandura's study could have truly learnt aggression, and made them more violent individuals. No longer term observatiosn were made of participants, so we have little knowledge of the effect of the research.

Grounding: The research cannot fully justify the mechanism of 'observe and imitate' that is used in SLT, as it doesn't look at real life, just what happens in a laboratory. Therefore, SLT cannot be justified.

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SLT: IDA Nature v Nurture

DEBATE: Nature v Nurture

Social Learning Theory is key to this debate, as it encourages the idea that behaviour is developed from various stimuli throughout life, which the brain learns and imitates. We learn many things from role models, primarily parental figures, and why should aggression be any different. However, orphaned animals show aggression as an instinct; humans are animals too, so this should apply to us also. However, Bandura doesn't dismiss the biological explanation of aggression, saying that hormones or a genetic predisposition would make aggression more likely. However, he did insist that the behaviour must be learnt before being shown. This allows many practical applications to develop, combining biology and SLT to 'unlearn' behaviour.

This is positive for the theory, because it combines both side of the debate is a logical way, allowing for it to be applied.

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SLT: Wider Evaluation

Practical Applications:

SLT encourages the idea that if behaviour can be learnt, it can also be unlearnt. This means it has many applications and therapies to help people control their anger. This gives credit to the theory because it has many uses. People have benefitted from therapy already.

Less violence shown on the TV,  or if it is it must be shown to be punished. 


One problem is the fact that many experiments for SLT were conducted on animals. This is unethical, but also means we cannot generalise the results to humans, as they behave differently for different reasons.This removed some validity from the theory, as the research which supports it may not be as relevant as once thought.

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