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  • Created on: 12-03-15 19:52

Social Learning Theory AO1

SLT suggests we learn through observing others. However this theory also takes biology into account, stating that a persons biological makeup creates a potential for aggression and it is the actual expression of aggression which is learned.

As opposed to Skinner's operant conditioning theory which claimed learning takes place through direct reinforcement, Bandura suggests children learn through observing role models with whom they identify. They also learn about the consequences of aggressive behaviour by observing others being rewarded or punished (vicarious reinforcement). Therefore children learn the behaviours through observing and then learn whether it is worth repeating through vicarious reinforcement.

Children will be more likely to repeat a behaviour if they are rewarded for the behaviour. A child who has a history of successfully bullying other children will therefore come to attatch considerable value to aggression.

Children may also become confident in their ability to carry out necessary aggressive actions. Children who have found aggression to not work well in the past will have a lower sense of self-efficacy in their ability to use agression to resolve conflicts and so may turn to other means.

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Social Learning Theory AO2


  • Bandura (1961) Bobo Doll study.
  • Bandura and Walters (1963) children shown a video of adult acting aggressively to Bobo doll. In condition 1 the children saw the adult be rewarded, in condition 2 the children saw the adult be punished and in condition 3 there was no consequence for the action. Children who had seen the adult be rewarded were more likely to act aggressively, those who had seen the adult be punshed showed a low level of aggression and those who had seen no consequence were somewhere in the middle. 
  • Phillips (1963) daily homicide rates in the US almost always increased following a major boxing match which suggests that viewers were imitating behaviour they had watched (highly correlational; large difference between boxing and homicide)


  • Sample bias: most research is on children. They may be more likely to be aggressive merely because they're more impressionable.
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Social Learning Theory AO2


  • Laboratorties - lack ecological validity.
  • Studies only look at immediate impact of watching a role model act violently and don't conisder the long term effects.
  • Charlton (2000) children observed before and after introduction of television to see if exposure to images of people behaving violently would increase their aggression but no such effect was found.
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Deindividuation AO1

Zimbardo (1969) introduced the theory of deindividuation, whereby people, when part of a relatively anonymous group, lose their personal identity and hence their inhibitions about violence.

Prentice-Dunn (1982) a reduction in public and private self-awarenedd characterises deindividuation. Increase in behaviour which is usually inhibited by personal or social norms.

State of deindividuation is aroused when individuals join crowds or large groups. Factors which contribute to deindividuation include anonymity and altered conciousness due to drugs or alcohol (Zimbardo 1969). These same conditions may lead to prosocial behaviour such as at music festivals or religious gatherings.

People normally refrain from acting in an aggressive manner due to social norms inhibiting uncivillised behaviour and partly because the individual is easily identifyable (and so more likely to be held accountable for their actions). Being anonymous has the psychological consequence of reducing inner restraints and the feeling of being unaccountable for ones actions which increases behaviours which are usually inhibited. Zimbardo states that being part of a crowd can diminish awareness of out own individuality. In a large crowd we are faceless and anonymous - the larger the crowd, the greater the anonymity. This leads to reduced feelings of guilt and worry over negatve evaluation by others.

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Deindividuation AO2


  • Zimbardo (1969) four undergrads to deliver electric shocks to another student. Half the participants were never referred to by name and their faces were covered. The other participants wore normal cloths and were given large name tags. People in the anonymous group shocked the learner for twice as long as those in the plain clothes group.
  • Rehm etal (1987) randomly assigned German schoolchildren to handball teams of 5, half the teams wearing the same orange shirts and the other half in their normal street clothes. Those in the orange shirts were consistently more aggressive.
  • Mullens (1986) analysed newpaper cuttings of 60 lynchings from 1899 to 1946. Found that the more people in the crowd, the more severe the killing was.


  • Postmes and Spears (1998) meta-analysis of 60 studies concluded that there was insufficient support for the major claims of deindividuation theory. For example, disinhibition and antisocial behaviours are not more common in large groups and anonymous settings. Neither was there much evidence that deinidividuation is associated with reduced self-awareness.
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Deindividuation AO2/3


  • Spivey and Prentice-Dunn (1990) found that deindividuation could lead to prosocial or antisocial behaviour depending on the situation.


  • Gender differences: Cannavale et al (1970) found that an increase in aggression was only found in the all-male groups. Diener et al (1973) supports this, found greater deinhibition in males.
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Neurotransmitters AO1

Neurotransmitters: chemicals that enable impulses within the brain to be transmitted from one area of the brain to another.

Serotonin: reduces aggression by inhibiting responses to emotional stimuli which might otherwise cause an aggressive response. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with an increased susceptibility to impulsive behaviour and aggression. Mann et al (1990) gave healthy participants a drug which is known to deplete serotonin. Using a questionnaire to assess hostility and aggression that found dexfenfluramine treatment in males (not females) was associated with increased hostility and aggresion scores.

Dopamine: some evidence to suggest that high levels of dopamine are linked to aggression. For example, use of amphetamines (which increase dopamine) has been associated with an increase in aggressive behaviour (Lavine 1997). Also, antipsychotics which reduce dopamine activity have been shown to reduce aggressive behavior in violent delinquents (Buitelaar 2003)

Scerbo and Raine (1993) meta-analysis of 29 studies. Found consistently lower levels of serotonin in individuals described as being aggressive but found no significant link between dopamine levels and aggression.

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Neurotransmitters AO2


  • Raleigh et al (1991) study of vervet monkeys found that those who had diets which were high in tryptophan (increases serotonin) exhibited decreased levels of aggression and vice versa.
  • Popova et al (1991) increase, over generations, in brain concentrations of serotonin in animals specifically bred for domestication.
  • Bond (2005) found that antidepressants which increase serotonin levels tend to reduce irritability and impulsive aggression.
  • Couppis and Kennedy (2008) found that a reward pathway in the brain is enganged in response to an aggresive event and that dopamine is involved as a positive reinforcer in this pathway. This suggests that people may seek out aggressive situations because they recieve a rewarding sensation from it.


  • It's difficult to study dopamine links experimentally because lowering dopamine levels also makes it difficult for animals to move, meaning that it's difficult to establish whether there is a decrease in aggression due to a lack of motivation or due to difficulty in moving.
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Testosterone is thought to influence aggression from young adulthood onwards due to its action on brain areas involved in controlling aggression.

  • Dabbs et al (1987) measured testosterone in criminals and found that those with the highest levels had a history of primarily violent crimes whereas those with the lowest levels had committed only non-violent crimes. 
  • Lindman et al (1987) found that young men who acted aggressively when drunk had higher levels of testoserone than those who did not act aggressively.
  • Dabbs et al (1988) female prisoners testosterone levels were highest in cases of unprovoked violence and lowers where violence was defensive (e.g. domestic abuse).
  • Albert et al (1993) claim that there is inconsistent evidence on the link between testosterone and aggression.
  • Most studies which show a positive correlation used small samples and often focus on prisons.
  • It's difficult to operationalise aggression and levels of testosterone (what is a high level for one person may be completely normal for another.
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Biological Explanations A03

  • Reductionism: link between biological mechanisms and agression are well established in non-human animals however the link isn't so clear in humans. Human social behaviour is complex and a biological explanation alone is insufficient to explain the different aspects of aggressive behaviour.
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