Question 4 A2 Psychology


Social Learning Theory

Aggression is learned

Indirectly: through observational learningobserve what others are doing. Such behaviour is only repeated if vicarious reinforcement occurs.

Directly: when behaviour is performed, it may be directly reinforced and, more likely to be repeated. If it isn’t reinforced, the probability that it will be repeated decreases.

Both are examples of operant conditioning.

An individual learns:

a)      The value of aggressive behaviour

b)      To imitate specific acts of aggression

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Social Learning Theory

Bandura first outlined the Social Learning Theory and suggested there are 4 steps in the modelling process.

Attention – If a person is attractive, prestigious pr similar to you, you will pay more attention

Retention – actions must be remembered

Reproduction – vicarious reinforcement is not enough, imitation can only occur if the person processes appropriate skills

Motivation – imitation is related to direct and indirect reinforcement and punishments.

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Social Learning Theory

Bandura found that children who watched someone else behave aggressively towards a Bobo doll, they were more likely to be aggressive themselves later on, imitating specific actions when they were placed on their own with the doll.

Variations found that a filmed version was as effective as a live model

Imitation was more likely if:
- the model was rewarded. When the model was punished, the children did not imitate the behaviour. Shows observational learning only results in imitation when it is vicariously reinforced
- child identified with the model
- participant had low self-esteem

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Social Learning Theory Evaluation

Findings may be due to demand characteristics in an unfamiliar social situation

SLT can explain media influences on anti-social behaviour

Can explain the influence of coercive home environments. Parents solve disputes aggressively and children model their behaviour

Theory is oversimplified as people are not constantly rewarded for aggression. Often they are punished.

Research does not include the effects of emotional or biological factors. Bandura acknowledged that biological factors are part of any account

Can explain individual differences and can explain cultural differences

Explains the fact people imitate specific acts of violence

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Anonymitypresence of a crowd leads an individual members to feel anonymous and act according to a different set of rules than they would normally

Zimardo (1969) suggest:
-Individuated behaviour is rational, consistent with personal norms
-Deindividuated behaviour is unrestrained, acting in primitive impulses, and leads to anti-social acts

Being in a crowd leads to reduced private awareness rather than reduced public awareness. Normally, people are aware of their personal morals. But, within a group they may lose sight of ‘private’ principles and follow the group

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Zimbardo (1963) repeated Milgrams (1963) obedience experiments with participants either wearing a name tag or in a hood. When wearing a hood, participants gave more shocks.

Diener (1976) observed the behaviour of over 1,000 children on Halloween. House owners asked some of the children to give their names. Those who remained anonymous were more likely to steal some money and/or extra sweets when briefly left alone.

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Deindividuation Evaluation

Deindividuation leads to increased pro-social behaviour.

Johnson and Downing (1979) compared the behaviour of people wearing uniforms either like the Ku Klux Klan or like nurses. The later gave fewer shocks.

Individual can elect whether to behave autonomously; deindividuation is not inevitable

Led to useful practical applications. E.g. video cameras at football matches so people cans see themselves, be more publicly self-aware

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Sport in Human Displays of Aggression

Sport has been described as “Ritualised aggression” which has replaced tribal warfare in the modern society.

It has been suggested by Taylor and Lewis that victory in sport brings status to the team, players and the fans. Sportsmen are seen as being desirable to women as they can offer security and resources, with any success in sport helping to secure a mate.

It can also be viewed as being territorial, especially amongst fans. For the majority of the time, in team sports, the skills required to succeed are strength and athleticism, with certain levels of aggression being permitted, with success coming to those who work best as a team and are co-operative.

Behaviour displayed by those in sport can mirror those that would have made our ancestors successful hunter-gatherers and more attractive to women.

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Sport in Human Displays of Aggression

Cialdini (1976) called this “basking in reflected glory” and found that a University were more likely to wear team clothing when they did well, but disassociated themselves when they didn’t.

Another study, which supports the evolutionary explanation of group display in sport events, is the display shown by football hooligans across Europe.

Marsh (1978) found that football hooliganism is the human equivalent of ceremonial conflict that occurs in animal species. However, similarities between both are that it is exclusively male, involving strength over territory and not focussed on physical harm or death. Football hooligans tend to travel away to invade the opposites territory.

Group co-operation is important, with their intention being to humiliate the opposite’s fans and gain dominance, therefore gaining status and resources, without risking the survival of the group.

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Sport in Human Displays of Aggression Evaluation

The majority of studies into group displays in sport events rely on self reports and observations. This therefore makes the research subject to bias, as many individuals may have wanted to appear more or less aggressive than what they really are. It also causes social desirability bias, as many individuals, when being observed, want to make the researcher happy, and display the correct results.  

The theory fails to explain why women behave in aggressive ways during sport. It only looks at male behaviour in sport; however, with the growth of female football and rugby, similar behaviours are being seen. 

The findings found in the various research into human displays in sport, suggests that the ritualistic displays of aggression could have been culturally transmitted through the Social Learning Theory. This implies that the aggressive behaviour observed during sport, both on and off the field, could be done through observation when younger. If you observed others, either on TV or someone you know, being aggressive whilst playing sport, you are more likely to demonstrate similar behaviour when you are older.

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Warfare in Human Displays of Aggression

Any kind of combat, at first glance, may be seen as going against our evolutionary interest/instinct to survive, as it’s risky and likely to end in injury or death.  However, the benefits of forming and fighting in groups outweigh the costs, in terms of having a greater chance of survival as a group, rather than alone.

Group displays in warfare are aimed at gaining status, achieving dominance, securing or preserving territory and recourses, achieving sexual dominance and ensuring the continuity of the genetic line, especially when it may be threatened.

Therefore, the Evolutionary Theory sees combat as an on-going competition for scarce recourses in order for survival.

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Warfare in Human Displays of Aggression

In animal populations, competition is limited to territorial and mating rights or access to sustenance like food and water. This is likely to be one on one combat, which according to Taylor and Lewis (2009) only occurs in higher intelligent species.

When humans compete, it’s usually more than just fighting for food, with high intelligence, elaborate planning and sophisticated co-ordination giving them a perfect recipe for organised combat.

In 1991, 63% of the countries involved in the 20th century wars, did so for reasons like land disputes due to insufficient space and recourses (Diamond 1991). A famous example of this is the war between Japan and Germany during the Second World War. This example supports the evolutionary theory and the idea that combat during the time was for recourses and space.

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Warfare in Human Displays of Aggression

This allows us to examine how our ancestors would have valued “Warrior Culture” and so group displays in warfare, like the dispute between Japan and Germany, help gain status.

The majority of time, conflict is due to individuals wanting to improve their village gain status. Success in battle will make a warrior appear more attractive to women and improve chances of reproduction, furthering their genetic line.

Changon found that almost half of Yanomamo men have killed another man and those who are most successful are more attractive to women and lovers. He found that combat amongst the Yanomamo was the abduction of women from one village by another.

This can be seen in modern day warfare, where men fight to gain access to women. In Bosnia, more than 2000 women and girls were ***** by Serbian men, with the aim of getting them pregnant so they can raise the children. This also ensures that the Serbian bloodline continues.

Another example is the Vietnam War, with outright killing and ****; it created a generation of Amerasians in Vietnam. The Evolutionary explanation would suggest that the men were compelled by procreate with the enemy, for the fear that if they did die, at least their genetic line would continue.

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Warfare in Human Displays of Aggression Evaluation

Lehman and Feldman (2008) suggest that because group displays lead to a gain in territory, status, recourses and women, the ability to wage war successfully would then emerge as an adaptive trait; therefore those who possess the correct traits, like bravery, are more likely to survive, and even if they don’t, the tribe is more likely to survive as the traits will be passed on genetically.

However, such traits are difficult to test, especially those that are believed to be passed on genetically. This means that research such as this, is less reliable as you cannot tell why someone displays certain traits.

However, Mead suggests that warrior traits and groups displays of warfare are passed on culturally through social learning and learned cultural norms.

Inhuman behaviour, like the war **** displayed in a lot of research could be explained through social phenomena, such as deindividuation. This is because we are more likely to portray aggressive act if we are anonymous, or in a group. Therefore, if we are unrecognised, we are more likely to display behaviour which we wouldn’t usually.

The theory is also difficult to test as the majority of research is based on the behaviour of our ancestors. Therefore the explanation will remain as a ‘theory’ rather than a proven fact.

Although it is difficult to explain, it does offer an explanation as to why war is started and explains a lot of deaths and ****. However, it does also fail to explain why humans torture, when animals in aggressive setting hardly do so.

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Behaviour in Prisons

Zimbardo in his Stanford Prison experiment (1973) found that the aggressive behaviour of the prisoners and guards was due to situational rather than dispositional factors

However Haslam and Reicher (2006) argue that people do not simply behave according to assigned roles. Behaviour can be explained better with the Social Identity Theory.

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Low levels of serotonin are linked to aggression

Testosterone is a male hormone. High levels are associated with aggressiveness in animals, however, some experiments have not shown a relationship between testosterone levels and aggression in humans (Albert 1993)

High levels of adrenaline have also been linked to aggression; adrenaline is linked to the fight/flight response

Female hormone oestrogen and progesterone increase just before menstruation and have also been lined to greater hostility

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Neurotransmitters Evaluation

Testosterone has been linked to particular kinds of aggression – physical aggression. It may amplify it, but does not cause it (Simpson 2001)

Hormones may be an effect, rather than a cause of aggression

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Y Chromosome

Witkin (1976) found an over-representation of XYY men in prison populations. Been supported by later research

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Criminal Families

Mednick (1984) found adopted children whose biological fathers were criminals were more likely to become criminals themselves, than adopted children whose fathers weren’t criminals.

Suggests that a tendency to being criminal is in your genes

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MAOA gene

The gene is important in eliminating excess amounts of certain neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline and serotonin.

Caspi (2002)studied over 200 New Zealand men and found that those with low MAOA gene activity and had been abused in childhood, were four times more likely to have been convicted of a violent crime by age 26

Brunner (1993) studied a family of impulsive, aggressive males who also had a mutation in the gene coding for MAOA

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Selective Breeding

More/less aggressive breeds of dogs, bulls or other animals are developed by selecting suitable males and females for breeding

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Assumes being criminal is equal to being aggressive. However, many people in prison are there for crimes that are not connected with aggression

May be that certain genes are linked with low intelligence and less intelligent men are more likely to end up in prison

If hormones or genes are the cause of aggression, they can be used to reduce aggressive behaviour. However, drug therapies have not been found to be successful

Biological accounts explain the motivation to be aggressive, but not the methods used to target aggression.

Biological accounts cannot explain cultural differences

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Evolutionary Explanations

Konrad Lorenz proposed that aggression evolved in all animals because it is adaptive – most aggressive animals control access to resources like mating, territory and food.

Lorenz proposed a hydraulic model – certain environmental signals act as releaser of ‘action specific energy

This energy builds up and will eventually lead to an outburst of aggressive behaviour is not released earlier in some acceptable way such as engaging in sports

More recent evolutionary approach has been outlined by Buss (2005) where aggression is seen as a means of solving various adaptive problems

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Evolutionary Explanations Evaluation

Deterministic as it suggests that human’s aggressive behaviour may be inevitable in certain situations

Emphasises the positive aspects of aggression and recognises its survival value

It does not account for cultural differences

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Ritualised forms of Aggression

Lorenz also argued that intra-species aggression does not naturally lead to death or injury because this would lead to the extinction of the species.

Ritualised forms of aggression evolve to prevent actual harm taking place

In humans the lack of face-to-face contact in modern warfare may explain why warfare is lethal, whereas naturally it would not be

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Cited as one of the top three causes of murders

Various ways to explain why jealousy is a source of murder and aggression

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Evolutionary theory predicts a different response to infidelity in men and women because for each gender the loss of a partner has different consequences

Men are more concerned with sexual infidelity because they cannot be certain that any child is theirs unless their partner is sexually faithful and, from an evolutionary point of view, men do best by preventing sexual infidelity

Women are more concerned in the resources a partner can provide and do best if they do not share these with another woman.

Women have evolved a greater concern with emotional infidelity. Supported in a study by Buss (1992) Daly (1982) found the same was true for relationship violence – men were more violent when their partner was sexually unfaithful

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Male-to-male rivalry

Males compete with other males to gain access to females.

Competition arises because females tend to be the ones who choose and males compete with each other to be chosen.

Male-to-male violence is prevalent among young males in virtually all societies. (Daly and Wilson 1988)

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Female-to-female rivalry

Males prefer to mate with physically attractive females – linked to fertility (Buss 1989)

Buss and Dedden (1990) found that women were more likely than men to verbally belittle the physical appearance and promiscuity of their sexual rivals, a tactic that would reduce the attractiveness of a rival

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Sibling rivalry

Parental Investment Theory suggests that sibling rivalry has evolved in order for each child to try and maximise the resources allocated to that child inevitably at the expense of any other offspring

Harris (2004) suggests that this may be a better explanation of the origins of jealousy rather than infidelity

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Violence is not necessarily a natural outcome of jealousy

If it was, rates of uxoricide would be constant across cultures

Daly and Wilson (2006) report that the rates are twice as high in the US compared to the UK, but considerably lower that they were 20 years ago

Harris found cultural differencesEuropean and Asian men are less likely than American men to say sexual infidelity is worse. Suggests that cultural factors are more significant that innate factors  

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Drew Gordon


this is great, perfect for the new spec! thanks



Thanks so much! This is brilliant!

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