Describe and evaluate 2 social psychological explanations of aggression

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Psychology unit 3

Describe and evaluate 2 social psychological theories of aggression


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#1 Social Learning Theory

SLT claims aggressive behaviour is either learned by direct or indirect experiences

  • Indirect experiences occur when a child imitates the behaviour of a role model
  • Direct experiences are derived from Skinner's principle of operant conditioning

Indirect experiences (Skinners Principle)

For behaviour to be imitated it must be seen as rewarding

The likelihood of a person behaving aggressively depends on their previous experiences:

  • The degree to which the behaviour was successful
  • The chance of their behaviour being rewarded or punished
  • The cognitive, social and environmental factors operating at the time
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Bandura's Bobo Doll Study

66 nursery children divided into 3 groups and all three groups shown a video of an adult behaving aggressively towards a bobo doll

  • Group 1: stopped watching after the model behaved aggressively
  • Group 2: shown the model being rewarded
  • Group 3: shown the model being punished

They were then placed in a room with the bobo doll and several other toys. Their behaviour was recorded.


  • Group 1 responded spontaneously towards the doll
  • Group 2 were the most aggressive
  • Group 3 were the least aggressive.
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Evaluation of study

  • Methodological issues:
    • Bobo doll is an inanimate object
    • raises the question on whether this study tells us about imitation of aggression towards humans
    • children may also react differently to watching it in real life than in a video
  • Ethical issues:
    • Exposes children to violence however they didn't continue to show signs of aggression
    • Experiment was well planned, controlled and executed but used a small sample so lacks generalisability
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  • Culture differences
    • Culture of violence theory proposes that some cultures emphasise non-aggressive behaviour
      • More likely to produce individuals with low levels of aggression
  • SLT explains differences in levels of aggression in different cultures
  • Is applicable to home and classroom situations
  • Emphasises nurture over nature
  • Reductionist
      • ignores biological explanations which stresses factors unrelated to SLT High levels of testosterone found in many cases of aggression
  • Fails to explain why people carry on acting aggressively without positive reinforcement
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#2 Deindividuation

  • People refrain from acting aggressively and antisocially because:
    • they would be easily identified
    • they belong to a society that has strong norms against such behaviour

The concept has been refined to distinguish between effects of reduced public self awareness and reduced private self awareness

Mann explained a form of collective behaviour: The baiting crowd.

    • Mann analysed 21 incidents of suicide recorded in American newspapers 1960s-1970s
    • 10/21 cases where crowds gathered to watch, baiting had occurred
    • darkness, size of crowd and distance were likely to produce a state of deindividuation
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Zimbardo's Study

  • Evaluation of Mann: 
    • Methodological issues: the newspapers used could be biased when reporting the situation
    • Small sample group is used: lacks generalisability

Zimbardo's study:

  • Female students delivered electric shocks to another student
    Half wore bulky lab coats and hoods to hide faces, never referred to by names and were spoken to in groups
  • Other half wore normal clothes, name tags, introduced to each other and could dimly see each other when giving shocks
  • Students receiving shocks pretended to be in extreme discomfort, writhing, twitching and finally tearing their hand away
    • Hooded deindividuated participants gave twice as many shocks as individuated group
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  • Evidence shows that deindividuation can produce increases in pro social behaviour
  • Has had much research put into it
    • There is little doubt that there is no connection between aggression and deindividuation
  • Researchers often fail to distinguish between effects of anonymity of those being aggressed against or the anonymity of those doing the aggressing
  • Whether the likelihood of aggression is increased if our in group doesn't recognise us or if only our out group cannot
  • Reductionist
    • Doesn't take into consideration other explanations such as operant conditioning, Social Learning Theory and biological explanations.
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