Humn development: Social learning theory

Revision cards outlining the social learning theory in health and social care unit 12 (human development: factors & theorists), including the main concepts of the theory, application to other areas of development and an evaluation of the theory.

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What is the social learning theory?

The social learning theory suggests that learning takes place in three ways:

As a result of reinforcement

By modelling

By extracting cognitions from observed examples of behaviour

These will now be explained in detail.

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This is, as with Skinnner, the idea that the consequences of behaviour can influence learning. Methods of reinforcement include; reward, encouragement, punishment and discouragement.

However, Social learning theory differs from Skinners learning theory in that it builds on reinforcement with other theories about how children learn.

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This is observing the behaviour of others (for children this is usually siblings,  same-sex parents, or same sex adults), often referred to as role models, and imitating this. Children can learn new behaviours simply by observing them, even if they aren't reinforced.

As children develop, particularly through the school years, peers become important role models.

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Extracting cognitions

Extracting cognitions

Children often look for patterns or rules in common behaviour observed by them. This allows them to establish the 'rules of behaviour', or the common beliefs about how people should act and behave. For example by observing the lies their parents may tell, they learn when it is and is not appropriate to tell lies.

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Agents of socialisation

Agents of socialisation

This refers collectively to the media (television, magazines, radio and books), peers, siblings, parents, teachers and other carers, or indeed anybody with whom the child has contact with.

The social learning theory emphasises learning from other people (for example as modelling) and may use the term 'agents of socialisation'. This refers to those listed above, as things which may influence the behaviour of a child.

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Application to pro and anti social behaviour

Antisocial and prosocial behaviour

The social learning theory defines the learning of all behaviours as through a process of reinforcement, modelling and the extraction of cognitions. For prosocial behaviour, this may mean a child demonstrates a behaviour, such as helping with the washing up, and recieves a reward such as praise or a sticker, and therefore repeats the behaviour. They may also see siblings helping with the washing up, and imitate this. Alternatively, they may visit various homes (of peers, family members or what they see on television) and see that children help with the washing up, establishing this as a rule of behaviour and the right thing to do

Antisocial behaviours  can be learned in similar ways, for example seeing aggressive behaviour in their parents may lead to a child demonstrating this behaviour themselves.

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The development of sex differences

The development of sex differences

Children can develop beahviour that is consistent with the gender roles they observe from agents of socialisation; for example girls may be rewarded for taking an interest in their appearance, whereas boys may be rewarded for aggressive behaviour.

When children become aware of their gender, they often observe and imitate models who are the same gender as them, including media influences.


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Language development

Language development

For the social learning theory, this is very similar to Skinners learning theory, however it takes account of cognitions and also includes modelling as an explanation.

There is clearly an element of imitation involved in language development, for example children developing similar accents to their parents, however children don't always imitate exactly what they hear; they may cut out function words (such as auxilliary verbs). Children often develop the rules of grammar without being taught, and instead extract rules and cognitions from other words they have heard (for example adding an 's' to pluralise a word.

However, the speed at which infants acquire language suggests maturational influences, making the theory incomplete.

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Evaluation of social learning theory: positives

There are many positive aspects to the social learning theory, for example as well as being plausible, it's also well supported by evidence from human's and not animals. This evidence looks at a range of behaviours, allowing the theory to be applied to a diverse variety of areas within child and human development.

It shares many of the advantages of Skinner's learning theory, plus the added positive that it takes cognitions into account.

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Evaluation of social learning theory; negatives

It is still not entirely complete; it focuses on the social influences on human behaviour but doesn't look at maturational or genetic influences.

It also looks only at social learning, disregarding theories such as Piagets idea of discovery learning (learning through play and direct experience, including solitary play)

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Implications of social learning theory for child r

Parents should be careful, not only with which behaviours they choose to reward or punish, but also with the behaviours which they demonstrate themselves, as children may choose to use them a role model and imitate their behaviour.

Parents should also avoid providing inconsistent or contradictory information.

Social learning theory suggests allowing children to learn through reinforcement, modelling and through extracting their own cognitions is more effective than simply instructing children on how to and how not to behave.

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