What is the debate?

It is questionable whether social theories are sufficient in themselves to explain human aggression.

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Outline Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory (SLT; Bandura) suggests that human aggre**ion is learned through indirect reinforcement, where a person receives vicarious positive reinforcement by observing aggre**ive behaviour being positively reinforced in a role model (attention). If memorised (retention), the observer will reproduce the aggre**ive behaviour in anticipation of a similar level of positive reinforcement (motivation). This proce** is called modelling and is only likely if the person believes that they have the self-efficacy, or the nece**ary skills to perform the behaviour. Finally, once the aggre**ive behaviour has succe**fully been imitated, it is further reinforced through direct reinforcement (operant conditioning- Skinner).

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Give research evidence to support SLT

Convincing evidence to support the Social Learning of aggression comes from Bandura's Bobo Doll experiment, which showed that children were more likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour of an adult role model if they had seen the model being rewarded for the behaviour (with a sweet and a drink), rather than punished, especially if they identified with the model (e.g. same gender). This suggests that social learning theories may be a sufficient explanation of aggression, as the children were motivated to reproduce the same behaviour because of vicarious reinforcement.

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Give AO3 evaluation of Bandura's study

A criticism of Bandura's study is that it has high psychological harm; this is when the procedure causes participants to experience mental distress, such as loss of self-esteem. This is because some psychologists argue that the children may have experienced a long term change in behaviour due to this study. 

However, if were to not accept Bandura's study as truly showing aggression it can be criticised for low internal validity; the procedure does not measure what it intended. As it is impossible to tell if the children were merely play fighting or genuinely being aggressive as the Bobo Doll is designed to be hit. If this is true it can also be criticised for high demand characteristics; where participants perceive the demands of the study and act accordingly. This is because the children were led into a room with a range of toys; including a bobo doll and a hammer.

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Outline deindividuation

Deindividuation in aggression is the loss of personality in social situations (crowds or wearing clothes to hide identity). As a result personality in lost by following group norms showing more aggression. 

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Give research evidence to support deindividuation

Research to support deindividuation in aggression comes from Zimbardo; who replicated Milgrams study, finding those wearing a name badge were less likely to shock than those wearing a hoodie. Also Diener found that on Halloween deindividuated children were more likely to steal sweets or money, than those with less extensive costumes. Silke also found those disguised committed 41% of  crimes and are more likely to show a higher level of violence in Northern Ireland.

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Give a criticism of deindividuation

However, psychologists argue that not all people show anti-social behaviour (peace protests). Also Marsh found very little evidence that actual violence occurred amongst football crowds despite behaviour threatening violence. Meaning deindividuation doesn’t cause violent behaviour.

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Give 3 strengths of Social explanations

In support of Social explanations, being from the behavioural Approach, a strength of SLT is that it is parsimonious because it is justifiably simplistic in its explanation of aggression, as it explain aggressive or non-aggressive behaviour in simple terms that have been justified by research (Bandura). 

Therefore, another strength is that SLT is culturally absolute because it can be fairly applied to all cultures. This is because all cultures have either aggressive or non-aggressive role models from which people learn. For example, it explains the presence of non-aggressive communities, such as the Amish (USA), as non-aggressive behaviour must be learned from within this community. 

Furthermore, a final strength of SLT is that research to support it is scientific, because it used objective, empirical methods, in which aggression have been successfully observed (such as in Bandura's Bobo Doll experiment).

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Give 2 criticisms of Social explanations

Conversely, deindividuation can be criticised for being constrained, because it suggests our free will is limited by factors outside of our control. However, this can be proved to be untrue as non-aggressive communities such as the Amish wear the same uniforms yet do not show aggression in deindividuation, therefore meaning we must have free will in choosing to be aggressive. 

For similar reasons, SLT can be further criticised for ignoring the role of nature, as it only emphasised the importance of environmental learning in our aggressive behaviour. In this way it ignored the influence of genetic factors, such as the Q20* gene, which have been shown to influence aggressive behaviour.

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What is the conclusion?

Despite their limitations, it is clear that social theories are sufficient in themselves to describe aggression because of the range of aggressive behaviours they explain.

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