Social Learning theory


Key assumptions

  • Bandura agreed with the behaviourist approach that learning occurs through experience. However, he also proposed that learning takes place in a social context through observation and imitation of other's behaviour.
  • Children (and adults) observe other people's behaviour and take note of its consequences.
  • Behaviour that is seen to be rewarded (reinforced) is much more likely to be copied than behaviour that is punished (vicarious reinforcement).

Identification -

  • Children are more likely to imitate the behaviour of people with whom they identify. Such role models are similar to the observer, tend to be attractive and have high status.
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Mediational processes

There are four mediational processes:

  • Attention - when behaviour is noticed
  • Retention - whether behaviour is remembered
  • Motor reproduction - being able to do it
  • Motivation - the will to perform behaviour
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Bandura's research

1 -

  • Children watched an adult either:
    • Behaving aggressively towards a Bobo doll.
    • Behaving non-aggressively towards a Bobo doll.

When given their own doll to play with, the children who had seen aggression were much more aggressive towards the doll.

2 -

  • Children saw an adult who was either:
    • Rewarded
    • Punished
    • Neither rewarded nor punished

When given their own doll to play with, the chldren who saw the aggression rewarded were much more agressive themselves.

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Children model aggressive behaviour

  • The Bobo doll studies suggest that children are likely to imitate acts of violence if they observe these in an adult role model.
  • It is also the case that modelling aggressive behaviour is more likely if such behaviour is seen to be rewarded (vicarious reinforcement).
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Strength - Importance of cognitive factors

  • Neither classical conditioning nor operant conditioning can offer a comprehensive account of human learning on their own because cognitive factors are omitted.
  • Humans and animals store information about the behaviour of others and use this to make judgements about when it is appropriate to perform certain actions.
  • SLT provides a more complete explanation of human learning than the behaviourist approach by recognising the role of mediational processess.

Counter argument: Relies too heavily on evidence from lab studies:

  • Many of Bandura's ideas were developed through observation of children's behaviour in lab settings and this raises the problem of demand characteristics.
  • The main purpose of a Bobo doll is to hit it. So the children in those studies may have been behaving as they thought was expected.
  • Thus the research may tell us little about how children actually learn aggression in everyday life.
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Limitation - underesimates the influence of biolog

  • A consistent finding in the Bobo doll experiements was that boys showed more aggression than girls, regardless of the specifics of the experimental condition.
  • This may be explained by differences in the levels of testosterone, which is present in greater quantities in boys and is linked to aggression.
  • This means that Bandura may have underplayed the important influence of biological factors on social learning.

Counter argument: can account for cultural differences in behaviour:

  • Social learning principles can account for how children learn from other people around them, as well as through the media, and this can explain how cultural norms are transmitted.
  • This has proved useful in understanding a range of behaviours such as how children come to understand their gender role.
  • In contrast, the biological approach can only explain universal behaviours because human processes do not change with culture.
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Strength - less determinist

  • Bandura emphasised reciprocal determinism - we are influenced by our environment, but we also exert an influence upon it through the behaviours we choose to perfrom.
  • This element of choice suggests that there is some free will in the way we behave.
  • This is a more realistic anf flexible position than is suggested by the behaviourist approach as it recognises the role we play in shaping our own environment.
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