Social Learning Theory

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  • Created by: hannah8
  • Created on: 05-05-14 18:00


We learn the specifics of aggressive behaviour (e.g. form/how often) by observing others

do not ignore biological factors- they create potential


It is the actual expression that's learned.

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- Children learn aggressive responses through observation of role models with whom they identify

- Also learn the consequences by watching others being reinforced/punished
+ This is vicarious reinforcement

- Witness examples at home, on television, and at school

- By observing consequences of behaviour/those who use it, they learn:

1) What is considered appropriate conduct in the world

2) Whether it is worth repeating

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Child is rewarded for a behaviour = more likely to repeat the same action in similar circumstances in future

E.g. A child who successfully bullied someone will attach more value to aggression

Children develop:

1) Expectancies of the outcomes
2) Confidence in their ability for aggression

- Aggressive behaviour in the past being disastrous = Children have less confidence / low sense of self-efficacy in ability to solve conflicts with aggression

Therefore look for other means

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Bobo Doll study: What happened



Male/female, 3-5 years old, 2 groups

One group:
- Exposed to adults acting aggressively with dolls
- Shown attractive toys they could not play with (increase frustration)

Second group:
- Exposed to non-aggressive adults

1/3 of first group reproduced large amount of verbal/physical aggression, 2nd group exhibited virtually none

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Bobo Dolls: The next study

- Does tell us that children learn aggressive responses as a result of watching others
- Doesn't tell us why a child would replicate them in absence of the model

BANDURA & WALTERS conducted another study
+ Children who saw models being rewarded = showed high level in own play
+ Children who saw models being punished = showed low level
+ No-reward, no-punishment control group = somewhere in between

BANDURA: This is vicarious learning

Children learned about likely consequences of actions --> adjusted their behaviour accordingly

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Strength 2/3 (Applicabilty to adults)

Can also be applied to adults as well as children

PHILLIPS: Daily homicide rates in the US increased in the week after a major boxing match

Implies that views had imitated behaviour they watched

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Strength 3/3 (Culture of violence)

Can explain differences in aggressive/non-aggressive behaviour both between and within people

+ 'Culture of violence' theory
+ Suggests some cultures develop norms that sanction violence more than the dominant culture

+ Some cultures may emphasise and model non-aggressive behaviour
+ Differences within individuals can be related to selective reinforcement and context-dependent learning
+ People respond differently in different situations
+ So aggression is rewarded in some situations but not others

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Weakness 1/2 (Bobo Doll validity issues)


- Found validity issues with the Bobo Doll studies
- Demand characteristics
'Look mummy, there's the doll we have to hit'

- Studies focus on doll, not a person who would hit back


+ Countered this argument
+ Film of a young woman beating up a live clown
+ Children introduced to another clown = imitated aggression

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Weakness 2/2 (Ethical issues)

Ethical issues

- Exposing children to aggressive behaviour knowing they are likely to replicate it

- Deliberately psychologically/physically harmed?

- Means these experiments would no longer be allowed
 + So testing hypotheses about social learning of aggression is difficult
 + Lowers scientific credibility of the theory

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