Social psychological theories for aggression.

Theories for/of agression

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Social learning theory (SLT)

SLT is a behaviorist theory, which suggests aggression is learned by observation and imitation of role models, not by reinforcement. A child may see a aggressive act/behavior get rewarded, and later in life when a similar situation occurs the behavior observed by the child will be repeated. When a new response is acquired it is called response acquisition. This type of learning is called vicarious learning. SLT takes into account cognitive processes (i.e. role of self efficacy), the role of the environment is seen as the main factor for learning aggression.

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Indirect learning



Observational learning

Response acquisition



Determined by environment 

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4 basic cognitive conditions for SLT

Bandura claims a mental representation must be produced of a aggressive act and the punishment or reward of the act. This allows the child to have a expectation of what will result of the act. The behavior will then be repeated later in life, as long as the expected reward is better than the punishment.

1) Attention - The child must pay attention to what the adult is doing/saying in order to reproduce the behavior accurately.

2) Retention - The behavior must be rehearsed and placed in the long term memory (LTM) in order to be recalled later in life. once placed in the LTM the behavior can be recalled when a similar situation occurs.

3) Production - The person must have the mental and physical ability to reproduce the behavior. The child needs to be confident that they can reproduce the behavior.

4) Motivation - If the child is rewarded for aggressive behavior then they are highly likely to repeat the behavior.

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Bandura & Walters (1963)

There were 3 groups of children who watched a video of a adult being aggressive against a bobo doll. The only difference between the videos was the result of the aggressive behavior. 

Group A  (model rewarded group) saw the adult rewarded for the aggressive behavior. Sweets and lemonade was given.

Group B (model punished group) the aggressor was admonished for the aggressive behavior and warned to not do it again.

Group C (control group) the adult received no reward of punishment for the behavior.

After the film the children were taken to a room full of toys, including a bobo doll and mallet. The children were observed for 10 mins, looking for aggressive behavior. Group A children displayed high levels of aggression, Group B children showed low levels of aggression. Group C children were somewhere in between. Bandura repeated the study, offering all groups a reward for the aggressive behavior and finding aggression relates to motivation.

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Phillips (1986) found that homicide increased after a major boxing match. This suggests that people imitated the behavior from a boxing match. This shows that the finding from Bandura & Walters (1963) has populational validity, as even adults has increased levels of violence.

In the Kung San tribe of the Kalari Desert, aggression is very rare. When children fight they are not punished or rewarded, they are just separated and distracted. Aggressive behavior is avoided by the whole tribe and devalued by the tribe. since there is not reinforcement or role models of aggression, then there is little opportunity for aggression to occur in the tribe.

However, Bandura & Walters (1963) is vulnerable to demand characteristics, therefore acting in a way in which they thought was expected of them and it has been argued that children would not attack a real life person. Bandura repeated the study, but replaced the bob doll with a clown and found that the children attacked the clown. Biological factors are also ignored, testosterone can also cause aggression, but the SLT ignores this. Other biological changes in the body are also ignored by the SLT.

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Deindividuation process

Deindividulisation is the state where people lose the feeling of individuality. They may be part of a group, in a uniform, in the dark or under the influence of alcohol.

Zimbardo (1969) suggested

Anonymity --------------> Deindividulisation --------------> Aggression

Individuated - reasonable, conforming to acceptable social standards. If they are easy to identify and single out, then they are more likely to act in a acceptable fashion.

Deindividuated - 1) Lack of individuality = reduced self restriction

2) Reduction of self restraint = Deviant and impulsive behavior

3) Lack  of attention to how behavior is evaluated

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Deindividuation - supporting studies (AO2)

Zimbardo (1969)

Required a group of female undergraduates to apply electric shock to another student, to aid learning. Half of the ptps were required to wear bulky white coats, covering their faces. The were spoke to in groups of 4, in dark places and never to referred to by name. The other group wore normal clothes, given name tags and were in a bright light. All ptps were told either that the learner was "honest, sincere and warm" or "she was conceited and critical". The hooded group delivered twice as many shocks, the description of the learner didn't matter. Name tagged group's delivery of shock varied depending on the description of the learner.

Watson (1973) correlation study

Found that out of 23 tribes, those who used face paint or masks were more likely to kill, torture and mutilate captured enemies.

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Deindividuation - supporting studies cont. (AO2)

Diener (1976) naturalistic observation

Watched 1300 children trick or treating and found that children who were in a large group were more likely to steal.

Mann (1981) content analysis

Found that out of 21 newspaper articles, in 10 cases people were more likely to shout "jump" if they were in a large crowd, far from the victim and it was dark.

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Deindividuation - Critism (AO2)

Johnson & Downing (1979)

Zimbardo's experiment can be argued to have involved demand characteristics. They were dressed in KKK style clothes and in order to see if the type of clothes worn affected behavior the ptps were dressed in scrubs. They found the participants in the scrubs didn't deliver more electric shocks, showing that the clothes worn affects the expectation and the behavioral shown.

Zimbardo's experiment was also conducted under lab conditions and the tasks were unlikely to occur in everyday life.

However, Diener (1976) found that children are more likely to steal during Halloween if they are in a big group, as their identity is hidden. This study shows that the theory does have external validity.

Mann (1981) can also be criticized, he used newspaper as sources, rather than scientific journals. Newspapers will write things that will increase the chances of sale and therefore they may not be accurate. Also, only 10 out of the 21 articles show deindividulisation, suggesting large groups don't lead to aggression.

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Deindividuation - Critism cont. (AO2)

Deindividulisation cannot explain other forms of aggression, such as aggression at home. Large crowds do not always cause aggression (e.g. peace rallies).

This theory also ignores the biological and personality factors of individuals. People with type A personality have been found to be more aggressive than people with type B personality.

Gergen (1973) found that darkness may decrease aggression, rather than increase it. Ptps (who didst know each other) were left alone in a dark room. 90% deliberately touched each other, 50% hugged and 80% admitted feeling sexually aroused. Gergen suggests that the darkness causes loss of deindividulisation but it can produce affiliated rather than aggression.

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