The learning approach: social learning theory


Bandura et al. (1961) Imitation of aggressive role


Lab experiment - In the lab, young children aged 3-5 years watched a film of an adult behaving agressively towards a Bobo doll (hitting it with a hammer and shouting abuse at it).

A second experimental group of children watched an adult interacting with the doll in a non-agressive manner.

Behaviour was later recorded wile playing with toys - Children were then led into another room and given their own toys to play with, including a Bobo doll. Their behaviour towards the doll was recorded.

Findings and conclusions

Differences in behaviour between groups - The children behaved in much more aggressively with the Bobo doll, than other children who had observed a non- aggressive adult. Including imitating specific actions they had previously seen and repeating some of the words used, e.g. "Pow".

Imitation depends on the consequences - This suggests that children will imitate the behaviour of role models even when such behaviour is aggressive/ antisocial.

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Bandura & Walters - effects of vicarious reinforce


Similar experimental set-up using filmed adult behaviour - In a follow-up study to Bandura et al's 1961 original study, a similar experimental set-up was created but this time, it involved three groups of children being shown films of an adult behaving agressively towards the Bobo doll.

Three experimental groups, different consquences of aggression - Group 1: children saw the adult praised for their behaviour (a second adult appeared and said 'well done' to the aggressive adult). Group 2: children saw the adult punished (by being told off). Group 3 (control group): saw no consquences.

Findings and conclusions

Differences in behaviour between groups - When given their own Bobo doll to play with, group 1 showed most aggression, followed by group 3 and then group 2.

Imitation depends on the consquences - This suggests that imitation of behaviour is more likely if the role model has been rewarded for their actions. This shows the importance of vicarious reinforcement in the learning of behaviour.

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Evaluation of social learning


One strength is that SLT emphasises the importance of cognitive factors in learning

Neither classical conditioning or 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 convincing explanation of human learning then the behaviourist approach by recognising the role of mediational processes.

One weakness is that STL underestimates the influence of biological factors

A consistant finding in the Bobo doll experiments was that boys showed more aggression than girls regardless of the specifics of the experimental condition.

  • This may be explained by hormonal factors, such as differences in the levels of testosterone, which is present in greater quantities in boys and has been linked to aggression.
  • This means that Bandura may have overlooked the important influence of biological factors on social learning.
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