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Social psychological approaches to explaining aggression

  • This theory focuses on the role that other individuals and groups play in eliciting aggression.
  • There are two theories:
  • Social learning theory (SLT).
  • Deindividuation.

Key terms:

  • SLT - learning occuring through observation and imitation.
  • Deindividuation - loss of individual identity and loosening of normal inhibitions.
  • Institutional aggression - aggression occuring as a result of being in a institutionalised setting.
  • Hostile aggression - aggression intending harm, based on emotional response.
  • Importation model - aggressive behaviours are imported into institiutional settings.
  • Deprivation model - deprivations associated with institutional life increase potential for aggresiveness.

Social learning theory

  • SLT is defined as learning behaviour controlled by environmental influences rather than by innate or internal focuses, e.g. genetics.
  • SLT emphasises the importance of observing and modelling behaviours, attitudes and emotional reaction of others.
  • This theory suggests that aggression is learned through observation of others.
  • It also suggests that humans are not born agressive, but we acquire aggressive behaviours in the same way as other social behaviours: through direct experience or by observing the action of others.
  • SLT is a behaviourist theory, and behaviourists believe:
  • Behaviour that is reinforced (rewarded) will be repeated and learned.
  • Aggression associated with a reward, like praise or increased self-esteem, is likely to be learned.
  • Learning can also occur through vicarious learning, which is when learning occurs indirectly through observing others.
  • Observational learning therfore involves individuals observing and imitating others' behaviours. There are four component processes:
  • Attention - learning through observation occurs by attending to the model's behaviour. For example, children must attent to what an aggressor is doing and saying in order to reproduce the model's behaviour accurately.
  • Retention - in order to reproduce modelled behaviour, individuals must code and recall behaviour by placing it into long-term memory, enabling the behaviour to be retrieved. In Bandura and Ross's experiement, they found that children where only able to act aggressively as the information was stored in their LTM.
  • Production - individuals must be capable of reproducing the model's behaviour, and thus possess the capabilities and skills neede to copy the modelled behaviour. In Bandura and Ross' study, the children possessed the physical capabilities of hitting and punching the doll.
  • Motivation and reinforcements - individuals expect to receive positive reinforcements (rewards) for modelled behaviour and this helps to motivate their behaviour. In the Bandura and Ross experiment, children witnessed adults gaining a reward for their aggression. Therefore, the children performed the same behaviour to recieve the same reward.
  • There are several factors influencing imitative behaviour. Individuals are more likely to copy modelled behaviour if:
  • Its results in outcomes (rewards) which are valued.
  • The model is similar to the observer, e.g. the same sex, age and with similar interests.
  • The model is charismatic and admired.
  • The task to be imitated is neither to easy nor too difficult.
  • The individuals have low self-esteem or are unconfident in their abilities.
  • Bandura believed that aggression reinforced by family members was the most prominent source of behaviour modelling, e.g. the


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