Detailed notes on aggression

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  • Created by: abi
  • Created on: 24-03-15 21:22


Social psychological theories:

Social learning theory

Definition: Learning behaviour that is controlled by environmental influences rather than by innate or internal forces. It is often called ‘modelling’ or ‘observational learning’.

SLT emphasises the importance of observing and modelling the behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. SLT suggests that aggression, like other behaviours, is learned (Bandura 1973). Humans are not born as aggressive individuals but acquire behaviours in the same way as other forms of social behaviour – through direct experience or through observing the actions of others.

SLT developed from the learning theory, according to behaviourists:

  • Behaviour that is reinforced ( rewarded) will be repeated and learnt
  • Aggression that is associated with a reward is likely to be learnt
  • Learning can also occur indirectly through observing other people. This is called learning through vicarious experience or observational learning
  • Bandura (1977) sums this up: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.”

Most human behaviour is learnt through modelling – through observing others we form an idea of how new behaviours are preformed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.

Observational learning occurs when individuals observe and imitate others’ behaviour. There are four component processes in the theory:

Attention – how much do you concentrate on the model showing the behaviour?

Retention – storing the behaviour you witnessed

Reproduction – copying the behaviour you witnessed

Motivation- having good reason for showing the witnessed behaviour again, e.g. a real or imaginary incentive.

There are a number of factors the influence imitative behaviour. Individuals are more likely to copy modelled behaviour if:

  • It results in outcomes that they value
  • If the model is similar to the observer and is a powerful role model
  • The model is seen as similar to the learner
  • The task being imitated is not too easy/not too hard

Bandura believed aggression reinforced by family members was the most prominent source of behaviour modelling. For example, the boy who watched his father attack his mother is more likely to become an abusive parent and husband (Siegel 1992).

Bandura (1961)

Aim: Bandura (1961) conducted a study to investigate if social behaviours (i.e. aggression) can be acquired by imitation.

Method: Under the controlled conditions, Bandura arranged for boys and girls to watch a video of a male or female models behaving aggressively towards a toy called a 'Bobo doll'. The adults attacked the Bobo doll in a distinctive manner - they used a hammer in some cases, and in others threw the doll in the air and shouted "Pow, Boom". Children were shown one of the two films each with a different outcome: (i) model punished after being (told off) aggressive; and (ii) model reinforced after being aggressive (given sweets).

Results: Whilst the children were exposed to the same behaviour, boys showed high levels of imitation. More boys imitated the male model and…


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