Outline and evaluate a psychological theory of aggression

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  • Created by: Marco
  • Created on: 18-03-14 23:20

Describe one psychological theory of aggression

The Social Learning Theory raised by Bandura and Walters (1963) proposes that we learn aggression from role models in our environment, by watching aggressive behaviour that is rewarded and imitating it. Aggression is learnt through observation of others, including vicarious reinforcement; if children observe aggressive behaviour of a role model which is rewarded, then it is likely to be repeated by the child. Children learn through direct experiences whereby if they achieve something they want through a particular behaviour, that action is reinforced, similar to operant conditioning. Observing the consequences of aggressive behaviour will teach children about what is considered appropriate and effective conduct.

There are two steps to form the SLT which Bandura suggests consists of 4 modelling processes: Attention- children only learn through observation if they attend to the models’ behaviour; Retention- the model needs to be remembered in the LTM; Reproduction- they need to reproduce the behaviour as well as being physically capable of the modelled behaviour; and motivation where the person received positive reinforcement for the behaviour.
Bandura (1961) carried out an experiment on Bobo dolls with 72 educated children to demonstrate that if children were passive witnesses to an aggressive display of an adult, they would imitate the behaviour. He found the behaviour was copied when adults were rewarded only, suggesting children learn through vicarious reinforcement.


A strength of the theory is the study has high level of reliability, as Bandura’s experiment was carried out in an artificial environment allowing control over IV (positive/negative reinforcement) and the dependent variable (behaviour shown by the child), hence suggesting that if repeated, the results would be identical because standardised procedures and instructions were used allowing replicability. However, the study lacks ecological validity since the situation was artificial and the children may have been able to judge that repeating the behaviour in the experimental situation would be likely to produce a reward, whereas repeating it at another time might not. The Bobo boll does not fight back, is an inanimate object and is therefore not a target of aggression in the real world. Thus imitation in an experimental situation does not translate into imitation in real life.

Another strength of the STL is that it has supporting empirical support by Patterson (1989) who


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