Aggression - Social Learning Theory


Social Learning Theory

Bandura and Walters suggest that we learn by observing others e.g. aggressive behaviour. Biological make up creates a potential for aggression, the actual expression of aggression is learnt


Children learn aggressive behaviour through observing then imitating the behaviour. Children also learn about the consequence of aggressive beahaviour by seeing if they are prasied or punished ( VICARIOUS REINFORCEMENT) (so they can asses whether it is worth them repeating the behaviour) 


For SLT to take place the child must form a mental representations of events in their social environment. The child will then decide in the future whether the reward is greater than the punishment 


The degree to which their aggressive behaviour was successful in the past (self-efficacy). The current likelihood of their behaviour being rewarded or punished 

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The Bobo Doll Studies - Bandura et al

First Study

Bandura et al: Observed aggressive and non-aggression adult models then tested imitation in the absence of the model. Used 3-5 yr olds. Half the adults were aggressive towards the doll and half were non - aggressive. They hit the doll saying 'POW' . Children were shown toys but not allowed to play with them ( So they got annoyed) then taken into the room with the Bobo doll. Findings: 

  •  In the aggressive condition the children copied the model more aggressively than the other condition.1/3 repeated the verbal abuse whereas none did in the non-aggressive group. Boys seen tend to be more aggressive than girls 

Bandura's second experiment 

  • Children split into 3 groups each seeing a different ending to a film of an adult behaving aggressively to a bobo doll
  • Group 1 saw model rewarded 
  • Group 2 saw model punished 
  • Group 3 no consequences -Influeced by whichever ending they saw. High reward - more aggressive. Punished - Low aggressive and No concequence - varied levels of aggression
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AO2 points

  • Philips: Daily homicide rates in the US almost always increased in the week following a major boxing match suggesting viewers were imitating the boxers. (SLT is also apparent in adults) 
  • Unlike operant conditioning SLT can explain aggressive behaviour when there is no direct reinforcment. Even though the aggressive group saw someone being aggressive to the doll the child was NEVER REWARDED
  • Individual differences: Can explain differences in aggressive and non-aggressive behaviour both between and within individuals. The culture of violence theory proposes that in some societies there is a social norm of violence and aggressive behaviour.
  • Cultural differences: !Kung San people who do not reward physical aggression, nor do they model aggression. (So there is a lack of direct reinforcement) 
  • Validity issues with Bandura's sutdy - As it's possible the children knew what was expected of them (demand characteristics
  • Gender differences: Boys seem to to be more aggressive than girls in Bandura's study, however the doll was not a real person so we are unaware how a child would act towards a real person.
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IDA - Ethical Issues

S: Ethical issues make it difficult to test the social learning theory. 

E: As exposing children to aggressive behaviour ( real life or in a film) with the knowledge that they may reproduce it in their own behaviour rasises ethical issues concerning protecting ppts from psychological harm. As a result, experimental studies such as the Bobo doll studies would no longer be allowed.

E: This means that it is difficult to test experimental hypotheses about the SLT of aggression in children, and consequently difficult to establish the scientific credibility of the theory in this means. (lacks validity) 

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IDA - Reductionist

S: The SLT can be said to have reductionist apporach to aggresive behaviour, as it does not take into consideration of other factors that may affect aggression.

E: For example the biology of a individuals brain has influence upon aggressive behaviour. As low levels of serotonin in the brain may lead to people questioning if the individual can be blamed for their aggression. Rhee and Waldman found that identical twins are more similar in anit-social behaviour than fretenal twins supporting the idea that aggression is genetic. Also another factor the SLT does not take into consideration is the attachment type of the child/person. As a disruption in a child's attachment may make a child more prone to aggressive behaviour. 

E: This issue raised about the SLT would suggest that the theory is not very credible as it lacks validity due to its reductionist view point. Therefore it cannot be generalised to all people.

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