Social learning theory


A Levels Psychology (Aggression) Note on Social learning theory, created by davieschloe7 on 02/12/2013.
Note by davieschloe7, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by davieschloe7 over 10 years ago

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Bandura and Walters (1963)Believed that aggression couldn't be explained using traditional learning theory where only direct experience was seen as responsible for acquisition of new behaviours. We also learn by observation

Bandura et al. (1961)Bobo doll experiment



Children primarily learn their aggressive responses through imitating the behaviour of their role models

Vicarious reinforcement - Children observe the consequences of aggressive behaviour by watching others being reinforced or punished. If they see someone's aggressive behaviour being reinforced, they are likely to start displaying that behaviour


Bandura (1986)Claimed that in order for social learning  to take place, the child must form mental representations of events in their social environment. They must also represent possible rewards and punishments for their aggressive behaviour in terms of expectancies of future outcomes. They will display the learned behaviour as long as the expectation of reward outweighs the expectation of punishment


Maintenance through direct experience -If a child is rewarded for a behaviour, he or she is likely to repeat the same action in similar situations in the future

Self-efficacy expectancies -Children develop confidence in their ability to carry out the necessary aggressive actions. Children for whom a form of behaviour has been particularly disastrous in the past have less confidence (a lower sense of self-efficacy in their ability to use aggression successfully to resolve conflicts) and therefore may turn to other means


The role of punishment - Bandura (1965)Repeated the bobo doll study but offered rewards to all the children for performing the model's aggressive behaviours. All 3 groups performed a similar number of imitative acts. This shows that learning does take place regardless of reinforcements but that production of behaviours is related to selective reinforcements

Applicability to adults - Phillips (1986)Daily homicide rates in the US almost always increased in the week following a major boxing match, suggesting that viewers were imitating behaviour they watched and that SL is evident in adults as well as children


The role of vicarious learning -Unlike operant conditioning theory, it can explain aggressive behaviour in the absence of direct reinforcement. Although children were more aggressive after observing an aggressive model, at no point in Bandura's 1963 study were the children directly rewarded for any action 

Individual differences in aggressive behaviour -It can explain differences in aggressive and non-aggressive behaviour both between and within individualWolfgang and Ferracuti (1967)'Culture of violence theory - Proposes that in large societies some subcultures develop norms that sanction violence to a greater degree than the dominant culture


It's possible that the children in Bandura's studies knew what was expected of them (demand characteristics)

Noble (1975) reports that one child arriving at the experiment said: 'look mummy, there's the doll we have to hit'

These studies also focus on aggression towards a doll rather than a real person (who tends to hit back). However, Bandura responded to this criticism with a video of a woman beating up a live clown. When the children went into the other room where the clown was, they proceeded to be violent towards him


SLT can be used to explain cultural differences in aggression. For example, among the !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert, aggression is rare. This is because of child-rearing practices; when 2 children argue the parents neither reward not punish them, but physically separate them and try to distract them. Parents don't use physical punishment or aggressive postures. The absence of direct reinforcement of aggressive behaviour as well absence of aggressive models means there's no motive for the children to be aggressive


Ethical issues make it difficult to test SLT experimentally. Exposing children to aggression with the knowledge that they may reproduce it in their own behaviour raises issues concerning the need to protect participants from psychological and physical harm. Therefore it is difficult to establish the scientific credibility of SLT





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