Social learning theory proposes that social learning occurs when the individual views a modeled behavior that they value, observes an act if the model has a role model or admired status, and when a person imitates a learned behavior (Bandura, & Ribes-Inesta, 1976). The basic foundations of the theory are applied to education policies, understanding psychological disorders, training courses, behavioral modeling, in the media and has a plethora of further applications in today’s society.
Another application of the theory is for criminals, violence and aggression. Whether referring to violence in the media, domestic violence, community violence, bullying and others, aggression and violent behaviors can by dissected and expounded using social learning theory. Social learning theory is one of the most commonly used behavior theories regarding criminology and aggression. Albert Bandura, one of the more important contributors to social learning theory, believed that aggression could not be explained by a simplistic behaviorism theory.
When looking at aggression, Bandura sought to find out how aggressive behaviors are established, why they behave antagonistically and how to determine if an individual will continue to display patterns of aggression (Evans, 1989). Social learning theory’s three main propositions are that social learning occurs from observations and from internal reinforcement; and that learning a behavior does not necessarily mean that a person will demonstrate such actions. Social cognitive theory builds upon this last point and is based on the idea that people’s morality affects social learning.
Eventually, Bandura believed that the two theories should converge and that it provides a better way of understanding social learning and aggression. In his effort to prove social learning theory, Bandura performed what is known as the Bobo doll experiment. This experiment was very controversial as Bandura sought to prove that aggression was learned through imitation of others. Children between the ages of three and six were brought in to a room with an adult in one corner and the child in the other. The child’s side contained fun activities while the adult’s side contained a toy set, a mallet and a Bobo doll.
The child was told that the toys in the adult corner were only for the adults. In three different groups, children were either subjected to an aggressive adult that would punch and kick the Bobo doll, a non-aggressive adult that would play with the small toys and ignored the Bobo doll and another group where no adult was present. After the ten minute session the child was brought into another room with many toys and after only two minutes, the child is told that they are no longer allowed to play with those toys.
The frustrated children were then brought back into the first room, where the experiment sought to measure the physical and verbal aggression, the amount of times the mallet was used as other forms of aggression and other forms of aggression that did not show imitation of the original adult. The experiment found that children exposed to the aggressive adult were more likely to act more aggressively than the others. The study also found that boys were much more likely to be aggressive and that imitation increased when the model was of the same sex (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961).
Bandura concluded that the children observing adults are more likely to think that the behavior is acceptable, therefore the child is inclined to use aggressive actions in future situations. Although the experiment had its share of criticisms, there have been many variations on the experiment. The Bobo doll experiment has sparked a flood of parental censorship within the media as movies now have a rating system and every television show is required to display their rating.
As controversy stirs around violent video games and movies, many believe that if children are not prevented from observing such violent and aggressive behavior that these children will learn and use aggression in their adulthood (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961). While the Bobo doll experiment showed learned aggression in an experiment situation, theorists believe that social learning occurs more often when the observed act is performed by a role model or someone of greater superiority.
Bandura himself believed that the greatest form of modeling would be imitated after family members and one’s peers. This is certainly the case when it comes to domestic violence. Many studies have shown that domestic violence actually is often a result of the aggressor growing up with domestic violence. In one study, boys who grow up in homes where domestic violence occurred are hundred times more likely to become abusers than those in non-violent homes (Crisis Connection). In fact, this is the greatest risk factor for children becoming abusers in their adulthood (Mihalic, & Elliott, 1997).
In other cases, the children themselves are the ones that are abused which is one reason why eighty percent of the men in prison grow up in homes with violence. Many of these children end up as teenagers turning to drugs and alcohol to get away from life and are likely to end up getting into bad marriages and pregnancies. As another form of aggression, bullying is often learned through their aggressive peers. While these aggressive students may have learned bullying from a family member or from something in the media, often the friends learn to become bullies too.
In one study observing at least two or more peers at a time, it was found that nearly half of the students would passively watch the bullying, a quarter of the students participated in bullying and twenty-one percent of the students mediated on behalf of the targets. The authors concluded that interventions for anti-bullying programs must be reinforced for the entire school at the same time. The best combination for individuals includes participation by teachers, students, school administrators and the parents.
This can help to change the school climate to prevent bullying and put it in perspective for the students (O’Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). In our society, gang violence is prevalent in many places and continues to be one of the more violent forms of aggression. Gang violence is another generational issue that gets passed on from generation to generation. In this case, it is the lack of parental guidance that often gets one involved in gang activity. In many cases this can be due to the father or mother dying due to gang violence. There are many different factors as to why gangs are so prevalent.
In many cases, one’s peers are often involved in felonious behaviors rather than pro-social actions. As children realize that their bad behavior is not scolded, their level of guilt for misbehavior decreases. All of these variables cause low self-control and thus the impulsivity to engage in gang related actions, as many of them overlook the consequences. Many law enforcement agencies have numerous programs that target gang violence specifically. Some programs involve trying to get the community to fight the violence head on. Some cities have found this to be an effective tool, while others have not.
Many cities and states have also tried to add additional jail time if they can prove that the particular offense was gang related (Esbensen, Winfree, He, & Taylor, 2001). Although social learning theory helps to better understand aggression, it can also be used as a tool to better understand what the solutions are to address the causes of aggression and violent behaviors. Media violence and malicious behaviors from a role model cause aggressive behaviors and violence in children and adults, but it has also been shown that positive social behaviors have a constructive impact.
As one example, Sesame Street was first broadcasted in 1969 and was created with the intention of building a children’s program that displayed positive social behaviors. With over forty years in the making, the show has become one of the most famous children television shows in history (“Affective responses to,”). Many studies have been performed in the efforts of showing that social learning theory can be applied to learning positive behaviors, in the very same way that Bandura applied it to prove how aggressive behaviors are learned and modeled.
In one variation of the Bobo doll experiment, a group of children from a lower socioeconomic status were shown the television show Mister Rogers over a period of time. The experimenters observed that the children who watched the show began to imitate the behaviors in the show. In another experiment, two episodes of the show Lassie were shown to two different groups of first graders. In one episode, the dog’s owner performs a selfless act by endangering his life to protect a dog. In the other, a non-endangering episode of Lassie was shown.
As a control, another group of children were shown the Brady Bunch. The experimenters’ goal was to determine if the positive social behaviors shown in the one episode of Lassie would have any effect on the group of children. After they were shown the video, they were tested by having to choose between telling an adult that an animal was in danger or having the option of earning a reward. The study showed that the first graders were likely to spend an average of a minute longer helping the dog, by telling the adult, than the children from the other two groups (“Affective responses to,”).
Positive parenting, as well as role models who display positive social behaviors, are even more likely to help shape a child’s behavior. It has been found that children display pro-social behaviors when adults consistently react to situations by praising good behaviors, giving choices, giving opportunities for the child to have a role in the family and giving logical reasons when a child is disciplined. Children who are given this type of parenting are more likely to not display aggressive behaviors, regardless of whether or not they are exposed to violence in the media.
On the flipside, it has clearly been shown that inconsistent responses, frequent and unwarranted reprimands, not recognizing the emotional and development needs of the child and the lack of routines result in antisocial behaviors (Patterson, 1975). In order to teach pro-social behaviors, parents must praise the child when they are behaving well and must do it systematically. Reducing bad behaviors becomes a balancing act, where common methods include ignoring the child, taking away certain freedoms, and physical or verbal reprimands.
Although most parents in the United States use physical punishment for bad behavior, it actually does little to teach the child and reinforces the notion that aggression and violence can help to resolve interpersonal disputes (Gallup Organization, 1995). Social learning theory is broad enough that it can be applied to people of all ages and in many different scenarios. One of the more common applications of social learning theory is the use of commercials, but it is also applied in many other areas such as job training.
For young adults, choosing a school and profession all depends on what they have learned over their lifetime. In other instances, adults who learned antisocial or aggressive behaviors tend to continue such behavior throughout their lifetime. It is believed that the only way to prevent such behaviors in adulthood is during childhood. Bandura theorized that “perceived self-efficacy” is an “important factor in regulating behavior” (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2005, p. 361).
This means that people who can manage their behavior are more likely to set goals and reach them. Bandura also argued that random events in someone’s life can alter what Bandura thought of as a natural progression of increased discipline and regulation. Due to the building nature of social learning theory, the elderly are thought of as having the most wisdom and knowledge in many cultures. Throughout one’s life, Bandura suggested that people “gain increasing self-control over their behavior through self-reinforcement” (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2005, p. 62). He believed that although there was no formal stages throughout one’s life span, people continually act in a way where their behavior becomes a reaction to stimuli or to one’s previous history and modeling effects (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2005). Overtime, most people’s behaviors and personalities are constantly evolving and social learning theory helps to better understand why. Critics of Bandura’s work and social learning theory believe that it does not consider biological or hormonal processes.
Many believe aggression is more complex than social learning theory lends credence and does little to explain how the relationship between observations and self-efficacy plays into the theory. Others argue that the theory does not consider the differences between people due to learning, brain and genetic variances. Proponents of the Bobo doll experiment results would argue that violence and aggression in the media causes the same actions in real-life. However, many studies have been shown to indicate that this is not the case (Isom, 1998).
Feshbach and R. D. Singer hypothesize that aggression is a natural characteristic of humans. In one of their experiments, they observed teenage boys who watched non-violent shows for a six-week period. The results of the experiment showed that the boys who watched non-violent shows were more likely to show aggressive behaviors than those who watched violent shows. They believed that this was because the boys could relate to the characters on television and were able to release their aggressive feelings through them.
This theory has become to be known as the Catharsis effect. Despite the criticism, experts like Bandura still believe that aggression is caused by the media, family members and peers (Isom, 1998). For the educational aspect of social learning theory, there is much opposition in how it can be applied to help students truly learn something. One might argue that a language instructor asking the students to repeat a word can be effective, but others may argue that it would not lend its hand to long-term knowledge. One particular school of though is the Montessori Method.
This particular method of teaching believes that students have a natural inner guidance that will guide them through self-directed erudition (Standing, 1998). As no one theory fits for every person, debates over the effectiveness of many of the different educational concepts will be sure to occur. Social learning theory continues to dominate how our society perceives learning. Although it continues to evolve, such as the social cognitive theory calls for, it proves to be a good model to help explain criminality, aggression, bullying and other forms of aggression.
On the flipside, the theory also provides many applications in the field of education and is used as a basis for important programs such as Head Start. It is used in the media rating systems, designed to guide parents and children so they do not watch media that may be too violent or have many acts of aggression. Other educational applications include knowledge building, such as in mathematics, and the encouragement of students to take control and responsibility over their academic outcomes. Fortunately with its applications in explaining aggression and violence, it can also be applied in combatting such behaviors.
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