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Social Learning Theory Essay

Outline and evaluate the social learning theory as an explanation of aggression (24 marks) The social learning theory states that aggressive behaviour is learnt rather than it being innate. It is first learnt through observation meaning there has to be ability to copy or model the behaviour of the role model. The child must have high self-efficacy to know they will get what they want after portraying the aggressive behaviour. The behaviour must be reinforced through operant conditioning for the aggression for it then to be passed on to imitation. The social learning theory is based on nurture as it is taught and not naturally passed on from the parents. But arguments state that the social learning theory could also be nature as children may already have the instinct to carry out an aggressive behaviour before watching it occur.

This makes it biological due to hormones and genes passed on from family members. Imitation have four phases, these involve; attention, retention, production and motivational reinforcement. These mean that the child must first pay attention to the behaviour before being able to recall the behaviour. The third stage is production which means the child must be capable of reproducing the behaviour. For the behaviour to be reinforced it must be positively reinforced with a reward for the behaviour to be modelled again. A study that supports this is Bandura (1961) with the Bobo dolls. This involves a group of children split into two groups, one group watched aggressive behaviour including punching and kicking the doll and the other group watched non aggressive behaviour.

The children who watched the aggressive behaviour displayed aggressive behaviour towards the doll whereas there were a smaller number of children in the second group who showed aggressive behaviour towards the doll. This is due to the children imitating the behaviour of the adult. One negative point is that Bandura’s study doesn’t account for is that the children have free will and their own initiative when it comes to morals when children get to a certain age,(they know aggression is wrong) this means that children in the second group could know not to hit the bobo doll but also in the first group when the adults were shown hitting the bobo doll some of the children may not have hit the doll due to knowing not to. Therefore we cannot be sure that the conclusions would apply to the older children or adults with higher levels of cognition.

Bandura’s study lacks ecological validity due to it being a lab experiment and not being set in a real life, natural experiment. If this study was repeated in a natural experiment the results may be different due to the children knowing what is right and what is wrong but because the bobo doll is used to represent a real human which in the case of the study it doesn’t, meaning that in a real life situation the children wouldn’t hit a human. Also the bobo doll is specially made to hit so it bounces back up when knocked over, this may cause more children to hit it in the study after watching what it does when the adult hits it. But also they may also think that this is what the study wants due to knowing the purpose and this may cause demand characteristics.


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