The Social Learning Theory Approach can be defined as learning behaviour from observing other people and how they are reinforced. This approach represents a shift from radical behaviourism as conditioning can’t account for all learning. The mental and cognitive processes play an important role in the Social Learning Theory as it is based on storing the behaviour along with the positive reinforcement we have seen in our memory and learning to do the behaviour this way, expecting the same reinforcement when we do it ourselves.
This can explain how advertisements on television can persuade us to buy a product as they usually include someone buying the product and being positively reinforced and we store what we have seen in the back of our mind and when we see the product, our mind tells us to buy it remembering the advertisement and believing we can be reinforced in the same way.
Although we tend to only perform a behaviour which we know will be reinforced positively, but as we store this behaviour and information in our memory, it does not have to be performed for a long time. This Approach is quite different to behaviourism as behaviourism suggests we learn behaviour as a consequence of our own actions, although this approach suggests we learn behaviour from observing other people perform the act and being positively reinforced. If we see a behaviour that is negatively reinforced, we are less likely to learn and perform it.
The Social Learning Theory Approach can also be described as a mediating cognitive factor and must contain three main things; a stimulus (seeing someone else being praised for an action), an organism (ourselves and how we then think can we do the same action and be praised), and a response (where we carry out the action, expecting positive reinforcement), whereas the behaviourism theory only needs a stimulus and a response.
There are four main assumptions of the Social Learning Theory Approach; Role of observation, the role of mental and cognitive processes, the importance of a model and vicarious reinforcement which is not direct reinforcement but the reinforcement we seen being given to others. Models are important for this approach as to learn a behaviour we need to see someone we can relate with performing the behaviour and being reinforced.
There are two types of models we can be influenced by, a live model or a symbolic model, such as a character in a book or cartoon. A model must have three important characteristics in order to influence the observer; they must be similar to the observer (be the same age, sex or even share a similar background), they must be likable and attractive, and they must be successful and have a higher status than the observer. It is important to note that those observing and influenced by a model tend to have low self-esteem as this makes it more likely for them to imitate the behaviour of the model, who should value themselves highly.
We can see this model theory being proven in Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment, which uses the method independent groups. He used two conditions; A, where a child and adult are placed in a room and the child observes the adult behaving aggressively to the bobo doll, and B, where a child and adult are placed in the same room and the child observes the adult behaving normally towards the doll. The child is then left along with the bobo doll, other toys and a hammer and the number of children who behaved aggressively towards the bobo doll is recorded. The theory was proven as the children from condition A behaved much more aggressively than those in B.
Although, as this experiment was carried out in an unfamiliar environment to the children, this experiment lacks ecological validity. There are also four main stages in the process of observational learning; where the behaviour is performed by the model and observed, the retention process where the behaviour is encoded and stored in our memory, where the behaviour is performed by the observer and the last stage, where a reward or punishment is given in response to the behaviour.
Although this approach has many strengths, such as the fact it is a scientific method which gives objective and reliable data, it can be applied to modern day life, it is less deterministic than the behaviourist approach and experiments can be tested safely on humans making it more reliable, it also has many limitations and disadvantages, such as the fact the role of biology and how our genes shape our personality rather than observing other people, how when used in experiments it can lack ecological validity, how we all are different in a way and we will never truly relate completely to a person or model and this approach does not explain how we store or reproduce the observed behaviour.
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