Application of social learning theory in psychology research

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 26 October 2016

Application of social learning theory in psychology research

‘Explaining substance use among Puerto Rican adolescents: a partial test of social learning theory’ is an article by Holly Ventura Miller, Wesley G. Jennings, Lorna L. Alverez-Rivera and J. Mitchell Miller. The article is a 2008 publication in the Journal of Drug Issues Volume 38, issue number 1. In this study, Miller et al (2008) seek to use social learning theory to understand substance use among Puerto Rican adolescents as part of the larger Hispanic group.

The importance of social learning is assessed through finding out the effect of differences in an individual’s description of substance use as compared to the description that peers have. This study is based on the view that most adolescents who have friends who are in substance abuse also become substance abusers. Perceptions about drug abuse also seem to be similar with those held by the peers. Social interactions of the youths therefore seem to play a big role in learned behavior and perceptions.

Miller et al (2008) have reviewed considerable literature on social learning theory more so the aspect of differential association in acquisition of socially unacceptable behavior. A cross-cultural application of social learning theory forms the center of this study where a group (288 youths) of Puerto Rican adolescents is chosen as the study sample. This study specifically focuses on how peer and personal perception of substance use influence alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use. The survey-type of study was carried among school going youths aged 14-19 years in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The subjects were selected from public and private schools with the sample size from public schools being considerably higher compared to that from private schools (69% versus 31%). The survey was conducted using questionnaires where several variables were assessed. Questionnaires administered in public schools were written in English whereas those issued in public schools were in Hispanic. The study excluded subjects who did not report being Hispanic since ethnicity was a very crucial variable. The adolescents were assessed of their behaviors as regards to alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and marijuana use.

Predictor variables were social learning (definitions on substance abuse) and sex. The control variables in this study were age and belonging to single-parent family. After statistical analyses (logistic regression analyses), it was found out that youths in private schools had a greater lifetime substance use and reported peer influence in the use of the three substances. In addition, males were likely to be involved in use of the three substances under study as opposed to females in both types of schools.

In private schools, a significant difference in substance use was noted to exist between males and females. It is also notable that cigarette use among females in public schools was influenced by their views of smoking cigarettes as a favorable behavior. This was also the case with private school males. Personal definitions were also found to play a big role in alcohol consumption. Marijuana use was mainly due to the influence of peers’ definition as opposed to personal definition.

Miller et al (2008) therefore concluded that if personal definitions of substance use are favorable, the likelihood of substance abuse is high. Peer definitions are also significantly important determinants of substance abuse as evidenced by marijuana use among Puerto Rican adolescents. Sex is also a determinant factor in influencing substance use. Article 2 The article ‘social learning, self control, and substance abuse by eight grade students: at tale of two cities’ by L. Thomas Winfree Jr. and Frances P. Bernat is a 1998 publication in the Journal of Drug Issue volume 28, issue number 2.

In this study, Winfree and Bernat (1998) examine the effectiveness of the social cognitive theory and self control theory in predicting level of substance abuse among a group of eight graders in a large versus a small city. Among the substances the substances that the eight grade students are assessed of include alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana among others. This sample is selected from Phoenix, Arizona and Las Cruces, N. M. the cities are choice for this study due to differences in types of crimes thus the authors of this study challenge that the two theories cannot be used to predict substance abuse among the two groups of youths.

Winfree and Bernat (2008) argue that the social learning theory is viewed as being able to predict how people develop delinquent behaviors, as well as the environment that is likely to predispose one to delinquent behaviors. As such, it is viewed that substance abuse by youths can be predicted by the social learning theory as long as the social environment of the youth is well understood. On the other hand, Winfree and Bernat (1998) argue that the self control theory indicates that the level of self control determines human behavior especially in consideration of factors such as self interest and tendency to seek pleasure and not pain.

In their study, Winfree and Bernet (1998) carried out a wide cross-sectional study in 11 localities including Phoenix and Las Cruces. The subjects who participated in this study gave an informed consent through either parents or guardians. Data was collected through the use of questionnaires and the surveyors helped the students in understanding the questions thus improving accuracy of data collected. Dependent variables in this study were use of different substances within the past one year. Social learning independent variables included neutralization, guilt, positive reinforcement and negative pushers.

Self control independent variables included parental monitoring, impulsivity and risk-taking. After performing regression analyses, it was evident that there was a low level of substance abuse among Phoenix students who said that they would feel very guilty if their engaged in substance abuse. Higher levels of substance abuse in Phoenix sample was identified among students who agreed greatly to neutralizing statements about negativity of crime. In terms of self control, there was higher substance use among students who reported higher risk taking tendencies.

However, parental control and impulsivity did not provide enough data for evaluation. In Las Cruces, it was observed that youths who had seen gangsters and viewed gangsters as having better lifestyles were likely to abuse substances. The same happened with neutralization of negativity of crime. Guilt was not a big determinant of substance abuse in Las Cruces. Conclusively, Winfree and Bernet argue that social learning theory and self control theory can be used to evaluate delinquency in adolescents. From the above two articles, social learning theory emerges as an important tool for predicting substance abuse.

Counselors stand to benefit from the understanding of the application of social learning theory in this context since they can be able to associate a certain substance abuse problem to the social influences of the client. By identifying the source of the substance abuse problem using the social learning theory, the counselor is able to provide a way out of the delinquency or substance use. This would include subjecting favorable social environment and statements such that the substance abuse behavior is taken as a negative rather than a positive thing. It would also be helpful for the counselor to suggest a geographical relocation (e. g. school transfer) as an important way of creating the best environment (drug/crime-free environment) for adolescents.

References Miller, H. V. , Jennings, W. G. , Alverez-Rivera, L. L. and Miller, J. M. (2008). “Explaining substance use among Puerto Rican adolescents: a partial test of social learning theory. ” Journal of Drug Issues 38(1): 261+. Web. 15, July 2010. Questia. com. Winfree, L. T. and Bernat, F. T. (1998). “Social learning, self control, and substance abuse by eight grade students: at tale of two cities. ” Journal of Drug Issue, 28(2): 539+. Web. 15, July 2010. Questia. com.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 26 October 2016

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