“Outline and evaluate social learning theory. In your answer, make comparisons with at least one other approach in psychology.” – 12 marks Social learning theory states that behaviour is acquired through the observational learning from role models where a person identifies with that person and imitates their behaviour. This means that the behaviour of a model can influence the behaviour of all those that model the person and is particularly common with childhood celebrity role models.
When a person identifies with the role model, the cognitive factors to the learning occur in 4 key stages; attention when the individual notices the action, retention as the person memorises the behaviour, judgement whereby the person is receptive to if they are able to imitate the behaviour themselves and motivation which is when the individual is reinforced whether directly or vicariously to repeat this behaviour based upon their own imitation of it and their confidence of success.
So for example with motivation, if a child’s role model is a footballer who swears at another player and is sent off, vicarious reinforcement will occur and will dissuade the child from repeating this behaviour due to the negative consequences of it. When compared to the behaviourist approach which assumes behaviour lays between the stimulus and response and does not account for the mediating cognitive factors, social learning theory explains the cognitive factors involved in the process of learning behaviour and bridges the gap between traditional behaviourism and the cognitive approach. A study into the social learning theory was conducted by Bandura with his bobo doll experiment whereby he was investigating whether children would imitate behaviour based upon what they had witnessed being aggressive behaviour or non-aggressive behaviour towards the doll, as well as a control group whereby the child was left with the doll without an adult present.
The results shown that in the presence of aggressive conditions, there was a clear increase in the incidence of aggression towards the doll in the children. In addition, higher physical aggression was noted in boys than girls but not verbal aggression. It was also shown that with a male model that aggression increased for both sexes and children in the non-aggressive category demonstrated lower levels of aggression than children in the control group. The study was conducted in a controlled environment so can be credited for reducing the possibility of extraneous variables, but as a result also could be criticised for the lack of ecological validity. Another area of psychology where social learning theory can be observed is through gender formation when a child imitates the behaviour of their models, often shown through how they act and dress.
For example, girls modelling their mother are often shown as playing with their mothers’ makeup sets and trying on various shoes, whereas boys can typically be seen playing football often with their father and friends of the same sex. Many behaviourist theories are often very reductionist and do not consider the mediating cognitive factors, specifically in the acquisition of new behaviour and does not account for behaviour which has not been directly taught.
For example, if a child see’s a juggler and attempts to copy the behaviour, behaviourism cannot explain why the child attempted to imitate the behaviour to begin with, whereas social learning theory can accredit it to the child modelling the juggler for having exceptional skills the child does not. Overall, social learning theory demonstrates the role of cognition in learning and also how complex social behaviours can be acquired. Furthermore, it makes use of the experimental method to test theories and insists on the use of human research. However, social learning theory also neglects the role of biology and hereditary and does not explain the process by which abstract ideas can be learnt.