PSYA3 - Aggression

  • Created by: rachaela
  • Created on: 15-05-10 10:50


The first psychological theory of aggression is the social learning theory. This uses the principles of Bandura’s Bobo Dolls experiment which involved children observing aggressive and non-aggressive adults and then acting themselves. Those in the aggressive condition displayed aggression whilst the other children showed virtually no aggression. The four conditions which have been found to be effective for social learning are: attention; retention; reproduction; and motivation. For social learning observation is inevitably a key aspect, but Bandura suggests that children learn only by observing models with whom they identify and if the model is in a position of power. Bandura also said that social learning requires children to have mental representations of events in their social environment. A term synonymous with social learning theory is vicarious, or indirect, reinforcement. This is used to describe how a child learns the consequences of aggressive behaviour by observing others being reinforced or punished; through which a child learns what is considered appropriate and effective conduct and whether or not behaviours are worth repeating. There are two conditions on which the production of behaviour depends. First is maintenance through direct experience because a child is more likely to repeat behaviour is they have been rewarded for it previously. Second is self-efficacy expectancy because alongside learning aggressive outcomes children learn the confidence to be aggressive and a child who has failed at aggression in the past is less likely to use aggression. Therefore to be aggressive a child needs a high sense of self-efficacy since having self belief to do something means a larger chance of it being done.

Strengths of the social learning theory include the role of vicarious learning since, unlike operant conditioning, social learning theory can explain aggression in the absence of direct reinforcement since at no point were children directly rewarded for any action in Bandura’s Bobo Doll study. The second strength is that social learning theory can explain individual differences and context-dependent learning. Additionally, social learning has face validity since we can see evidence for the theory. Also, social learning theory has the strength of application since it can explain other antisocial behaviours. Furthermore, social learning theory has many implications since it focused society’s attention on the power of the media. Moreover, social learning is supported by cultural differences since there is little aggression among! Kung San of the Kalahan Desert where there is an absence of aggressive models. There is also research support for social learning theory, firstly for the role of punishment since it was found that learning takes place regardless of outcome but production is linked only to reinforcement. Second is applicability to adults since Phillips found that SLT applies to adults too as after a major boxing match daily homicide rates in the US almost always increase.

Weaknesses of the social learning theory include the imposed etic since Bandura’s Bobo Doll study used a Western researcher in a Western country which limits the extent to which its


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