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Outline and evaluate two social psychological explanations for aggression

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Outline and evaluate two social psychological explanations for aggression While there are many different approaches in psychology, perhaps the most believable, and ultimately provable approaches to aggression come from the social psychological approach: social learning theory and deindividuation. While the two theories differ in their context, they both assert that the explanations of behaviour, in this case aggression, originate from the situational context emphasising little importance on other factors such as biology, evolution or cognitive processes. The social learning theory (SLT) approach to aggression largely originates from the somewhat infamous work of Bandura. While SLT comes under the large umbrella term of behaviourism, it goes far beyond the simple stimulus response model, explaining in depth more complex and perhaps realistic explanations for behaviour. Aggression is learned either indirectly: through observational learning and only replicated if vicarious reinforcement occurs, or directly. This is where aggressive behaviour is directly reinforced. While both are a form of operant conditioning, the direct approach parallels the ideas much closer. ...read more.


In addition, research findings are not only culturally bound but may be due to demand characteristics. It was noted after the study occurred that many of the parents told the children what to expect, consequently causing little face validity. Moreover, people are never consistently rewarded for aggression. Often, and if not in most cases they are punished, not rewarded. While media can sometimes portray certain acts as ethically ambiguous, it is rare to find these days aggressive behaviour rewarded in a mainstream way to suggest that the population are learning this behaviour through SLT. Not only does the research from Bandura, and subsequent researchers not include other motivations such as cognition or biology, but also the whole theory discounts these and fails to identify it as anything more than useless. While it is fair to say that some aggressive behaviour is vicariously learnt, for example through siblings one cannot deny that these factors are also largely influential, and if not in some cases more so than SLT. ...read more.


Zimbardo repeated the Milgram paradigm, where participants were either wearing a nametag (individuated) or in a hood (deindividuated). It was found that by wearing a hood, participants were much more likely to give shocks to the learner. Furthermore, Diener et al. observed the behaviour of over 1000 children on Halloween. The children were asked their name, and for those that didn't give it, rates of stealing candy or money when alone rose dramatically. This theories large fault lies in the premise that deindividuation only leads to anti-social behaviour. Through the work of Johnson & Downing, they found that in the same study, if the participant was wearing a nurses uniform, they were much less likely to shock the learner, compared to those dressed as the KKK. Conclusions therefore can be drawn that not only does the theory fail to acknowledge this, but also perhaps they are in fact drawing from social cues in their environment on how to act. This similarly applies to the setting of the research. The presence of a 'scientist' and many other factors consistently lead to the participant feeling powerless and doing it 'for the good of science' rather than having any sort of base data to generalise. ...read more.

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This is an absolutely outstanding essay. The candidate clearly has an exceptional knowledge of social behaviour and behavioural phenomena, as well as Psychology as a whole. The essay starts off with a confident, precise introduction describing in detail the nature ...

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Response to the question

This is an absolutely outstanding essay. The candidate clearly has an exceptional knowledge of social behaviour and behavioural phenomena, as well as Psychology as a whole. The essay starts off with a confident, precise introduction describing in detail the nature of aggressive behaviour and two pioneering theories about the instance by which it is learnt and/or encouraged (SLT and deindividuation). The candidate then cites theorists and research evidence to help fortify their answers with empirical evidence for and against the two theories, taking plenty of time to precisely target the support and refutations each theories has. An excellent essay with a pleasantly rounded structure and a masterful use of psychological terminology.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis here is fantastic. The candidate addresses both theories holistically, commenting specifically on how each theory can be supported, refuted and how well each explains behaviour. There is also an infallible understanding of both behavioural phenomena(SLT and deindividuation) which can elicit higher chances of aggressive acts due to a less stringent moral obligation to follow rules when a part of a group and simply learning aggressive acts from each other. The candidate makes a clear dissociation with biological theories for aggression and this helps their answer because more pointed and precise, and overall the analysis of each theories is sufficiently and balanced, lending to an excellent discussion of aggressive behaviour.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is flawless, except for two instances were the word "crowd" is spelt as "crows". This is by no means a reason to detriment the essay's clarity and the excellence in written expression evident here. There is a very adept use of complex psychological terminology and a good understanding of how to effectively use it to aid precise analysis. There are no other major issues in grammar or punctuation here.

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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 14/07/2012

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