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Social and Cognitive psychologySocial learning theory is offered as an explanation for both aggressive and helping behaviours. Evaluate support for this theory for either type of behaviour.

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Introduction

Module 1211: Social and Cognitive psychology Social learning theory is offered as an explanation for both aggressive and helping behaviours. Evaluate support for this theory for either type of behaviour. (I will be evaluating support for Social Learning Theory as an explanation of aggressive behaviour). Aggression is a negative behaviour where the individual deliberately intends to inflict harm on another individual whether it be verbally, mentally or physically. There are many explanations of aggression; some believe aggression is part of evolution in order to enable us to survive. Others believe aggression is caused by a genetic imbalance of hormones i.e. whether you are aggressive depends on genetics, aggressive behaviour is innate. However others believe aggression arises from our social interactions and how our social environment influences our behaviour. This is called Social Learning Theory and proposes that we learn aggressive behaviour through observing the act of others and deciding what the consequences of reproducing this behaviour would be. This is called vicarious reinforcement. If the individual is rewarded for this behaviour then they are more likely to imitate it in the future. This behaviour is then remembered by direct reinforcement. Similarly, if the individual is punished for this behaviour then they are less likely to reproduce it in the future. Bandura (1962) derived Social Learning Theory and suggested that as we observe others carrying out aggressive behaviour we learn the forms it takes and the targets towards which it is directed therefore behaviour is learned. ...read more.

Middle

Hence, observation may lead to learning but performance is related to many other factors. i.e. self efficacy. Social influence also became a factor. If there were more children in the room, individuals are more likely to be aggressive to avoid social disapproval. Therefore this does not support the fact that behaviour is copied because it is seen, aggression may be a result of informational influence for fear of rejection from others. Another factor might have been individual differences. Johnston et al (1977) found that nursery children who behaved most violently to the doll were generally seen as the most violent beforehand. This suggests that the model might not have influenced their behaviour and that it was the children's aggressive traits that triggered the behaviour. However, Bandura did try to overcome this problem. Children were rated beforehand for aggressiveness and participants were matched to ensure groups had equal participant types. As mentioned before, there are methodological problems with Bandura's studies, they lack ecological validity because the Bobo doll is not a living person, the child cannot interact with the model and the exposure is brief and done in artificial conditions therefore findings cannot be generalised to all settings. Bandura tried to overcome this by showing children a video of a woman beating up a live clown. Afterwards children were exposed to the live clown and produced the same behaviour as shown on the video. ...read more.

Conclusion

Social Learning Theory also accounts for cultural differences in aggressive behaviour, i.e. individualistic cultures are more aggressive than collectivistic cultures because individuals learn from others how to look after themselves and how to survive. However, Bandura was criticised on the grounds that the television programmes he used in his experiments were not representative of the programmes at the time therefore again lacks ecological validity. It is also highly unethical to manipulate child's behaviour as they probably did not give informed consent even though parents allowed them to participate. Social Learning Theory has also been largely criticised by biological researchers. They argue that the theory completely ignores individual's biological state. "they state that the social learning theory rejects the differences of individuals due to genetic, brain, and learning differences" (Jeffrey, 1985: p.238) The effect of the media on aggression has also been widely researched. Aggression ideas shown by the media, influences people to observe, learn and imitate the behaviour. However, evidence for this is inconclusive. Media may simply be a contributing factor, all the other factors like family background and individual differences could account for peoples levels of aggression. In conclusion, Social Learning Theory as an explanation of aggression ignores that aggression can be innate and the amount of arousal within the person at the time can affect behaviour largely. However, the theory is largely supported in psychology as is demonstrated through Bandura's work with the Bobo dolls. "These experiments demonstrate conclusively that the acquisition and production of aggression is socially mediated." (Cardwell and Flanagan, 2004: p.37). ...read more.

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