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Social Learning Theory

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Social Learning Theory Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, psychologists tended to believe that the explanations offered by classical and operant conditioning were fully adequate to understand human behaviour. Classical conditioning is a form of learning in which a conditioned and unconditioned stimulus become associated, such that the former comes to elicit a response previously elicited only by the latter. It is also known as the Pavlovian or respondent conditioning. Operant conditioning is a form of learning in which voluntary behaviour becomes more or less likely to be repeated depending on its consequences. It is also known as Skinnerian or instrumental conditioning. However, it is now believed that there are many other factors involved in human behaviour, such as cognitive factors, especially observational learning/modeling, and as most of these are based around experience, they are often grouped loosely together under the umbrella term of the social learning mechanisms. Dollard and Miller (1950) stated that, in humans, most learning is social and acquired through observing other people in social situations. Their Social Learning Theory, whilst having its roots in Skinnerian principles, aims to offer a more complex theory of learning in humans within a social context. ...read more.


We also develop a theory of mind, which we use to interpret other people's behavior, which is a fundamental aspect of human interaction. It is an important learning mechanism as we learn to adjust our behavior to the accepted norms and values of society. It also forms an important basis for the social mechanisms involved in conformity and obedience to social norms. In a series of studies throughout the 1960's and 1970's, Bandura et al, illustrated how influential observational learning can be in relation to the acquisition of social rules by children. The main focus of Bandura's work was around a Bobo doll, a large inflatable rubber figure. Children would be split into two groups, one group would observe a model playing with such a doll in an aggressive manner and the other would observe the model playing with it in a placid manner with the doll. The children would then be allowed to play with a Bobo doll themselves. The children's level of aggression towards the doll were recorded and it was found that children who had observed the model acting in an aggressive manner towards the doll would explicit this type of behaviour towards the doll more frequently than children who had observed the model playing placidly with the Bobo doll. ...read more.


The complexity of social learning also implies that children need to have appropriate models to learn from, and appropriate social expectations around them, if they are not to find themselves later in opposition to their society. In 1974, Bronfenbrenner conducted observational studies of child rearing practices in Russia and the United States of America, and argued that because, at the time, Russia was very much more efficient in transmitting expected social norms and ideas to it's children than America, the children were much less likely to progress to the adult world alienated and disaffected from their society, than children in America. He argued that the social expectations and mechanisms which encourage us to feel part of a society and to share in that societies goals, and the systematic approach to the way in which children are socialized, are likely to be beneficial, both to the individual and to the society. In conclusion, it is possible to see that the basic structures involved in the learning process of human development, are considerably more complex than early psychologists such as Pavlov and Skinner (the founders of Classical and Operant conditioning) first thought. Children acquire their knowledge, understanding and skills through a varied means of social processes, all of which help them to learn the appropriate level of behaviour for their society. ...read more.

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