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Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory (SLT) was proposed by Bandura in the 1960s and his theory evolved from the behaviourist perspective. Behaviourists believe that nearly all behaviours are learnt through interaction with the environment rather than innate characteristics, (such as our genetic make-up. They are concerned primarily with behaviours that can be objectively measured and observed as opposed to internal processes that cannot be observed. SLT was a development of operant conditioning, the theory that behaviour is more likely to be repeated if a person is rewarded for that behaviour or less likely to be repeated if the person was punished for the behaviour.

SLT extended this basic behaviourist theory by also considering the importance of cognitive factors in the imitation of behaviour. They incorporated the key ideas that behaviours must be attended too and retained in memory for the observer to imitate the behaviour. As well as the observer having the capabilities to replicate the behaviour and also having the motivation and desire to replicate what they had observed. Bandura coined attention, retention, reproduction and motivation as the 4 vital conditions that an individual must experience in order to model the behaviour of someone else. SLT has played a very important role in helping psychologists to understand why people develop phobias, why they behave aggressively and why some people act more pro-socially than others. It has also highlighted the significant role that the family and media play in children’s development of certain behaviours, particularly aggression.

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