Outline and evaluate one Social Learning Theory explanation of personality development
Outline and evaluate one Social Learning Theory explanation of personality development
Bandura believed that an individual's personality was developed as a result of interaction between the individual and their environment. He called this interaction reciprocal determinism, and suggested that people play an active role in determining their behaviour in an environment: they will behave in a certain way that is appropriate for the setting that they are in, but their behaviour may also change that setting.
This, according to Bandura's social-cognitive theory, occurs by means of a process of observation and imitation, known as modelling. Modelling is spontaneous and requires no deliberate effort on the part of the learner or the model (the person whose behaviour is to be observed and imitated), and reinforcement is not necessary for such learning to occur. This means that the study explains what the Behaviourist explanation of behaviour could not: the ability to produce or reproduce behaviour without reinforcement. However, although unnecessary, reinforcement will affect the performance of the behaviour; this is known as vicarious reinforcement.
Bandura's theory incorporates cognitive factors into its explanation, and for a model's behaviour to be imitated, there must be some internal mental representation of the model. There are five steps to the modelling process. The first step is availability: for the observation to occur, the learner must be able to see the model exhibiting the behaviour. Then, the learner must, voluntarily or involuntarily, pay attention to the model's behaviour. Third, the child must be able to store mental images of the model's behaviour. These behaviours can then be translated into actual behaviour; in other words, the behaviour is now learnt, but may not necessarily be imitated. Finally is motivation; the child must have a reason (motivation) to reproduce the actions of the model. This can be the result of past reinforcements or vicarious reinforcement, or from seeing the model being rewarded for performing the behaviour.
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The theory also suggests that we regulate our behaviour by constantly monitoring and evaluating it in order to see to what extent it follows internal and external standards. According to Bandura, this happens in three stages: self-observation, monitoring our behaviour and the reactions of others; judgement, comparing our actions to our own standards or the prescribed standards of the given situation; and self-response, rewarding or punishing ourselves depending on whether the behaviour is favourable or unfavourable. A greater amount of self-reward may lead to high self-esteem, but more self-punishment may lead to low self-esteem.
In addition, Bandura's theory outlines how a person's sense of ability may affect which behaviours they carry out. He called this self-efficacy, and refers to an individual's perceived ability to carry out an action. If we believe that we can do something, we are more likely to carry out the behaviour than if we believe we can't (unless others argue persuasively that we can). This is also a development on the Behaviourist explanation, as it suggests how we may be able to determine whether, and how often, pre-learnt behaviours are carried out without the influence of others.
There is research evidence to support the idea of observational learning and modelling. Rosekrans & Hartup (1967), for example, found that children who see someone else behave aggressively and being rewarded are more likely to behave aggressively themselves. Bandura et al. (1963)'s Bobo doll studies also support the theory as they demonstrate a difference between learning a behaviour and performing it. Schunk (1983) found that American primary school children who were told that their peers had done well on a maths test did better than those who were not told anything, providing evidence for the importance of self-efficacy. Similarly, Blittner et al. (1978) found that people trying to give up smoking were much more likely to be successful in quitting when told they had scored highly on a test of personal control and willpower than those who had no raised expectations. These studies are advantageous as they are practical applications of Bandura's social-cognitive theory, and have high ecological validity. The latter study also has implications for healthcare and support for smokers.
Bandura's theory also leads to the prediction that children should develop more 'selves' (behaviours in different situations) as they develop friendships and relationships with more people, and this prediction is supported by Harter & Monsour (1992). They found that 16-year-olds described themselves with their parents, friends and at school very differently, whereas younger children used many of the same descriptions.
However, much of the research supporting Bandura's social-cognitive theory was conducted in laboratory settings, and the artificial situations created by laboratories may lead to methodological issues such as a lack of ecological validity. In addition, little research has been able to explain a relationship between observational learning and self-efficacy.
The theory has also been criticised for not being a developmental theory: it does not account for how people's personality and behaviour changes over the course of development. Theorists argue that the kinds of information that children possess about the self changes during development, and this may be an important omission from Bandura's theory. Bee (2000), for example, points out that social learning theory can say how a child might acquire a behaviour pattern, but does not account for these underlying developmental changes.
Alternative perspectives may be more suitable for describing personality development. For example, Eysenck's (1963) type theory explains how the three main personality dimensions (e.g. introvert-extrovert) may be determined by biological differences between individuals. Although this is a reductionist perspective, it does account for the effect of biological factors on personality, which the social-cognitive theory does not. Also, Thomas & Chess (1980) demonstrated that temperament interacts with life experience to produce adult personality, implying that there are innate causes that work alongside social causes like observation and imitation to produce personality.
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Quality of writing
The quality of the writing is really high, the formal tone used throughout is suitable for the essay format. In citing the sources the student uses the correct format of surname then date in bracket. This shows a good understanding of the subject and once again demonstrates the proper way to write an essay. The structure also works logically which helps the examiner to see the thought process and planning which has gone on behind the essay.
Level of analysis
The analysis is really good as the student uses other sources to evaluate Bandura's study. In using the dates it shows that they know the study well and this is really important (it is more important to know the surname and date of the study than the title). If you were looking to gain a few extra marks you could learn some statistics from these studies to then use (for example with the Schunk study cited you could learn exactly how much better the children did when told their peers had done well than when they were not told anything). In also having a short paragraph on alternative theories of personality development, the student demonstrates the breadth of his knowledge to the examiner which is key but as the student keeps it concise it still stays relative to the topic rather than appearing as if they are going off on a tangent as they don't know about the topic. I would suggest putting in a brief conclusion just to summarise the points of evaluation made about the Bandura theory as this then finishes off the essay very well.
Response to question
Overall this is a really strong answer as it tackles both parts of the question throughly and there are very few improvements that can be made. The answer chooses Bandura's theory of social learning to look at and clearly sets out what his theory was (5 steps to modelling, regulating behaviour, sense of ability etc.). By looking at the different aspects of the theory rather than briefly summarising the theory as a whole it shows a thorough understanding which is essential to then go on to evaluate it. To push it a little further I would perhaps give an example of how his theory may work in practice (for example a child sees another child cheating on a test and getting away with it plus gaining good marks therefore he is more likely to cheat) which shows you don't just know the abstract concept but how to apply it in real life. The evaluation is strong as the student looks at a number of different sources in order to fully evaluate the different aspects they have talked about. In using multiple sources it once again shows in depth research and understanding of the topic. Plus the student looks at arguments both for and against the theory which is important as showing both sides of the argument allows you to reach a conclusion about it's usefulness.