Outline and evaluate one Social Learning Theory explanation of personality development

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Clive Newstead

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 ...

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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.

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.

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.