Albert Bandura believed that aggression is learned through a process called behaviour modelling. He believed that individuals do not actually inherit violent tendencies, but they modelled them after three principles. Bandura argued that individuals, especially children learn aggressive responses from observing others, either personally or through the media and environment. He stated that many individuals believed that aggression will produce reinforcements. These reinforcements can formulate into reduction of tension, gaining financial rewards, or gaining the praise of others, or building self-esteem. Bandura carried out an experiment to look at aggression. The experiment created three groups of children: a group whose members observed an adult abusing a Bobo doll, a group whose members observed an adult ignoring a Bobo doll, and a group whose members did not observe any interaction between an adult and a Bobo doll. After being forbidden to play with any toys for a time, the children were then taken to a room where they were allowed to play with a Bobo doll and other toys. Bandura and his team observed as the children played with the toys. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children imitated the aggression of the adults because of the rewarded gained. This study say’s that aggressive behaviour is a result of nurture rather than nature because children learn aggression from role models. However, it also demonstrated that non-aggressive tendencies can also be learned in a similar manner. Albert Bandura was interested in child development. If aggression was diagnosed early in children, Bandura believe that children would reframe from being adult criminals. Bandura argued that “aggression in children is influenced by the reinforcement of family members, the media, and the environment."
Social learning theories of aggression rely heavily on experimental evidence and field studies of observational learning. There are however, some methodological problems in Bandura's study. It has been argued that because the experiment only involves harm to an inflatable doll not a human being, it is not a good example of aggression.
It has also been argued that children who behaved violently towards the doll were rated as more violent generally by teachers. Aggression is often described as antisocial behaviour, but by observing adult aggressive behaviour being rewarded children may think this behaviour is acceptable and normative. Therefore it shows that social learning theory explains that is more about learning behaviour rather than being a reflection of an individual's inner state. It also explains the findings which show that children who watch violent films are more likely to behave in an aggressive way. Social learning theory can account for cultural and individual variation; it can also explain why we behave aggressively in some situations and not others. When we are rewarded or reinforced for behaving aggressively, this is related to specific situations, in other situations we may find this behaviour isn't rewarded. This is known as context dependent learning.
Biological explanations of aggressive behaviour have stressed factors quite unrelated to social learning. Higher levels of the male hormone testosterone have been cited as a primary causal agent in aggressive behaviour. This casts doubt on aggression being purely a learned behaviour.
There are those who believe that aggression is caused by having access to guns, being a victim of abuse at the hands of parents and peers, or by being immersed in a culture that glorifies violence and revenge. But the fact is that there isn't one cause. You need a particular environment imposed on a particular biology to turn a child into an aggressor. Childhood experiences appear to be especially powerful, because a child's brain is more impressionable than that of an adult. A young brain is extra vulnerable to hurt in the first years of life. A child who suffers repeated abuse, neglect as well as terror experiences physical changes in his brain. The result is a child who shows impulsive aggression. Other children can become unresponsive when exposed to violence. These children can many times become antisocial.
In contrast, behaviourist theorists suggest that most behaviours originate through learning processes. Watson thought that people's behaviour, whether good or bad could be explained by learning experiences. During the early years of a child's life, parents control the child's experiences of frustration, gratification; determine whether the child is reinforced for aggressive or non-aggressive behaviour. Parents serve as models for their child to imitate. The parent who uses physical aggression in punishing his child is serving as an aggressive model. The child, through imitation, may be acquiring aggressive response patterns although he is seemingly being taught that aggression is bad. It has been suggested that the severity of parental punishment for aggression is associated with the child's own display of aggression.
By the time we are just five years of age we have either learned to be kind and caring or aggressive. A factor that can lead to an aggressive child is having a parent who uses loud outbursts or violence to control the child. The child sees this as "normal" behaviour and learns that this type of behaviour is acceptable, when in today's society it is unacceptable behaviour. The best way to predict if a child will be an aggressor is to observe his early behaviour.
Behavioural theorists emphasize that behaviour is a result of a process of learning from observing. What actions pay off and what works. This theory simplifies human behaviour by neglecting the biological aspects and other significant factors influencing our behaviour. Genetic and biological theories of aggression both have strong points as well as weak points. Causation is not well established in genetic theories. If it is found that one gene exists in aggressive individuals and doesn’t exist in non-aggressive individuals it is not determined if the genetic information causes aggression or if aggression causes a change in genetic information.
Two theories on aggression are those of "cathartic" and "circular" aggression. The catharsis theory views aggression as something like an instinct or drive which builds, rather like the water behind a dam. In order for the water not to get as high as to burst the dam and cause considerable damage, it must be "bled off “by controlled spillways. Aggression can be "bled off" by violent sport or other situations of controlled violence. The circular theory of aggression is well defined by the saying "violence begets violence" and simply states that aggressive actions provoke more aggressive actions which in turn cause the original perpetrator to aggress further.
In conclusion, the fact that modern humans are much more aggressive than their ancestors shows that environment and upbringing definitely effect levels of human aggression. In the modern world, factors such as "influence of media, smoke, noise pollution, air pollution, abusive parenting, overcrowding, heat, and even atmospheric electricity" can lend a hand in aggravating the aggressiveness in humans. Behaviourists generally view aggression as a set of acquired behaviours and attach less emphasis on biological determinants. These scientists commonly apply the "principles of social learning theory" when addressing aggression.
People tend to vary their views on nature versus nurture. They are ready to accept that it is genes that cause diseases and cancer, even obesity and homosexuality. Of course, this takes the blame off of human lifestyle. If it is written into their genes, there is nothing they can do about it. However, the public tends to favour the nurture side of the argument when it breaches sensitive topics such as aggression or intelligence.
Class lectures and handouts
Psychology for A level by Gross, McIlveen, Coolican, Clamp and Russell
Psychology third edition by Cardwell Clark and Meldram
Gross, Mcilveen, Coolicun, Clamp and Russell
Gross, Mcilveen, Coolicun, Clamp and Russell