We all learn something new every day in our social lives. People learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modelling, as suggested by Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. In this essay, the social learning theory will be evaluated intensively through reviewing their strengths and weaknesses. Learning is achieved through observing the behaviours, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviours. Human behaviour, as explained in the social learning theory, is a continuous mutual interaction between cognitive, behavioural, and environmental influences. Bandura stated that most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling. From observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions, this coded information serves as a guide for action.”
Four conditions are necessary for effective modelling, namely attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. Inattention, for learning to be achieved, the observer must first pay attention to the features of the behaviour to be modelled. Various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid, including the personality characteristics of both the observer and the person to be observed, and also competing stimuli. In retention, the observer is required to remember and hence retain the details of the behaviour of the person observed. In terms of the conditions, retention is retaining the details of the behaviour you paid attention to. In reproduction, the observer reproduces the behaviour in accordance with the model observed. The model behaviour is processed as an image, in which the image is recreated as the observer’s behaviour. The observer’s ability to reproduce a behaviour improves with practice.
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In motivation, it is understood that the observer must have some motivation behind the reproduction of the behaviour, such as an incentive. These imagined incentives act as reinforcers. Reinforces can be categorized into two groups: positive and negative. Positive reinforcers encourage the continuation of reproducing the model behaviour, while negative reinforcers discourage it. Essentially, Bandura believed that one’s behaviour and their environment cause each other; whereas it was in a common belief that environment caused one’s behaviour. Bandura soon considered personality as an interaction between three components: the environment, behaviour, and one’s psychological processes, which is an observer’s ability to reproduce a model behaviour.
In Bandura’s famous bobo doll study conducted in 1961, male and female children, aged 3-6 years old, observed aggressive and non-aggressive role models and the study looked at how the behaviour shown was reproduced by the children. It was found that children in the aggressive group reproduced a good amount of the physical and verbally aggressive behaviour resembling that of the model. In the non-aggressive group, there was virtually no aggression displayed. Males displayed more imitative aggression than females, however, there was virtually no difference in verbal aggression. I believe Bandura’s bobo doll study to be methodologically flawed. Although a strong correlation between aggressive role models and children behaving aggressively due to imitation of role models was found, the children knew that they were meant to hit the doll before they started the experiment; hence this factor majorly affected the outcome of the study.
However, despite this methodological flaw, Bandura’s study can be used to explain cultural differences in aggression. For instance levels of aggression are relatively rare in the Kung San tribe as when children argue they are physically separated instead of being rewarded or punished for their actions. Therefore, they have no motivation to learn aggressive behaviours. Whereas the Mundugmor tribe encourages violence, and the more aggressive you are the higher your status is. As a result of this, we can say that social learning theory can be applied universally. In 1960, University of Michigan Professor Leonard Eron studied 856 grade-three students living in a semi-rural community in Columbia County, New York, and it was found that the children exposed to violent television at home behaved more aggressively in school. Eron revisited Columbia County in 1971 in order to track this effect.
At this stage, the children who participated in the 1960 study were 19 years of age. He found that boys who were exposed to violent television when they were eight were more likely to get in trouble with the law as teenagers. When Eron and Huesmann returned to Columbia County in 1982 to further track the effect, the subjects were now 30 years old. They reported that those participants who had been more exposed to violence on television as eight-year-olds were more likely, as adults, to act aggressively, for example, being convicted of serious crimes, using violence to discipline their children, and treating their spouses aggressively.
Although these findings can help explain how behaviour can be passed on without trial-and-error learning, they also show that behaviour can be acquired but not demonstrated, which makes it difficult to establish whether or not behaviour is a result of socially learned behaviour. Furthermore, these studies cannot explain why some people never learn a behaviour despite meeting all four conditions involved in social learning, namely observation, retention, motor reproduction and motivation. In conclusion, I believe that the limitations of the social learning theory outweigh that of its strengths.
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