(Original post by NightStalker)
Outline and Evaluate One Social Psychological Explanation for Aggression. (12 marks)
Aggression has been explained by some psychologists in social learning theory (SLT) terms; this behaviourist approach explanation cites that all behaviour is learned and thus, aggression can be explained in this way. SLT is the term to encompass learning via observation of others directly and vicarious learning through the media and other similar mediums. Unlike the biological approach, SLT does not accept behaviours as being biologically predetermined through genes or abnormal quantities of certain hormones; if the behaviour has not been observed, then the behaviour will not be carried out by an individual because it has not been learned and thus the individual would not have the capacity to act in an aggressive manor.
Bandura carried out several investigations into transmission of aggression via role models, the most applicable of these studies was carried out on children at the Stanford University nursery. The aim of the study was to demonstrate that if children were passive witnesses to an aggressive display by an adult, they would imitate the behaviour when given the opportunity. The sample size was 72 children ages 37 to 69 months, with equal amounts of males and females. There were three conditions in the experiment: the control group, the group exposed to the aggressive model and the group exposed to the passive model. In condition with the aggressive model, they children observed an adult being aggressive towards the bobo doll, in the passive condition children observed an adult playing and ignoring the bobo doll and in the control group children did not see a model and were left to play of their own accord. Furthermore the conditions that were not the control group were divided into groups according to sex, each condition with 6 boys with the same sex model, six without and vice versa for the females. After they had been exposed to their role models, the children were left to play individually in a room with observers on the other side of a one-way mirror, their aggression ratings were then calculated.
Bandura found that children in the aggression condition made more aggressive responses than children in the non-aggressive condition, which supports SLT by showing that the children were negatively influenced by the presence of an aggressive role-model. Also, the frequency at which aggression was displayed seemed to depend on the correspondence of the genders between role models and children e.g. Boys were more aggressive after watching male model than after watching the female model. This further supports SLT as it demonstrates that the appropriateness of the model should be considered; if a child sees a model who is more similar to them (such as father for a male or mother for a female), the child is more likely to replicate the behaviours they have learnt.
This study was a laboratory study, however covert observation techniques were used through use of a one way mirror to observe and record how the children played with their toys after observing the aggressive role model. Due to the laboratory nature of the study, it does still lack mundane realism and thus – external validity. However, due to the covert observation carried out the internal validity is much higher and there would have been little to no demand characteristics, especially so since children are not particularly susceptible to demand characteristics or social desirability. The initial sample size of 72 children is reasonable, however divided into subgroups of six does lead to a less significant sample size, and so lowers the generalizability of the findings. Though the study may be flawed in ways – as all studies are – the findings do present a cause and effect relationship supporting the learning of aggressive behaviour and thus gives the theory the important strength of having supportive research.
On the other hand, a disadvantage for social learning theory would be that it is a highly reductionist theory. The theory takes the complex human behaviour of aggression and over-simplifies it to a purely leant behaviour and ignores other approaches which oppose the fact that aggression isn’t caused solely by the environment in which we are brought up in. Reductionism is a serious issue within a psychological theory since it reduces the application potential since it cannot explain every aspect of the issue in hand.
Furthermore, Social learning theory leans towards the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate, which means that none of our behaviour is predetermined and that our behaviour is influenced completely by environmental factors, in this case, the behaviour of our surrounding models. Only accounting for one side of the debate is a disadvantage; in this case, mostly due to the fact that there is biological evidence that neurotransmitters and hormones are involved in aggression and this means that the nature account should probably be taken into account more due to the objective, supportive information that the biological approach (which is a nature based argument) can provide.
Another disadvantage of the theory that should be taken into consideration would be that SLT is a deterministic approach, an individual cannot control what they are taught and so this leads to a lack of free will. Once an individual has learnt a maladaptive behaviour, (according the behaviourist approach) other measures must be taken to help an individual ‘unlearn’ the maladaptive behaviour. Even in this instance it is not the individual’s free will that allows them to change their actions, but the work of others around them. Determinism may lead to ethical issues, in that a person cannot be blamed for their actions; on one hand this can alleviate self-blame for an individual, on the other hand it may lead to helplessness within an individual who may believe that their actions are beyond control.
Thank you to anybody taking your time to give this a read. Be completely honest, I need points to improve on - no sugarcoating!