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A Level Psychology - Unit 3 - Aggression (I) - Social Learning Theory

Updated on July 19, 2012
This is not just a funny image, as this Hub will explain, it has relevance
This is not just a funny image, as this Hub will explain, it has relevance | Source

Having just completed my A Level Psychology course I felt it was time to share my notes for future Psychologists and Hubbers with an interest in Psychology. This is Part 1 my series of Hub on AQA's Unit 3 module on Aggression. It focus on the Social Learning Theory (SLT) and it's explanation of aggressive behaviour. Enjoy.
And as always,
if there's something you want to mention,
leave a message in the comment section.

AO1 - The description

· SLT suggests we learn behaviour through observation.

· SLT has 4 stages which must be fulfilled for a behaviour to be reproduced. This can be remembered asORRM.

1. The behaviour (in this case aggressive behaviour) must beobserved by the individual.

2. The individual mustretain and hold this information in their head.

3. The individual must be physically able toreproduce the behaviour they have retained.

4. The individual must then have amotivation to reproduce the behaviour.

5. The behaviour can then be repeated.

· The Psychologist Bandura suggests this is a form of vicarious learning. Vicarious learning is where an individual learns what is and is not appropriative by observing consequences others experience. Aka through indirect learning.

· SLT can be seen in the real world of bullying. It is said that those who bully, are bullied themselves. It could be suggested that those who are bullied see the rewards the bullier gets by being a bully. This is then retained in the victims mind. If the bullied party is about to reproduce the bullying behaviour and are motivated by the rewards of bullying (such as money) it may be repeated. In this case, the aggressive behaviour could be said to have been learned through SLT.

· Research has shown that self-efficacy and confidence impacts a behaviours repetition. I.e. if the behaviour has been disastrous in the past, the expected rewards reduce, as does motivation. Furthermore, the persons confidence to reproduce the behaviour is similarly reduced, making the behaviour unlikely.

Images from the Bobo Doll studies
Images from the Bobo Doll studies | Source

AO2 - Experimental Evidence

Bandura is the main Psychologist you will use for providing AO2 points on the SLT explanation of aggression.

· Bandura(1961) - Bandura compared Male and Female Groups of 3 to 5 year olds. 4 conditions were set up in total by putting male and female participants into two separate conditions - aggressive and non-aggressive, The use of boys and girls is good because it separates the effect gender may have on results (AO2/3 point). In condition 1, the male and female groups saw a role model behave aggressively to a Bobo doll. Striking the doll was accompanied by verbally aggressive words like 'pow'. In condition 2, the children saw a role model who was not aggressive. After this, the 4 groups of children we frustrated by being given attractive and 'cool' toys, but were not allowed to play with them. They were then observed in a room with a Bobo Doll. In the aggressive conditions a 'good deal' of aggressive behaviour towards the doll was imitated and 1/3 of children repeated aggressive verbalisations such as POW! In the non-aggressive role model group, almost no aggressive behaviour was recorded. In the aggressive condition, boys were noted as being more aggressive. (AO3 - this study does not explain why the behaviour was repeated).

· Bandura and Walters (1963) - In response to the above AO3 point, the study was repeated with a change. No non-aggressive role models were used and 3 different conditions were set up. In condition 1, the child saw the role model receive a positive response to their aggressive behaviour. Condition 2 received no reward or punishment. Condition 3 received punishment for the aggressive behaviour. The results showed a high level of aggressive responses in condition 1, low levels of aggression in condition 3 and the neutral condition 2 was in-between. This provides evidence for vicarious learning for explaining why the behaviour was repeated.

· Bandura (1965) - Repeated the 1965 Bobo Doll experiment. This time rewards were given to the children for all imitations of aggressive behaviour. However, this experiment still produced the same levels of aggression as the 1965 study, irrespective of the rewards.

· Phillips took an observation of adults. In the USA, homicide rates were statistically higher in the week following major boxing matches, implying the aggressive behaviour was imitated.

AO3 - Evaluative Points and Issue

  • · Phillip's study indicates a correlation. Correlational studies do not imply a causation, only a link so we cannot rule out other factors influencing this correlation.

    · There are ethical issues which must be addressed when encouraging aggressive behaviour in children. Also, children cannot give fully informed consent to their participation in a study so the right procedures must be addressed.

    · The introduction of the idea of Vicarious Reinforcement is a useful concept, explaining the weaknesses of other learning theories (such as classical conditioning). It explains why behaviours can be learnt without direct reinforcement (such as from TV).

    · Nobel stated that Bandura's reasearch was subject to demand characteristics which could affect the results. Nobel observed children before the experiment saying 'look mummy, that is the doll we have to hit'. Bandura countered the demand characteristics caused by using a doll designed to be hit, by replacing it with a clown. Using a real clown, who is not designed to be hit, produced the same results.

    · SLT explains many cultural differences. The !Kun Sang avoid conflict and aggressive behaviour much more than in other societies. Aggressive behaviour is looked down on. For example, during children's arguments, the children are separated and distracted, rather than any aggressive behaviour being displayed. This suggests individual differences in aggressive behaviour come down to context-dependent learning (behaviours come from what an individual has seen and the consequences of it).

    · The SLT explanation does not ignore biological aspects and evidence towards explaining aggression. It accepts that biological factors increase the propensity of aggressive behaviour from happening/not happening. However, SLT has a notable effect, kicking the behaviour off.

There are many other studies which could be used and each have their own evaluation points. If there are some you think people may find useful, leave the information in a comment below. For Part II and other Psychology notes, follow my profile.
Part II can now be found at :


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