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Bandura- A Theory in Action

Updated on February 18, 2020

The Impact of Family and Social Influence on Behavior


The concept if the family system is the cornerstone on which every individual is formed.

Children learn basic life and social skills from the connection they have with their families. When there is a break in the family dynamic, the child can develop an unhealthy and inappropriate sense of life and social skills. Stressors in daily life can produce unhealthy behaviors in parents that over time, can be perceived as acceptable behaviors by their children from their continued exposure to those behaviors. The family system sets the stage, and then through social learning, the children develop the sense of right and wrong. Negative or violent behaviors displayed by the parents can be observed by the child, which can in turn, mimic. Those behaviors can be relearned by both the parents and the child through modeling of desired behaviors and reinforcement.

One example of a family dynamic in which was presented includes a forty-year-old male, his wife, and six-year-old son. They live in a small apartment with no family support in the area. Mr. Adams has no job, but has developed a drinking and gambling addiction. That, compounded with Mrs. Adams’ compulsive shopping has left the family in dire state of finances, with large amounts of debt and an impending eviction. Mr. Adams has a history of domestic violence toward his wife, and subsequently, their son Carter has been acting out aggressively toward the children in the neighborhood. The family system here is very complex due to both parents making poor choices that have negative effects on the family. The father’s drinking and gambling problems create a pathway to the abusive behavior he expresses toward his wife. While, in the same respect, the mother’s disregard for the family’s financial state also sets in motion a poor example for their son to be exposed to.

The stressors of unemployment and financial woes could be the catalyst for the drinking and gambling. The abuse toward Mrs. Adams could also be a result of stress, as the cohesiveness of the family system is out of sorts. According to Murray Bowen, the family is a unit, that feeds off the needs and emotions of the individual members. A disrupt in that unit, would cause a breakdown in the system, such as, “The emotional interdependence presumably evolved to promote the cohesiveness and cooperation families require to protect, shelter, and feed their members. Heightened tension, however, can intensify these processes that promote unity and teamwork, and this can lead to problems. When family members get anxious, the anxiety can escalate by spreading infectiously among them. As anxiety goes up, the emotional connectedness of family members becomes more stressful than comforting. Eventually, one or more members feels overwhelmed, isolated, or out of control.” (Kerr 2000). A report published by the Journal of Family Psychology by Lindblom, Aanska, Flykt, Tolyanen, Tiitinen, Tulpala, and Punamaki on the role of emotions within the family system, found “Our results emphasize the significance of whole family systems, including both mothers and fathers as well as the marital and parenting subsystems, for children’s early development. Furthermore, our results indicate that emotion regulation is an important developmental mechanism linking early family dysfunctions to children’s depression. This can help to explain equifinality in developmental family research, by suggesting that various types of family problems similarly disrupt children’s emotion regulation development. Intriguingly, our results also suggest that parental discrepancies in family perceptions may have a specific role on children’s anxiety,” (Lindblom 2017). The report quantifies the idea that a disruption in the family system can have an adverse effect on the children involved, which could account for the aggressive behavior displayed by Carter among the children in his neighborhood. In addition, the actions displayed by Mr. Adams could be a result of the breakdown in the family system. With no outside family support, Mr. Adams is left with the responsibility of his family. Whether the unemployment was a result of the drinking and gambling, or the drinking and gambling were a result of the unemployment, the integrity of his family system has been compromised. In return, Mr. Adams could be taking the frustrations out on Mrs. Adams in a physical manner, and justifies that in his own mind by her reckless spending of their finances. A report from the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration by Moshe Alagor and Yossef Ben-Porath portrays the family system as cycle, a sort of well-oiled machine or a wheel that turns in a continual balance between the individual family members. However, when there is an imbalance the system creates a shift, resulting in anxiety, stress, and discourse between the family members. “Family system theory postulates that all behavior is carried out in a social-relational context (e.g., familial, work) to ensure that the person’s basic needs for order, security, belongingness, and identity are met (Almagor, 2011; Minuchin, 1974; Richmond, 1917). For this reason, the existence of the system becomes vital and even more important than the existence of its members (Almagor, 2011). The function of behavior is thus understood in light of securing the provision of basic needs by ensuring system integrity. When a system functions adequately, it is presumed that communication among its members is satisfactory and that individuals are able to function in the system in a meaningful, appropriate, and accepted way. If a system member feels dissatisfaction or fear concerning system integrity (e.g., fear of parental separation, fear of loss of control, loss of status, unemployment), the individual responds in a way that communicates distress, which is intended to bring about a change in an attempt to restore control, and homeostasis (Haley, 1976; Madanes, 1981, 1984).” (Almagr 2013), The report creates a springboard that can suggest that Mr. Adams’ feelings about losing control, due to the unemployment, can cause a distress that would enable him to act out in an abusive manner toward his wife. In a way that would make Mr. Adams feel as though he has control over some aspect of his life, his home and family, whereas he has no control over the outside forces that impact his home and family life.

In addition to the problems that Mr. Adams faces, in the foreseeable future, there will be a greater risk of Carter developing more intense or severe issues than he has already expressed. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory suggests that violence is a learned behavior. Carter is witness to his father’s abusive treatment of his mother. His recent acting out in aggressive ways toward the neighborhood children suggests that Carter is learning to believe that violence is an acceptable means to a desired resolution. A blog on Penn State’s webpage by a Psychology student states, “In support of this, those individuals, male and female, who saw their parents hit one another had three times as much likelihood of abusing their spouses. Then, those individuals who were also abused and then witnessed their parents being violent with one another (“double whammy”) had an even higher rate of encountering marital violence, a one in three chance of occurrence within the year (Mihalic & Elliott, 1997, p. 23). High rates of battered women have witnessed abuse or been abused as children as well.” (PSYCH 2017). This idea further emphasizes that children who witness violent or abusive acts from their parents are more likely to commit such abusive or violent acts themselves. Further research shows, “The primary hypothesis for the intergenerational cycle of violence is that violent and abusive adults learned this behavior as a result of being the victims of or witnesses of aggressive and abusive behavior as children. If children are abused by their parents, they may internalize beliefs and patterns of behaviors that lead them to abuse their own children; if children observe parents who hit each other, they may develop a greater propensity toward abusing their own spouses. Transmission of violent behavior occurs through processes of modeling, failure to learn appropriate ways to manage conflict, and reinforcement for violent behavior. Normal coping mechanisms may not be learned or may become impaired, leading to violence as the ultimate resource.” (Social Learning Theory and Family Violence 2015). Research indicates that by Carter being exposed to the abusive behavior of his father toward his mother, he is predisposed to acting out in more violent tendencies throughout his life. Seeing the behavior reinforces in Carter that the violence is an acceptable behavior. Furthermore, it is not only the influence of Mr. Adams’ behavior that will have a lasting impact on Carter, but also the actions of Mrs. Adams. The actions that Mrs. Adams displays with her reckless spending and setting up the family for financial stress, will instill in Carter a sense of not having to take responsibility for oneself.

Ideally, developing a treatment plan for this family based on the Social Learning Theory would be appropriate. A recent report suggests, “One prominent theory that has been successful in producing behavior change has been social learning theory.( 1-13) As noted by Green and Simons-Morton,( 14) social learning theory has developed into "what is currently perhaps the most influential approach in regard to both personality development and general learning theory" (p. 181). Social learning theory was proposed as an alternative to the earlier operant/learning theory view of behavior that suggested behavior was learned and emitted through the external reinforcement and punishment from the environment. Bandura( 13) postulated that humans do not learn as passive respondents to external rewards and punishments from the environment, but rather that behavior is reciprocally determined in a dynamic interaction between the person, the environment, and previous behavior. Individuals learn to behave, therefore, through a "process of modeling and reinforcement, and through a vicarious process of observing models and the consequences models experience as a result of their behavior. Because individuals establish goals for the future, social learning theory recognizes the importance of self-regulation and self-control."( 15)” (Hawkins 1993). This report indicates that, just as negative behaviors are a learned practice, observing positive and appropriate behaviors through modeling and reinforcement can lead to changed behaviors. This type of reinforced behavior change therapy could be effective for all members of this family, as they all three have behaviors that need to be modified to restore balance to the family dynamic. Additionally, a report by John Regus Mc Namara of UGA on the use of Social Learning Theory for the treatment of aggression in children states, “Recently, there has been increased interest in the application of learning principles to modify undesirable behavior patterns in children. When behavioral modification is achieved in this way, a person's response to stimuli is changed through appropriate environmental manipulation” (Mc Namara 1970). Based on the research, the Social Learning Theory would be an ideal method of use in restructuring the breakdown in the family system for the Adams’. By relearning new behaviors through modeling and reinforcement, the family dynamic could see an increase in responsibility, as well as a decrease in the undesired behaviors such as drinking, gambling, irresponsible spending, and aggression; as well as the abusive behavior.

In conclusion, the implications of both Mr. and Mrs. Adams’ behaviors will be far reaching into the social conduct of their son Carter. The seeds in which they are planting in his adaptive mind include violence and abusive treatment of family members, reckless spending of the family income, drinking, and gambling. In concert with Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, domestic violence is a learned behavior and will be the catalyst in Carter becoming trapped in the “cycle of violence” that traps so many. The behaviors that Carter is learning from his family will have no small influence in the ways that he thinks and acts as he grows into adulthood. Core values are learned early in childhood within the family system. As the individual grows into adulthood, those values evolve and adapt according to the environment and experiences they are exposed to. Negative or undesired behaviors can be un-learned in a way that restructures the individual’s way of thinking through modeling and reinforcement in a manner that can restore balance and cohesiveness within the family dynamic.


Almagor, M., & Ben-Porath, D. D. (2013). Functional dialectic system (FDS) treatment: Integrating family system theory with dialectic thinking. Journal Of Psychotherapy Integration, 23(4), 397-405. doi:10.1037/a0034364

Hawkins, W., Clarke, G., & Seeley, J. (1993). Application of social learning theory to the primary prevention of depression in adolescents. Health Values: The Journal Of Health Behavior, Education & Promotion, 17(6), 31-39.

Kerr, Michael E. “One Family’s Story: A Primer on Bowen Theory.” The Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. 2000.

Lindblom, J., Vänskä, M., Flykt, M., Tolvanen, A., Tiitinen, A., Tulppala, M., & Punamäki, R. (2017). From early family systeMrs to internalizing symptoMrs: The role of emotion regulation and peer relations. Journal Of Family Psychology, 31(3), 316-326. doi:10.1037/fam0000260


"Social Learning Theory and Family Violence - Criminal Justice - IResearchNet." Criminal Justice. N.p., 24 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 July 2017.

"PSYCH 424 Blog." Applied Social Psychology ASP RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2017.


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