Social Psychological Theories of Aggression
Social learning theorists propose that behaviour, such as aggression
is learnt through observation, imitation and behaviour shaping. This
behaviour is learnt automatically through observation of male and
female role models, for example parents, peers and media characters.
Whether or not this behaviour is imitated depends on the type of
reinforcement that the role model receives.
Vicarious reinforcement involves the outcome of a role models
behaviour, for example if a child observes a parent acting
aggressively and receiving positive rewards for they are more like to
be imitate this behaviour in the future, than they would be if the
role model received negative feedback.
A study that investigates reinforcement and the Social Learning Theory
is Bandura's BoBo Doll Experiment. Bandura exposed children aged three
and six, to either an aggressive model of the same or opposite sex or
a non-aggressive model of the same or opposite sex. Where the model
was non-aggressive, the model just played with the toys and ignored
the BoBo Doll. The aggressive model however showed aggression towards
the BoBo Doll, by punching it at the same time as being verbally
aggressive towards it. Afterwards the children observed the role
models being positively rewarded for their behaviour regardless of
whether they were aggressive or not. The child was then taken to
another room where there were a variety of toys including, a BoBo
Doll. The child was observed. It was found that the children exposed
to the aggressive model reproduced a great deal more aggressive
behaviour than those in the non-aggressive or control groups.
Furthermore, Bandura found that the children imitated the model of the
same sex more than the model of a different sex.
This supports the Social Learning Theories of aggression as the
children learnt through observation of the role model, imitation of
their behaviour and behaviour shaping. Also they received sweets and
praise as a form of positive vicarious reinforcement thus meaning that
there was a chance of repetition of the aggressive behaviour outside
the laboratory setting. The vicarious reinforcement is also a direct
consequence that will have an effect on the chances of the child
repeating the behaviour. As if the child was punished they would have
been less likely to act aggressively again.
On the other hand, it is possible to say that the children were
manipulated into responding aggressively towards the BoBo Doll as they
were teased and may have become frustrated because they could not
touch the toys even though they had to watch the role models playing
however it is not actually stated how long the children remained
aggressive for. The experiment can be said to be unethical and morally
wrong because the children were trained...