Social Learning Theory
1. Unlike Freudian and ethological theories, the social learning theory of Albert Bandura (1973, 1983) does not hypothesize that aggression is primarily determined by instincts. Instead, he contends that the acquisition and expression of aggressive behavior is due to learning. Bandura's analysis can be divided into three components: the origins of aggression, forces which instigate aggression, and factors that maintain aggression.
a. Aggressive behavior can be acquired because a person or animal is rewarded for aggressive actions. For instance, animals quickly learn to attack other animals if they are rewarded by food, escape from shock, etc. It has been found (Patterson, Littman, & Bricker, 1967) that children whose aggressive acts successfully intimidate other children become increasingly aggressive. Also, there is a positive correlation (McCarthy & Kelly, 1978) between the time hockey players are penalized for rough play and the number of goals they score. Thus, aggression can be instrumental in achieving certain rewards.
b. The most common method of acquiring aggression is by observing others. A classic experiment by Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1963) illustrates this process. The subjects were four and five year old children. Children were either exposed to either a live adult model who aggressively attack a Bobo doll, a videotape of the adult attacking the Bobo, a cartoon version of the attack sequence, or were not given an experience with the model. Later all children were given the opportunity to play with the Bobo and some non-violent (e.g., tinker toys). Those children who had seen the model act aggressively, whether in the live, videotaped, or cartoon versions, acted in a more aggressive fashion than did children who had not seen the model with the doll.
3. Instigators: What external factors increase the likelihood that an aggressive response will occur?
a. Seeing others behave aggressively may reduce societal inhibitions against the expression of aggression.
b. By observing the behavior of others we can tell whether it is advantageous to commit a particular aggressive act. In a study by Bandura and Walters (1963), children observed an adult aggressively attack a Bobo. In one condition the model was rewarded; in a second arrangement the model was punished; and in the third group the model experienced no specific consequences for the behavior. When the children were later given the opportunity to play with the Bobo and other toys, aggression was much higher in the model-rewarded and model-no consequence condition. In the second part of the experiment, all children were requested by the experimenter to imitate the model. Subjects all made aggressive responses, regardless of the consequences experienced by the model. Thus, the learning of aggression was determined by observing the model. However, the expression of aggression was affected by the consequences which followed the model's behavior.
c. Exhibiting aggressive behavior can be a way of becoming a part of a group. For example, in some street gangs status can be gained by a physical attack upon a member of an outgroup. More commonly, you can show that you are "one of the boys" or "one of the girls" by laughing at a joke which slurs members of another race or sex.
d. Aversive treatments such as frustrations, insults, or being attacked can initiate aggression. Geen (1968) gave subjects a chance to shock another person. If the other person had previously insulted the subject, more intense shocks were administered.
e. Certain roles, such as soldier or executioner, call for aggressive behavior.
f. "Disillusional control" can lead to aggression when an individual responds to some "inner voice." "The Son of Sam" killer claimed he was following directions mentally transmitted to him by a dog.
4. Maintaining Aggressive Behavior:
a. Rewards are the most common reason that aggression continues. These may be money (e.g., professional football player), praise, a higher status, or the pleasure found in the suffering of another person.
b. Aggression may continue because the responsibility for aggression is displaced upon others (e.g., I was only following orders).
c. "Dehumanization" can also lead to the maintenance of
aggression for long periods of time (e.g., she wouldn't have been raped
if she wasn't wearing that short skirt).