Social Psychological Theories of Aggression

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 to be aggressive, as they were probably not used to watching adults behave some immaturely. Also as the experiment was preformed in a laboratory it therefore lacks eco-logical validity, as it may not have real life consequences. Another study that supports the Social Learning Theories of aggression is Patterson et al (1989). This study compares families with one or more, aggressive children to families with no aggressive children. Patterson used questionnaires and interviews with family, friends and teachers, to come to the end result. Observation in the home was also used giving the experiment eco-logical validity. It was found that parents with aggressive children rarely used social reinforcement or any kind of positive reinforcement or approval as a way of behaviour control. Instead they used physical aggression as a form of punishment, for example nagging, shouting and/or teasing. The children in these families tended to be overly manipulative and extremely difficult to discipline. Patterson proposed that the home environment could cause the child to be aggressive as the harsh discipline and lack of general supervision could subsequently cause the child to have a lack of identity. This supports the social learning theory as the experiment also states that the aggressive children may learn through observation and imitation, thus merely thinking that aggression is the only way to solve disputes. It is also valuable as the results and conclusions have practical applications as the experiment was preformed in a real life environment. It is also possible to suggest that a way of reducing childhood aggression is by teaching alternative child rearing skills. Another Social Learning Theory of aggression is deindividuation. This is described as the loss of one?s sense of individuality. During this a person normal constraints on their behaviour are substantially weakened. Deindividuation can be set off by a variety of things for example being in a large crowd, the effects of drugs and/or alcohol or wearing a uniform. This could be as if people feel they are going to identified, and consequently punished, they will inhibit their aggressive urges however if in the aforementioned circumstances identification may be difficult therefore reducing peoples fear of punishment, as they believe they are more free to behave in an anti social way. People also may feel anonymous which will reduce the overall chance of them being identified, which will mean they feel able to act aggressively. Zimbardo (1969) regards anonymity as a major source of deindividuation in one study he had subjects were hoods and masks to guard their identity. Female students were asked to deliver shocks to another student in order to help them in learning. Half the participants wore bulky lab coats hoods that hid their faces, were spoken to in groups of four and were never addressed by their name, whereas the others wore their regular clothing, were given large name tags to wear and could see each dimly whilst the experiment took place. The student who received the shock could be seen in a one-way mirror squirming with pain. The hooded deindividuated students gave twice as much shock as those who were individuated, if they were told that the student receiving the shock was warm, honest and sincere she did not receive any less shock than those who were believed to be conceited and critical, by contrast the individuated students did adjust the shock administered according to the victim character. However there is also research that challenges the theory of deindividuation as Johnson and Dowling (1979) proposed that participants who were wearing nurse?s uniforms administered less shocks than those wearing masks and hoods similar to those of the Klu Klux Klan. This could be as the participants were changing to fit the role they were given. The Social Learning Theory can explain aggressive behaviour in the way that it shows the observation, imitation and repetition of certain behaviour. However it has limitations in the way that it only explains aggressive behaviour to a certain extent.

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