The social learning theory as postulated by Albert Bandura stresses on the importance of modeling and observing the attitudes, emotional reactions, and behaviors of other people. As such, social learning theories tries to explain the behaviors demonstrated by humans in the form of uninterrupted mutual contact between behavioral, cognitive, and environmental influences.
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Bandura was convinced that learning can be hazardous and dangerous if we only rely on the individual actions of other people to guide our daily actions. Additionally, we are more likely to demonstrate the behaviors that we have learnt from others (Altshuler & Nunn, 2001, p. p. 796).
Once we have learned these behaviors, we then recall them whenever we want to perform a certain action. As a result, the actions and ideas of other people end up guiding our actions in the future (Zentall, 2006, p. 337). Observational learning as popularized by Bandura consists of a number of guiding principles:
- An observer is likely to ape the model’s behavior in case the characteristics possessed by the model are desirable or attractive to the observer
- The observer is likely to ape the model in case he/she (the model) is rewarded. On the other hand, punishing the model means that he does not get to demonstrate the behavior.
- The observer can learn a behavior but fail to put it to practice immediately. However, the observer can later on recall the behavior learned and then display it.
- The four-stage process of observational learning includes attention, retention, reproduction, as well as motivation.
- Human development is an indication of an individual’s behavior, interaction, and environment (Miller, 2005).
A lot of Bandura’s work entails experimental techniques where he attempts to manipulate behavior, the environment, and an individual’s psychological processes, and then measure how it impacts on the others. Bandura was also convinced that modeling has a lot of influence on an individual, in comparison with direct experience.
Modeling entails four variables namely attention, retention, reproduction, as well as motivation. In this case, an individual seeks to pay attention to the actions of others, retain the information observed, have the capability to transform the observed information, and be fully motivated to ape the observed action.
Bandura’s social learning theory integrates both the cognitive and behavioral philosophies to form the “observational learning theory”. This theory holds that self-regulation can enable individuals to control their behavior. Self-regulation is made up of three processes: self-observation, judgment, and self-regulation (Altshuler & Nunn, 2001, p. 797).
On the other hand, judgment involves comparing individuals’ observation with the set standards. The third process is self-response in which individuals can either reward themselves negatively or positively, based on how they individuals are able to observe their own performance.
Under positive reinforcement, an observer may report a behavior as demonstrated by a model. In this case, the only thing that matters is the reinforcement received, and not the behavior (Galef & Laland, 2005, p. 490). In contrast, negative reinforcement may discourage an observer from aping the behavior of a model. Again, the only thing that matters is the reinforcement received, and not the behavior.
Albert Bandura helped to popularize the Bobo Doll Experiments. According to him, aggression should explain three components: first, it seeks to explain how we develop aggressive patterns of behavior (Miller, 2005). Secondly, it is an attempt to examine what provokes us to embrace an aggressive behavior.
Thirdly, it seeks to assess what determines if on future occasions, we are more likely to embrace aggressive behavior patterns. Bandura demonstrated that children may only need to watch others to change their behavior (Ellis, 2003). For instance, under the bobo doll experiments, Bandura grouped the children into three categories.
Each of these three groups was exposed to a film involving a model who demonstrated an aggressive behavior towards a “bobo doll”. However, the three films differed in their endings. When the first film ended, the model received praise for the aggressive behavior that he had demonstrated. When the second film ended, the model was not praised but instead, he was sent to a corner and denied the chance to play with toys (Zentall, 2006).
In group 3, when the film ended, the model just arose and made his way out of the room. Once all the children in the three groups had finished watching the film, they were allowed to access a playroom with a number of playthings, including a bobo doll. Acts of aggression were very evident in each of the three groups.
The research findings indicated that the group of children who witnessed the model receiving punishment for the aggressive behavior that he had demonstrated in the film recorded the least amount of aggression. The remaining two groups had comparatively higher percentages of aggression.
The social learning theory has certain strengths and weaknesses. One of its strengths is that the theory can adequately deal with the inconsistencies associated with a child’s behavior. For example, a child’s behavior is likely to be reinforced at school, and not at home. In this case, a child could be well-behaved while at school but not at home.
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Such a view is somewhat optimistic because it appears to suggest that any behavior can be altered given the right environment. In addition, the social learning theory paints an ideal picture of how we learn behaviors (Galef & Laland, 2005, p. 492). On the other hand, the theory has failed to consider the mental and physical changes that are likely to occur as a child matures.
Television commercial are a good example of social learning. This is because the commercials that we see on our television screen everyday attempts to influence us into trying out or buying certain products by giving us promises such as those of losing weight, or developing shiny hair. Normally, celebrities are used by companies in these television commercials to promote the products and increase sales by appealing to customers.
Social learning theory is very important in helping us to understand psychological disorders and aggression better, for behavioral modification. Moreover, social learning theory acts as a foundation for training programs. Bandura was convinced that aggression reinforced by members of a family is the most solid form of behavior modeling.
According to Bandura, children employ similar aggressive tactics as those illustrated by their parents while dealing with others. In addition, children have a higher tendency to ape aggressive behavior that they have watched from adults, and more so when the adult in question happens to be a members of the family. A good example here would be spousal abuse. In case a child is brought up in a household where one parent physically abuses the other, such a child is also likely to become abusive when he grow older.
Altshuler, D., & Nunn, A. (2001). Observational learning in hummingbirds. The Auk, 118(3), 795-799
Ellis, J. (2003). Educational Psychology: Developing Learners. London: Prentice Hall
Galef, B.G. & Laland, K.N. (2005). Social learning in animals: Empirical studies and theoretical models. Bioscience, 55, 489-499.
Miller, K. (2005). Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts (2nd ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Zentall, T.R. (2006). Imitation: Definitions, evidence, and mechanisms. Animal Cognition, 9, 335-353.