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Albert Bandura (1973) acknowledged the role operant conditioning has in learning aggressive behaviour

but developed it further by proposing that it can also be learnt through INDIRECT mechanisms in OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING.


Social learning involves a process of observation and imitation of role model i.e. parents, peers, characters in the media.

It proposes that ALL aggressive behaviours that are observed will be learnt BUT we won’t necessarily imitate them all as the CONSEQUENCES of the aggressive behaviour have to be considered.



If a child observes a model’s aggressive behaviour being rewarded (or just not punished) the child learns that aggression can be effective and is more likely to copy it.



If a child observes a model’s aggressive behaviour being punished the child learns that aggression is ineffective and is less likely to imitate it.



Being able to identify with the aggressive model also increases the likelihood of imitation e.g. possessing similar characteristics such as AGE, GENDER



Possessing a belief that our aggressive actions will achieve the desired goal and having the ability to perform them will increase the likelihood of imitating aggressive behaviour e.g. an older child may have a high degree of self-efficacy in being aggressive over a younger child as they know they have the motor skills and strength to perform an aggressive move on them and be successful in this.


Bandura suggested four cognitive conditions needed for observational learning of aggressive behaviour




The extent to which the aggressive act is observed. The more stimulating or arousing an aggressive act is the more likely you are to notice it.
e.g. Children are more likely to pay attention to aggressive acts seen on TV due to the bright colours, loud music, elaborate costumes etc



The extent to which the aggressive act is remembered. For a person to model the behaviour they see, it needs to be placed into the long term memory (LTM), which enables the behaviour to be retrieved.
e.g. Aggressive acts which create an emotional memory trace such as boxing matches or fight scenes are more likely to be retained in detail



The extent to which you are able to replicate the aggressive act with physical capabilities. A person is more likely to imitate aggressive acts which they can physically reproduce. E.g. an older child slapping their smaller sibling



) An individual must be expecting to receive positive reinforcement for the modelled behaviour. A person must expect that they will receive some form of reward from carrying out the aggressive behaviour in order to be motivated to do it e.g. gain higher status in the eyes of the peer for hitting someone at school.


Supporting evidence for aggression being learnt indirectly

Banduras original bobo doll study



The aim of the study was to investigate if social behaviours (i.e. aggression) can be acquired by observation and imitation.



72 3-6 year old infants. 3 conditions – observed aggressive model, non aggressive model & control condition. Observed in a room with the bobo doll.



Children who observed the aggressive model made far more imitative aggressive responses than those who were in the non-aggressive or control groups.
Most aggressive were boys who observed the male model



Children learn social behaviour such as aggression through the process of observation learning - through watching the behaviour of another person.
More likely when observing the same sex


Banduras research highly reliable

highly standardised led to many replications
aggressive acts scripted, same procedures but video rather than live models. obtained consistent findings
SLT replicated consistently suggests reliable explanation


critisized for lacking validity

internal validity likely children assumed they were supposed to hit the doll based on its design
"look mummy its the doll we have to hit"
demand characteristics
cannot be accepted as valid may not be an accurate reflection on aggression seen in real life


Cultural differences
Kung san culture of the Kalahari desert

Different cultures have different social norms about which behaviours are positively reinforced and punished
individuals are not subjected to vicarious positive reinforcement of aggression because social norms strongly discourage aggressive behaviour and therefore there are no aggressive models to imitate. Despite this however the !Kung San culture still display some aggressive behaviour.
reduces validity alternative explanation