Social learning theory
Social learning theory is a perspective that states that people learn within a social context. It is facilitated through concepts such as modeling and observational learning. People, especially children, learn from the environment and seek acceptance from society by learning through influential models. Social learning theory is a perspective that states that social behavior (any type of behavior that we display socially) is learned primarily by observing and imitating the actions of others. The social behavior is also influenced by being rewarded and/or punished for these actions.
Social learning theory was derived in an attempt by Robert Sears and other scholars to merge psychoanalytic with stimulus-response learning theory into an inclusive explanation of human behavior. Sears and others drew their conclusions from the clinical richness of psychoanalysis and the rigor of stimulus-response learning. Albert Bandura, conversely, abandoned the psychoanalytic and drive features of the approach. His approach emphasized cognitive and information-processing capabilities that facilitate social behavior. Both theories proposed were envisioned as a general context for the understanding of human behavior, but Bandura’s theory provided a stronger theoretical beginning.
According to Social Learning theory, models are an important source for learning new behaviors and for achieving behavioral change in institutionalized settings. Social learning theory is derived from the work of Albert Bandura which proposed that observational learning can occur in relation to three models:
- Live model
- in which an actual person is demonstrating the desired behaviour
- Verbal instruction
- in which an individual describes the desired behaviour in detail, and instructs the participant in how to engage in the behavior
- in which modeling occurs by means of the media, including movies, television, Internet, literature, and radio. This type of modeling involves a real or fictional character demonstrating the behaviour.
An important factor of Bandura’s social learning theory is the emphasis on reciprocal determinism. This notion states that an individual’s behaviour is influenced by the environment and characteristics of the person. In other words, a person’s behaviour, environment, and personal qualities all reciprocally influence each other.
Bandura proposed that the modeling process involves several steps:
- Attention: In order for an individual to learn something, they must pay attention to the features of the modeled behaviour.
- Retention: Humans need to be able to remember details of the behaviour in order to learn and later reproduce the behaviour.
- Reproduction: In reproducing a behavior, an individual must organize his or her responses in accordance with the model behavior. This ability can improve with practice.
- Motivation: There must be an incentive or motivation driving the individual’s reproduction of the behaviour. Even if all of the above factors are present, the person will not engage in the behaviour without motivation.
Bandura is known for his 1961-1963 experiments utilizing an inflatable clown known as a Bobo doll in order to test modeling behaviours in children. Children were divided into three groups – one of which was exposed to an aggressive adult model, one which was exposed to a passive adult model, and a control group, which was not exposed to an adult model. Adults in the aggressive group were asked to verbally and physically attack the doll, while those in the passive group were asked to play peacefully. Once the children were given the opportunity to play, results showed that those exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to imitate what they had seen, and to behave aggressively toward the doll. It was found that boys were four times more likely than girls to display physical aggression, but levels of verbal aggression were about the same. The results of Bandura’s studies provided support for the influence of modeling on learning. Further, a later study in 1965 showed that witnessing the model being punished for the aggressive behavior decreased the likelihood that children would imitate the behaviour.
Julian Rotter moved away from theories based on psychosis and behaviourism, and developed a learning theory. In Social Learning and Clinical Psychology (1954), Rotter suggests that the effect of behaviour has an impact on the motivation of people to engage in that specific behaviour. People wish to avoid negative consequences, while desiring positive results or effects. If one expects a positive outcome from a behaviour, or thinks there is a high probability of a positive outcome, then they will be more likely to engage in that behaviour. The behavior is reinforced, with positive outcomes, leading a person to repeat the behaviour. This social learning theory suggests that behaviour is influenced by these environmental factors or stimuli, and not psychological factors alone.
Albert Bandura expanded on Rotter's idea, as well as earlier work by Miller & Dollard, and is related to social learning theories of Vygotsky and Lave. This theory incorporates aspects of behavioral and cognitive learning. Behavioural learning assumes that people's environment (surroundings) cause people to behave in certain ways. Cognitive learning presumes that psychological factors are important for influencing how one behaves. Social learning suggests that a combination of environmental (social) and psychological factors influence behaviour. Social learning theory outlines three requirements for people to learn and model behaviour including attention: retention (remembering what one observed), reproduction (ability to reproduce the behaviour), and motivation (good reason) to want to adopt the behaviour.
According to Bandura and Walters’s 1963 review on Social Learning Theory, human learning takes place as individuals abstract information from observing behavior of others. The factors of social learning are using symbols and engaging with intentional actions. This is proven by the models Bandura used to help build his theory of social learning of attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Bandura uses these complex behaviors of reciprocal determinism to help illustrate the interactive effect of various factors such as the environment, behavior, and internal events that influence perspectives.
In human development there are many other factors that go into understanding how social learning theory affects the growth of a child. For instance, children will look up to those of the same gender and imitate their behavior. The role models could be anyone from their parents to their teachers at school, or perhaps, a character on television. By imitating the behavior of this role model the child will learn what is deemed appropriate for society. When the child learns what is approved by his or her peers, the child is likely to adhere to that standard.
Children also learn through positive and negative reinforcement. When a child acts a certain way he/she is searching for approval and acceptance of that behavior. If the reinforcement is positive, it is filling a role or desire that the child might have which will lead the child to continue that action. If the child does not receive the approval that he/she is searching for there is change in behavior. Mutual acceptance is necessary for the behavior to be reoccurring. Also the unconditional love from a parent is necessary for the child to learn and develop properly. The parent can't simply withhold love from the child because they didn't behave a certain way. Positive and negative reinforcement is important for child development but the parent cannot withhold love simply because the child did something wrong. Social learning theory plays such a large role in reinforcement because that is the baseline of every action of a child seeking approval from their peers, parents and teachers alike.
This theory was further tested by Akers in 1998. He found that drug usage had a direct correlation with peer association, but only if peer interactions were to occur. Concluding that social learning theory affects human development in the way that we interact with our peers and what we do to be socially accepted.
In criminology, Ronald Akers and Robert Burgess developed social learning theory to explain deviancy by combining variables which encouraged delinquency (e.g., the social pressure from delinquent peers) with variables that discouraged delinquency (e.g., the parental response to discovering delinquency in their children).
The first two stages were used by Edwin Sutherland in his Differential Association Theory. Sutherland's model for learning in a social environment depends on the cultural conflict between different factions in a society over who has the power to determine what is deviant. But his ideas were difficult to put into operation and measure quantitatively. Burgess, a behavioral sociologist, and Akers revised Sutherland's theory and included the idea of reinforcement, which increases or decreases the strength of a behavior, and applied the principles of operant psychology, which holds that behavior is a function of its consequences and can be really bad in some cases 
Functionalism had been the dominant paradigm but, in the 1960s, there was a shift towards Social Control Theories, conflict criminology, and labeling theories that tried to explain the emerging and more radical social environment. Moreover, people believed that they could observe behavior and see the process of social learning, e.g., parents watched their own children and saw the influence of other children on their own; they could also see what kind of effect they had on their own children, i.e., the processes of differential association and reinforcement. The conservative political parties were advocating an increase in punishment to deter crime. Unlike labeling theory, social learning theory actually supports the use of punishment which translates into longer sentences for those convicted, and helps to explain the increase in the prison population that began in the early 1970s (Livingston, 1996).[full citation needed]
Unlike situational crime prevention, the theory ignores the opportunistic nature of crime (Jeffery, 1990: 261–2).[full citation needed] To learn one must first observe criminal behavior, but where was this behavior learned? The theory does explain how criminal behavior is "transmitted" from one person to another, which can explain increases in types of crimes, but it does not consider how criminal acting can be prevented (Jeffery, 1990: 252)[full citation needed] although it may be fairly assumed that the processes of learning behaviors can be changed.
There is also a definite problem. What may be reinforcement for one person may not be for another. Also, reinforcements can be both social involving attention and behavior between more than one person, and non-social reinforcement which would not involve this interaction (Burgess & Akers: 1966).[full citation needed] Social learning theory has been used in mentoring programs that should, in theory, prevent some future criminal behavior. The idea behind mentoring programs is that an adult is paired with a child, who supposedly learns from the behavior of the adult and is positively reinforced for good behavior (Jones-Brown, 1997).[full citation needed] In the classroom, a teacher may use the theory by changing the seating arrangements to pair a behaving child and a misbehaving child, but the outcome may be that the behaving child begins behaving badly.
We can explain attachment in terms of the principles of classic conditioning. The food-giver then becomes a source of pleasure.
"Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation."
Feshbach and R.D. Singer believed that television actually decreases the amount of violence in children. They conducted an experiment about how juvenile boys react to violent shows. Studies show that the juvenile boys that viewed the non-violent shows were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior than the juvenile boys that witnessed the violent shows. Sutherland believes individuals learn criminal behavior while in their adolescence from family members and peers. Akers stated positive rewards and the avoidance of punishment helps reinforced aggression.
Hale applied the social learning theory to serial murder using Amsel's frustration theory. In frustration theory, humiliation is the result of a nonreward situation, which is a reward that is not given when a reward had been given in the past. When an individual is conditioned to be rewarded they anticipate it to happen in the future, but when they are presented with a nonreward situation this creates an unconditioned frustration response, otherwise called humiliation. Signs associated with the humiliating experience form a conditioned anticipatory frustration response, which triggers specific internal stimuli. These stimuli prevent an individual from future humiliation. During childhood, serial killers experience many humiliating situations and with unbalanced nonreward situations and no reward situations, they perceive all situations as nonreward and develop the inability to distinguish between the two. They anticipate humiliation in every encounter that they come across. When it comes to choosing their victims serial killers do not go back to the person who caused the humiliation. According to Dollard and Miller's (1939, 1950) theory of learning, the individual is "instigated" toward a behavior, which is some antecedent condition of which the predicted response is the consequences. For a serial killer, frustration gets in the way of an instigated goal and their built up aggression must be released. Their behavior is seen as a delayed and indirect release of aggression. They are unable to release their aggression on their source of frustration and are forced to choose more vulnerable individuals to act on. The child learns to expect humiliation or a negative situation from the past, which then causes frustration or aggression. Jerome Henry Brudos felt he was never accepted by his mother. Brudos transferred his hatred for his mother to other women through his mutilation of their bodies. For Brudos, the murder of strange women served as a catharsis for the humiliation he endured through his mother's rejection. In all of these instances the serial killer was presented with some form of humiliation as a child, and learned to vent their anger through aggression.
The applications of social learning theory have been important in the history of education policies in the United States. The zone of proximal development is used as a basis for early intervention programs such as Head Start. Social learning theory can also be seen in the TV and movie rating system that is used in the United States. The rating system is designed to let all parents know what the programs that their children are watching contain. The ratings are based on age appropriate material to help parents decide if certain content is appropriate for their child to watch. Some content may be harmful to children who do not have the cognitive ability to process certain content, however the child may model the behaviors seen on TV.
Within the domain of School Psychology, social learning theory can help create more effective classroom environments. One of the responsibilities of a school psychologist is to work with teachers and administrators to make classrooms more efficacious for students and teachers alike. Using social learning theory as a basis, teachers could help alleviate behavioral issues by modeling appropriate classroom behavior and explicitly reinforcing students that do act appropriately. Through vicarious experiences and consequences, individuals learn how to behave in an appropriate and acceptable manner.
Furthermore, social learning theory serves as a means of improving academic outcomes for students. Since some elements of lessons and techniques are not always apparent to students, it is important to help students understand what an unfamiliar practice actually consists of and what the rationale for learning it is. By emphasizing the teacher's role as model and encouraging the students to adopt the position of observer, the teacher can make knowledge and practices explicit to students, enhancing their learning outcomes.
Locus of control is an important consideration when helping students in higher education environments perform better academically. Cassandra B. Whyte indicated in the 1970s and 1980s that by encouraging students to accept personal responsibility for their educational outcomes, better academic performance will usually be forthcoming if ability levels are present. More frequent successful academic performance will result as thoughts and belief in the need for personal effort toward the academic task is rewarded. As successful experiences increase in frequency, the student usually incorporates the confidence that hard work often can be rewarded with positive academic outcomes.
Guided participation is seen in schools across the United States and all around the world in language classes when the teacher says a phrase and asks the class to repeat the phrase. An extension of guided participation is reciprocal learning in which both student and teacher share responsibility in leading discussions. The other part to guided participation is when the student goes home and practices on their own. Guided participation is also seen with parents who are trying to teach their own children how to speak.
Scaffolding is another technique that is used widely across the United States. Most academic subjects take advantage of scaffolding, however mathematics is one of the best examples. As students move through their education they learn skills in mathematics that they will build on throughout their scholastic careers. A student who has never taken a basic math class and does not understand the principles of addition and subtraction will not be able to understand algebra. The process of learning math is a scaffolding technique because the knowledge builds on itself over time.
Another important application of social learning theory has been in the treatment and conceptualization of anxiety disorders. The classical conditioning approach to anxiety disorder, which spurred the development of behavioral therapy and is considered by some to be the first modern theory of anxiety, began to lose steam in the late 1970s as researchers began to question its underlying assumptions. For example, the classical conditioning approach holds that pathological fear and anxiety are developed through direct learning; however, many people with anxiety disorders cannot recall a traumatic conditioning event, in which the feared stimulus was experienced in close temporal and spatial contiguity with an intrinsically aversive stimulus. Social learning theory helped salvage learning approaches to anxiety disorders by providing additional mechanisms beyond classical conditioning that could account for the acquisition of fear. For example, social learning theory suggests that a child could acquire a fear of snakes, for example, by observing a family remember express fear in response to snakes. Alternatively, the child could learn the associations between snakes and unpleasant bites through direct experience, without developing excessive fear, but could later learn from others that snakes can have deadly venom, leading to a re-evaluation of the dangerousness of snake bites, and accordingly, a more exaggerated fear response to snakes (see 19, for a discussion of similar US re-evaluation effects).
Patricia H. Miller in her book, Theories of Developmental Psychology, list both moral development and gender-role development as important areas of research within social learning theory. Social learning theorists emphasize observable behavior regarding the acquisition of these two skills. For gender-role development, the same-sex parent provides only one of many models from which the individual learns gender-roles. Social learning theory also emphasizes the variable nature of moral development due to the changing social circumstances of each decision: "The particular factors the child thinks are important vary from situation to situation, depending on variables such as which situational factors are operating, which causes are most salient, and what the child processes cognitively. Moral judgements involve a complex process of considering and weighing various criteria in a given social situation." 
For social learning theory, gender development has to do with the interactions of numerous social factors, involving all the interactions the individual encounters. For social learning theory, biological factors are important but take a back seat to the importance of learned, observable behavior. Because of the highly-gendered society in which an individual might develop, individuals begin to distinguish people by gender even as infants. Bandura's account of gender allows for more than cognitive factors in predicting gendered behavior: for Bandura, motivational factors and a broad network of social influences determine if, when, and where gender knowledge is expressed.
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