Psychology- social learning theory

What does social learning theory suggest?
That people learn behaviours by observing other people, particularly those they look up to (i.e their role models) as not all learning is reinforced or involves reflexes
According to social learning theory where does much of what is learnt come from?
Watching others and copying them, including reinforcement that follows observed behaviours
What does social learning theory incorporate?
Principles of operant conditioning
Unlike operant conditioning, what does social learning theory argue?
That as much the environment (other people) affects individuals’ behaviour so does the individual also affect the environment through their cognitive processing, which will determine is a behaviours are learned or not
What is the idea of learning?
Being a two-way process, where a individual is interacting with the environment rather than simply being affected by it, is called reciprocal determinism
What does another important factor in social learning theory attempt to explain?
Both observable behaviours and cognitive processes which take place during learning and display of different behaviours
The behaviour is modelled by another person (role model), someone of importance to the observer such as a parent, a friend or a celebrity personality
The learner will observe role model and focus on the important aspects of their behaviour
The learner will later imitate the observed behaviour, although the repetition of the behaviour will depend on reinforcements received for displaying the behaviour
Vicarious reinforcement
The learner does not need to receive direct reinforcement in order to replicate the imitated behaviour as vicarious reinforcement (seeing someone else receive rewards for their behaviour) could equally motivate or demotivate their future behaviour
Example of vicarious reinforcement
A person may work hard because a colleague at work has been rewarded for their hard work (vicarious reinforcement) or a person may decide not to shop-lift because their friend has ended up in prison for shop-lifting (vicarious punishment)
Stage 1 of social learning- attention
The learner needs to pay attention to the important parts of the behaviour being observed.
Factors affecting attention
Factors affecting if someone pays attention to the behaviour of others can depend on how distinctive the behaviour is and how relevant it is for that individual
Stage 2 of social learning- retention
The important details about the observed behaviour will need to be stored the learner’s memory.
Factors affecting retention
Factors that are likely to affect this stage of learning include the way in which information is encoded and stored in long-term memory such as visually (images) or semantically (meaning)
Stage 3 of social learning- reproduction
Once the modelled behaviour is in memory, it will be reporduced providing the consequences of that behaviour are sufficiently reinforced
Stage 4 of social learning- motivation
The likelihood of a person repeating the behaviour which they had observed will depend on their motivation, which is largely dependant on the reinforcements that would follow replication of behaviour rewards will motivate people to behave in certain way whilst punishment is likely to demotivate them from reproducing the observed behaviour
1. Strength
Supports the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate because it suggests that behaviour is learned through observation and imitation of role models rather than being a result of a person’s biology which makes it possible to influence people’s behaviours through use of positive role models.
1. Strength example
Bandura’s study showed that children who observed the aggressive role model made far more imitative aggressive responses than those who were in the non-aggressive or control group
2. Strength
Less reductionist than classical and operant conditioning theories because it considers both cognitive processes and observable behaviours when explaining how these are learned and displayed
2. Strength example
The theory explains the observation learning process as taking place through attention, retention and motivation (cognitive processes) before a behaviour is reproduced (behavioural element).
2. Strength- why is it a strength?
Because it explains individual differences in people’s behaviour such as reasons why some people may be influenced by the media violence whilst others are not
1. Weakness
Can also be considered reductionist as it only focused on the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate so it ignores biological factors such as genetic inheritence which can also affect our behaviour which means that it cannot explain all behaviours.
1. Weakness example
For example, the social learning theory cannot explain reasons why some identical twins display same behaviours even though they had raised in different adoptive environments
2. Weakness
May lack scientific credibility because the supporting evidence is base on research studies carried out in artificial environment ecological validity as they cannot tell us about how behaviours are learned in everyday life
2. Weakness example
Bandura’s study placed the children in a room with a stranger who would act aggressively towards the Bobo doll. This is something that wouldn’t happen in everyday life as the children wouldn’t usually be left alone with a stranger nor would they imitate said stranger as children usually replicate their own role models I.e people they know and therefore the study is not representative of everyday life
SLT offers a more complex picture of learning than Classical and Operant Conditioning, but it does introduce a “chicken-and-egg” problem: do people imitate role models or do they seek out role models because they already have a predisposition to behave that way?

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