Bandura’s Social Learning Theory suggests that acts of aggression are learnt through the observation of role models. His original “Bobo Doll” study showed that when exposed to aggressive behavior small children copied this behavior, not just by being physically aggressive but even copying the verbally aggressive behavior. However this study focuses on children who are supposed to learn in this manner, this doesn’t demonstrate that this would also be true in older children or adults who already have a set moral compass that would interfere with copying aggressive behaviors.
However Bandura’s later study showed that if children saw someone get punished for aggressive behavior they were less likely to be aggressive themselves when they were allowed to play with the bobo doll but if they saw someone get rewarded for this aggressive behavior then they were much more likely to act aggressively themselves, this shows that vicarious reinforcement is important to the learning of aggression through the social learning theory, as receiving direct positive reinforcement leads to people having high self efficacy making them very likely to repeat the aggressive behaviour that they were rewarded for.
In terms of aggression this reward could come in many forms such as acceptance from a violent gang they want to be a part of or just attention from a parent or teacher. Moreover, Walter and Thomas’ study in 1963 further supported this theory as the results of the study demonstrated that aggressive behavior was a result of imitation of role models. However, the social learning theory does not explain what triggers aggression. Additionally, the study emphasizes nurture and learning through observation – ignoring nature and biological explanations.
On the other hand, Zimbardo’s theory of Deindividuation suggests that aggressive behavior occurs in groups as a person’s normal constraints become weakened when they are part of a group as they take of the identity of the crowd as they feel that when part of a group their own actions are no longer bad making aggressive behaviour easier as they do not seem it as themselves carrying out the aggressive behaviour but the group as a whole as they become faceless, just part of the group not an individual.
Commonly members of violent or aggressive groups have a reduced private self awareness as they have some kind of tie to the rest of the group that makes them become a faceless member of the crowd, examples of this are common items of clothing in gangs and at football matches as supporters wear the same clothing and are all sat together. Zimbardo formed this theory around his Stanford Prison experiment where when the guards were giving a common uniform they became much more aggressive in their behaviour towards the prisoners as they became “guards” so felt that as a guard behaviour they would normally not see as acceptable suddenly became the appropriate response to their own frustrations.
However in contrast with this the prisoners were all deindividuated but apart from one small failed act of rebellion they did not become aggressive, in fact they became more obedient and passive, this suggests the Deindividuation of an individual as part of a group only leads to aggressive behaviour if aggression is what is expected of the group such as violence being the expected behaviour from teenage gangs.
Like Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, this doesn’t explain what causes aggression but this does suggest that in some causes individuals themselves do not feel any kind of cue for the aggression they demonstrate but act in that way because the rest of the group does explaining how large scale acts of aggression can commonly occur as it could only require a small number of people to actually have a cue such as frustration to trigger the aggressive behaviour.