Transmission of Aggression through Imitation of Aggressive Models
Albert Bandura is, perhaps, best known for his role indeveloping social learning theory. Social learning theory is anapproach to child development which states that childrendevelop through learning from other people aroundthem. In particular social learning theorists emphasize therole of observation and imitation of role models. In general,social development is seen as a continuous learning process,rather than as happening in stages. Along with otherbehaviourist psychologists, the social learning (SL) theoristsbelieve that all behaviour is learned. Although SL theoristsagree that we should observe what is observable, they alsobelieve that there are important cognitive processes whichneed to be studied to explain behaviour. These cognitiveprocesses cannot be observed but can only be inferred fromobserving actual behaviour.
The aim of Banduras study was todemonstrate that if children werepassive witnesses to an aggressivedisplay by an adult, they would imitatethis aggressive behaviour when giventhe opportunity.
Subjects exposed to aggressive models will reproduce aggressive acts resembling those of the models. The observation of non-aggressive models will have a generalised inhibiting effect on the subjects subsequent behaviour. Subjects will imitate the behaviour of a same-sex model to a greater degree than a model of the opposite sex. Boys will be more predisposed than girls towards imitating aggression.
The method was a laboratoryexperiment. The design of theexperiment has three major conditions;the control group, the group exposed tothe aggressive model, and the groupexposed to the passive model.
The samples36 were aged between 37-69 36 months (mean=52 months). The role models were one male and one female.
The children who were exposed to the adult models were further sub divided by their gender, and by the gender of the model they were exposed to. 6 boys with same sex and 6 with opposite sex model Aggressive Model- 24 6 girls with same sex and 6 with opposite sex modelExperimental Group 6 boys with same sex and 6 with opposite sex Non- model Aggressive Model -24 6 girls with same sex and 6 with opposite sex model
There were three independentvariables: the condition the childrenwere exposed to, the gender of therole model and the gender of thechild.
The level of aggression of thechildren when given the Bobodoll.
In stage one of the experiment children were brought tothe experimental room by the experimenter and themodel, who was in the hallway outside the room andwas invited to come in and join in the game. The roomwas set out for play and the activities were chosenbecause they had been noted to have high interest fornursery school children. One corner was arranged as thechilds play area, where there was a small table andchair, potato prints and picture stickers. After settlingthe child in its corner the adult model was escorted tothe opposite corner of the room where there was a smalltable, chair, tinker-toy set, a mallet and a five footinflatable Bobo doll. After the model was seated theexperimenter left the experimental room.
In the non-aggressive condition, the model ignoredBobo and assembled the tinker-toys in a quiet,gentle manner. In the aggressive condition the modelbegan by assembling the tinker-toys, but after oneminute turned to Bobo and was aggressive to thedoll in a very stylized and distinctive way.An example of physical aggression was raising theBobo doll and pommelling it on the head with amallet. An example of verbal aggression was, "Pow!"and "Sock him in the nose".After ten minutes the experimenter entered andtook the child to a new room which the child wastold was another games room.
They also looked at two types of behaviours that were not complete imitations of the adult model:1. Mallet aggression (for example, child strikes toy with mallet rather than Bobo.)2. Sits on Bobo (for example, child sits on Bobo but is not aggressive towards it)
They also recorded three aggressive behaviours that were not imitations of the adult model. These were all aggressive behaviours which were not carried out by the model.1. Punches Bobo2. Non-imitative physical and verbal aggression3. Aggressive gun playThe results enabled the researchers to consider(a) Which children imitate the models,(b) Which models the children imitate(c) Whether the children showed a general increase in aggressive behaviour or a specific imitation of the adult behaviours.
RESULTS/ FINDINGS• The children in the aggressive model condition made more aggressive responses than the children in the non- aggressive model condition• Boys made more aggressive responses than girls• The boys in the aggressive model conditions showed more aggressive responses if the model was male than if the model was female;• The girls in the aggressive model conditions also showed more physical aggressive responses if the model was male but more verbal aggressive responses if the model was female. However, they often punched the Bobo doll if the model was female than when the model was male.
Interestingly Bandura reported that theaggression of the female model had a confusingeffect on the children, perhaps because it did notfit in with their prior learning about what isculturally appropriate behaviour. For example,one of the children said, "Who is thatlady? Thats not the way for a lady tobehave. Ladies are supposed to act likeladies...", and another child said, "You shouldhave seen what that girl did in there. She waspunching and fighting but not swearing".
However the aggressive behaviour of themale model fitted more comfortably into acultural stereotype of appropriatebehaviour. For example, one boy said, "Alsa good sucker, he beat up Bobo. I want tosock like Al", and one of the girls said, "Thatman is a strong fighter, he punched andpunched and he could hit Bobo right downto the floor and if Bobo got up he said,Punch your nose, He’s a good fighter like Daddy."
Appropriateness of the model: In the study it was found that aggressive male models were more likely to be imitated than aggressive female models. One probable reason for this is to do with sex roles: perhaps it is more acceptable in Western culture for men to be aggressive than women, and even by three or four years of age children are learning the dominant stereotypes that relate to sex-role differences. So aggressive male models are more likely to be imitated since this is seen by the child as more fitting or appropriate for men (in general) than for women (in general).
Bandura found that similarity between the model and thechild is an important factor. Perception of this similarity isbased upon development of the childs gender identity, i.e.the ability to classify itself (and others) as a girl or boy,female or male. The first stage of this ability is not usuallyreached until two to two-and-a-half years of age.Bandura has carried out many other studies (not just onaggression) showing that a number of other importantcharacteristics are important for imitation. For examplenurturant (warm and friendly) adults are more likely to beimitated than unfriendly ones. That more powerful modelsare more readily imitated and that adults who are seen tobe rewarded for their behaviour are more likely to beimitated.
Children who were exposed to aggressive modelslater reproduced a substantial amount of themodel’s physical and verbal aggression; theimitative responses were almost identical to themodeled behaviour. Children who were exposedto non-aggressive models or who had no exposureto any models, rarely produced such responses.The fact that children expressed their aggression inways which clearly resembled the model’s novelbehaviour provided striking evidence for theoccurrence of learning by imitation. Imitation wasfound to be influenced differently according to themodel’s gender. Boys showed more aggressionthan girls following exposure to the male model.
Theoretical IssuesAccording to social learning theory a wide range of factorsare responsible for the acquisition of aggression. But by farthe most important is exposure to live and filmed models.Humans are not constantly driven towards violence by built-in, internal forces or ever present external stimuli . Ratherpeople only aggress under appropriate social conditionswhich tend to facilitate such behaviour.While SLT can say how a child might acquire a particularbehaviour pattern, it fails to take account of the underlyingdevelopmental changes that occur.According to Skinner, no reinforcement means no learning.But Bandura argues that learning can occur withoutreinforcement: exposure to a model’s behaviour is sufficientfor learning. However, reinforcement can influence thelikelihood of the learned behaviour actually being learnedbehaviour actually being performed.
The films differed in several important ways from standard T.V or movie material: they were brief, lacked plot and provided no cause or justification for the model’s behaviour. The novelty of the Bobo doll itself was a crucial factor. Exposure time was brief and the effects were demonstrated almost immediately. The dependent variable was operationalized as aggressive acts directed at an inanimate object specifically designed for such treatment. Many psychologists are very critical of laboratory studies of imitation - in particular because they are not ecologically valid. The situation involves the child and an adult model, which is a very limited social situation and there is no interaction between the child and the model at any point; certainly the child has no chance to influence the model in any way. Also the model and the child are strangers. Interpretation of the behaviour towards the Bobo doll as aggression. Perhaps the children interpreted their own behaviour as play.
Experiments are the only means by which cause and effect can be established. Thus it could be demonstrated that the model did have an effect on the childs subsequent behaviour because all variables other than the independent variable are controlled. 2. It allows for precise control of variables. Many variables were controlled, such as the gender of the model, the time the children observed the model, the behaviour of the model and so on. 3. Experiments can be replicated. Standardised procedures and instructions were used allowing for replicability.
There is the problem of whether or notthe children suffered any long-termconsequences as a result of thestudy. Although it is unlikely, we cannever be certain.
The findings from this and similar studies have been used in the argument that media violence might be contributing in some degree to violence in society. The obvious criticism of this argument is that there are many other factors influencing whether or not we are likely to imitate screen violence. One of the major factors is perhaps the level of aggression we already have, which might have been learned, in our family relationships or elsewhere. Social Learning Theory has also been used to explain the so-called cycle of violence, or more technically the inter-generational transmission of aggression. The basic idea is that if you have been the victim of (physical) abuse as a child, you are more likely to be an abusing parent than if you havent. It also increases the chances that you will be a wife - or a husband - batterer. It is also important to note that such early experiences make it more probable that people will become more aggressive but it is never certain, or inevitable. Physical punishments are often demonstrations of the very behaviour which parents are trying to eliminate in their child - ironically, the evidence suggests that the child is likely to become more, not less aggressive!
Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy has helpedto explain anxiety. Self efficacy refers to ourbelief that we have control over ourbehaviour and can achieve our goals: weexperience anxiety when we perceiveourselves as being ill-equipped to managepotentially painful events/ situations.Behavioural treatments, such as in vivoexposure (phobia) and modelling haveimportant effects on patients’ self-efficacybeliefs.
Bandura et al tested 96 three to five year olds under threeconditions, after first frustrating them by removing thepromise of attractive toys, the observing them during a20-minute play period. This time, however, the nonaggressive live model condition was replaced by a filmedaggressive model. The filmed model produced the mostimitative aggression, closely followed by the live aggressionmodel. As in the 1961 study, the imitative aggression was acarbon copy of the model’s aggressive acts. The basicfinding was that young children can acquire newaggressive responses not previously in their behaviourrepertoire, merely through exposure to a filmed ortelevised model.