Albert Bandura said aggression is learnt by observing others.
Observation – Bandura said children learn their aggressive responses through observation, this means watching the behaviour of role models and then imitating that behaviour. This idea that the person had to be a role model in order for Children to copy the behaviour contradicts the earlier work of Skinner who said children will imitate anyone they see, so this is an expansion on Skinner’s operant conditioning
Bandura said Children also observe and learn about the consequences of aggressive behaviour by watching others being reinforced or punished. This is called vicarious reinforcement. Children are constantly surrounded by examples of people being punished or rewarded for certain behaviour; one of these behaviours being aggression. Because of this children will constantly be learning whether aggressive behaviour is worth repeating. Thus they learn the behaviours (through observation) and they also learn whether and when such behaviours are worth repeating (through vicarious reinforcement).
Maintenance through direct experience –However, it isn’t enough for a child just to observe behaviour and then copy it; they must also experience a reward of punishment regularly if they are to continue this behaviour. For example a child might bully other children and gain some sort of reward out of this, which will then teach the child that aggression is useful for them as well.
Can SLT be applied to adults? – The major studies surrounding SLT have involved children, so does SLT explain adult behaviour as well? Research has found that homicide rates in USA almost always increased in the week following a major boxing match; this suggests that viewers were copying the behaviour they watched, so social learning is shown in adults as well as children.
The role of vicarious learning –Bandura’s study shows that even though the children weren’t punished or rewarded for acting aggressively they still did so. In real life we aren’t always rewarded or punished for acting aggressively, so this is a strength of SLT as it explains why we learn aggression without reward (something operant conditioning fails to explain) – this is known as vicarious learning and is a definite strength of SLT.