Psychological theory

Think of a significant event currently in the news. Use any one psychological theory to attempt to account for its significance.

An issue currently under much debate in the news is whether to have lessons on domestic violence and how to prevent violent relationships taught to children at schools. The government plans to have these lessons in place from 2011 for children as young as five years old ("Should lessons, 2009). A lot of empirical research has produced similar results showing that being exposed to aggressive modelling will likely lead to increased aggressive tendencies in those that observe such behaviours (for example, Bandura, Ross and Ross 1971). Bandura's Social Learning Theory (SLT) of Aggression recognises that there are many factors influencing how aggressive one is, particularly how aggression is learnt from our surroundings and from people that model such behaviours to us. This theory displays how easily aggressive behaviours can be learnt by young children, which is why the issue of lessons to try and prevent this is under much discussion.

The government's plans for 2011 will mean children's personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum will become compulsory in schools and include them being taught about the issues of gender equality and violent relationships and how to prevent them ("Should lessons, 2009). One of the main findings of Bandura et al. (1971) was that if the child and the model were of the same sex, then more aggressive behaviours (e.g. more aggressive gun play) occurred in their experiment. Lessons in gender equality would therefore aim to be display that male and females should have equal statuses in society. For example, if the father of a family often carried out verbal or non-verbal aggressive behaviours towards the mother of a family, these behaviours would likely be modelled to any children - males could learn to treat females in later life with an aggressive attitude as influenced to when young. This shows us evidence supporting Bandura's Social Learning Theory of Aggression, that children can learn aggressive behaviours by just observing their surroundings.

For children in smaller age groups, lessons will be focusing on preventing bullying such as name-calling ("Should lessons, 2009). Perhaps role-playing could be used to demonstrate the verbal aggression of name-calling and the punishments as a consequence of doing so. If aggressive behaviour is seen to go unpunished or is not conveyed to children as being negative behaviour, children are more likely to imitate such behaviours (Bandura and Walters, 1963). Bandura's SLT also considers the use of positive and negative reinforcements that can influence the way children behave. In our educational institutions, punishment for aggressive behaviours such as bullying is a socially acceptable occurrence. Nevertheless, parents, teachers and others concerned argue that too much strain is being put on schools to try and tackle numerous social issues (e.g. sex education, substance abuse etc.). To attempt to positively reinforce all desirable social behaviour and negatively reinforce all undesirable social behaviours is a huge task to ask of schools.

The policy idea has been criticised by many as interfering with parents' upbringing of their own children. However, several studies indicate that it is the parents and caregivers that are modelling aggressive behaviour to children (whether it is purposeful or not). Sampson and Laub's work (1994) explored the effects of poverty in relation to family settings on delinquent behaviour. It was found that poverty affected parental relationships- the worse the economic situation, the more likely unstable parental relationships were seen to correlate with aggressive paternal modelling found in the delinquent boys group. Bandura's theory and various research studies are helpful in allowing for a better understanding of how children are affected by the violent and aggressive behaviours that they observe in others. Taking this work into account could potentially make for much more effective policy measures such as, demonstrating name-calling and the consequences to children as a preventative measure of violent relationships.

Recent research by the NSPCC charity found that 25% of girls from as young as thirteen years of age, have been slapped or hit by their boyfriends. Christine Barter, NSPCC senior research fellow at Bristol University, suggested a large cause for such shocking statistic is because of "unequal power relationships ("Should lessons, 2009). This can be related to Johnson and Ferraro's (1990's) work that distinguished a type of domestic violence that they called 'intimate terrorism' which was described as violence "motivated by a wish to exert general control over one's partner as it reflects the idea of one person in a relationship enjoying holding more power over the other. Clearly this is a significant social issue that needs to be dealt with and has therefore been in the news. If boys learn in school that aggressive behaviours towards females in society are unacceptable from a young age, this should help prevent development of violent relationships and the government hopes it will ultimately reduce the risk of domestic violence.

Bandura's (SLT) also looks at various modelling influences: familial, sub-cultural and symbolic modelling (Bandura, 1973). Evidence for familial influences can be seen in children that learn aggressive attitudes from other family members. It seems that although parents of assaultive children disapprove of aggressive behaviour at home, they are more likely to overlook such behaviours and sometimes even encourage it, being carried out towards other members of the public. As familial influences play a large part in a child's learnt aggression, to try and reduce the effects of this factor using school lessons from a young age could well be a potential solution if not at least a preventative measure of creating violent relationships from an early age. Cummings, Iannotti and Zahn-Waxler (1985) found that young children can be negatively influenced by parents and cause aggressive inclinations to be formed (but these may not necessarily be expressed immediately). Sub-cultural influences refer to the behaviour patterns and attitudes we gain just from belonging to our culture group. Such influences are not particularly easy to identify in relation to aggressive behaviours and are less significant to the consideration of preventive violence relationships being taught at school. Finally, symbolic modelling refers to manners of behaviour being conveyed through various visual stimuli and words. This includes the media, magazines, radio, and television. Particularly television allows for infinite opportunities to learn a variety of aggressive behaviours that are not gained from familial or sub-cultural influences.

Bandura (1973) suggests a few reasons as to why modelling influences are such an essential part of learnt behaviour and the effects experienced by observers. If we were not able to learn from modelled behaviour, we would merely be left with learning from our own interactions with the surrounding environment. As certain actions and our own explorations can result in dire consequences, it seems unlikely that our own experiences are the sole source of our learnt behaviour.

What an individual gains from observing modelled behaviour is dependent on many factors. Firstly, the importance of who is modelling the behaviour- it is more likely to be influential if a lot of time is spent with the model or the model is respected or liked by the observer. This links to the importance of peer influences, sometimes the opinion of a friend would be more valued than a family member for example. This would suggest that the government's plans to have lessons in a school setting where groups of friends are taught about aggressive attitudes together may well be helpful in preventing violent relationships.

Secondly, how much of the observed behaviour is remembered. This is again affected by a number of factors such as whether the behaviour is being observed in a more active or passive way. Therefore, it can be argued that a school setting where various teaching methods can be used will be most suitable in trying to model and teach non-aggressive behaviours, and encourage the maintenance of more healthy relationships.

Thirdly, behaviours that are observed will be replicated according to whether the individual has the skills to carry out the modelled behaviour. If the behaviour is observed with higher frequency then it is likely that any necessary skills will develop over a period of time, enabling a closer replication of the behaviour. Therefore, to have frequent time-tabled lessons in school to try and prevent violent relationships is important in allowing children more opportunities to learn interactive skills that will help form the basis of more stable relationships. For example, even something as simple as apologising after hurting the feelings of a peer could be difficult for some young children to comprehend. By modelling various scenarios of apologies and the positive consequences, theoretically they will be able to gain the tools needed to consider the feelings of their peers more empathetically. Bandura's theory that such skills can develop over time is significant in offering support for the lessons being integrated into the school curriculum so that children can gain the skills to deal with aggressive scenarios.

To conclude, Bandura's (SLT) is significant in conveying how there are many factors that account for learnt aggression. By considering these factors in relation to the debate of having lessons on preventing violent relationships for school-aged children, the potential effectiveness of this policy measure can be seen. Who models the behaviour, how often the behaviour is modelled and using what methods (i.e. visual demonstrations via role-playing, television programmes etc.) are all significant when considering whether there should be such lessons taught to young school-aged children. As it has been a fairly sensitive issue in the news, the government would be best advised to consider how they might try and ensure the effectiveness of their policy measure if, and when it is put into place.

Reference List

  • Bandura, A (1973). Aggression a social learning analysis. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • Knutson, J.F. (1973) The Control of Aggression. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Social Learning Theory of Aggression (pp. 201-241). Chicago, Illinois: Aldine Publishing Company.
  • Sampson, R.J. & Laub, J.H. (1994). Urban Poverty and the Family Context of Delinquency: A New Look at Structure and Process in a Classic Study. Child Development, 65(2), 523-540. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00767.x
  • Cummings, E.M., Iannotti, R.J. & Zahn-Waxler, C. (1985). Influence of Conflict Between Adults on the Emotions and Aggression of Young Children. Developmental Psychology, 21(3), 495-507.
  • School lessons to tackle domestic violence outlined. (2009). Retrieved 26 November, 2009, from

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