Study Notes

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

  • Levels: BTEC Level 3
  • Exam boards: Edexcel

Bandura's social learning theory states that individuals develop who they are through environmental factors, namely the imitation of role models.

Key Principles of Social Learning Theory:

  • Bandura suggested that through observational learning, children model their behaviour by watching others.
  • According to Bandura this occurs through four stages of learning, beginning with the child paying attention to the person they wish to imitate the behaviour of. This is usually someone they look up to and somebody that they are close to.
  • They then retain the behaviour that they have paid attention to. This includes remembering the actions that they have displayed and the responses they have received.
  • Thirdly, they reproduce this behaviour with the aim to receive the same response as their role model received; this can include acceptance by others.
  • Finally, if they receive the response that they are looking for they will be motivated to reproduce this behaviour again.
  • Bandura stressed that observational learning could be used to explain why young children imitate positive and undesirable behaviour, as seen in Bandura’s Bobo doll study where children copied the aggressive behaviour an adult model inflicted on a bobo doll.

Application of Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory can be used to explain why young people may succumb to peer pressure and carry out risk-taking behaviour such as having unprotected sex or drinking alcohol.

If a young person feels they do not fit in and are lonely, they may start to imitate the behaviour of individuals who appear to be popular and liked by others in order to be accepted themselves by their peer group.

Criticisms of Social Learning Theory

  • Social learning theory ignores the influence of biological factors on behaviour and development, such as the role of hormones and genetics.

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