Baron described aggression as 'behaviour designed to harm or injure another who is motivated to avoid such treatment'. According to Berkowitz (1989) and Bandura (1965) although the aggressive behaviour in animals can be explained in terms of instinctive drives, aggression in humans is the product of learning. They claim that aggressive behaviour is learned either through direct experience or by observing others. Learning by direct experience is derived from Skinner's principles of operant reinforcement.
In other words if a child pushes another child and as a result gets something they want, the action is reinforced and is more likely to occur in similar situations in the future. Learning through observing others usually occurs when a child sees a role model behaving in a particular way and reproduces the behaviour. The child is then said to be imitating the behaviour of the model. For someone to imitate behaviour such as aggression, it must be seen to be rewarding in some way.
Bandura and his colleagues carried out a series of experiments involving children exposed to the aggressive behaviour of an adult model. By varying the conditions under which the model was viewed, as well as the consequences for the model's behaviour, Bandura was able to develop a social learning model of aggression. He found that children were more likely to imitate aggressive behaviour of a model if the model was seen to be rewarded after behaving aggressively, if other adults showed approval for the aggressive behaviour of the model and if other children were seen to imitate the behaviour of the model.
Social learning theory leads us to consider the various ways in which children might be exposed to aggressive models. In particular, this has meant a consideration of television as a powerful source of imitative learning. Huesman (1988) suggests that children may use television models as a source of scripts that act as a guide for their own behaviour. These scripts are then stored in memory, strengthened and elaborated through repetition and rehearsal.
The relationship between observations of aggression in the media and subsequent aggressive behaviour is complex. Manstead et al highlighted several variables that may influence this. If the observed violence is thought to be real it is more likely to elect aggression than if it was considered to be fictional violence. If the viewers identify with the aggressor in some way they are subsequently more aggressive than if they did not identify with the aggressive model. Heroes are therefore more powerful models than villains.
Aggression that is identified as being motivated by a desire for revenge is more likely to elect aggression than aggressive behaviour that is instrumental in the attainment of other goals. Also if the aggressive behaviour is seen as being justified in the context in which it occurs it will elect more aggression. Finally the observation of unsuccessful aggression, in which the aggressor is punished, does not elect aggressive behaviour in the observer, but tends to inhibit it.
Social learning theory can account for the lack of consistency in people's aggressive behaviour. If someone is assertive and domineering at home but weak and submissive at work, it means that they are reinforced differently in the two situations. They have learned to behave differently in the two situations because assertiveness brings rewards in one context but not in another. Social learning theory explanations have also lead to an increased focus on the effects of visual media on both children and adults.
If violence is learned then exposure to successfully aggressive models may lead people to imitate them (Hogg and Vaughan, 1998). Aggression can, therefore, be passed across generations, as each new generation observes and imitates what it perceives to be appropriate and successful behaviours of the preceding generation. However biological explanations suggest that a higher level of the male hormone testosterone is a primary casual agent in aggressive behaviour.
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