What Does Social Learning Theory Say About Aggression?


Jane Flores

What Does Social Learning Theory Say About Aggression?

In the field of psychology, there are various theories that attempt to explain human behavior. One such theory is the Social Learning Theory, which was developed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s. This theory suggests that people learn through observation, imitation, and modeling of others’ behaviors.

The Basics of Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory posits that individuals acquire new behaviors by observing others and imitating their actions. According to Bandura, this form of learning occurs through a process known as vicarious reinforcement. In other words, individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors that they see being rewarded or reinforced.

This theory emphasizes the role of socialization agents in shaping an individual’s behavior. These agents can include family members, peers, teachers, and even media figures. By observing these influential figures, individuals learn what behaviors are considered acceptable or unacceptable in their social environment.

Aggression and Social Learning Theory

When it comes to aggression, social learning theory suggests that aggressive behavior is not solely determined by innate factors but can also be learned through observation and imitation. This means that individuals may acquire aggressive tendencies by observing others engaging in aggressive acts.

“Aggressive behavior can be influenced by both direct experience and observational learning.”

In his famous Bobo doll experiment, Bandura demonstrated how children learn aggressive behavior through observation. In the experiment, children who observed an adult model engaging in aggressive acts towards a Bobo doll were more likely to imitate similar aggressive behaviors when given the opportunity.

Vicarious Reinforcement and Aggression

Vicarious reinforcement plays a critical role in the acquisition and maintenance of aggressive behavior. If individuals observe others being rewarded or reinforced for their aggressive actions, they are more likely to imitate those behaviors. On the other hand, if they observe negative consequences or punishment for aggression, they are less likely to engage in similar behaviors.

This aspect of social learning theory highlights the importance of social contexts and the impact they have on shaping behavior. It suggests that individuals are not passive recipients of aggression but are actively influenced by their environment.

Implications and Criticisms

Social learning theory has significant implications for understanding and addressing aggression. By recognizing that aggression can be learned, interventions can be developed to promote prosocial behaviors instead. This can involve providing positive role models, teaching conflict resolution skills, and creating environments that discourage aggression.

However, it’s important to note that social learning theory does not completely discount innate factors in aggression. Other theories also consider biological factors such as genetics and hormones as contributors to aggressive behavior.


Social learning theory provides valuable insights into how individuals acquire aggressive behaviors through observation and imitation. By understanding this process, we can better address and prevent aggression through positive reinforcement, modeling prosocial behavior, and creating nurturing environments.