Social learning theory

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For the article on social learning theory in psychology and education see social cognitive theory.
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See also: Wikibooks:Social Deviance

Social learning theory is the theory that people learn new behavior through overt reinforcement or punishment or via observational learning. People learn through observing others' behavior. If people observe positive, desired outcomes in the observed behavior, they are more likely to model, imitate, and adopt the behavior themselves. It also suggests that the environment can have an effect on the way people behave.


[edit] Theory

Social learning theory is derived from the work of Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904) which proposed that social learning occurred through four main stages of limitation:

  • close contact,
  • imitation of superiors,
  • understanding of concepts,
  • role model behaviour

It consists of 3 parts observing, imitating, and reinforcements

Julian Rotter moved away from theories based on psychosis and behaviourism, and developed a learning theory. In Social Learning and Clinical Psychology (1954), Rotter suggests that the effect of behaviour has an impact on the motivation of people to engage in that specific behaviour. People wish to avoid negative consequences, while desiring positive results or effects. If one expects a positive outcome from a behaviour, or thinks there is a high probability of a positive outcome, then they will be more likely to engage in that behaviour. The behaviour is reinforced, with positive outcomes, leading a person to repeat the behaviour. This social learning theory suggests that behaviour is influenced by these environmental factors or stimulus, and not psychological factors alone.[1]

Albert Bandura (1977)[2] expanded on the Rotter's idea, as well as earlier work by Miller & Dollard (1941),[3] and is related to social learning theories of Vygotsky and Lave. This theory incorporates aspects of behavioural and cognitive learning. Behavioural learning assumes that people's environment (surroundings) cause people to behave in certain ways. Cognitive learning presumes that psychological factors are important for influencing how one behaves. Social learning suggests a combination of environmental (social) and psychological factors influence behaviour. Social learning theory outlines three requirements for people to learn and model behaviour include attention: retention (remembering what one observed), reproduction (ability to reproduce the behaviour), and motivation (good reason) to want to adopt the behaviour.

[edit] Criminology

In criminology, Ronald Akers and Robert Burgess (1966) developed social learning theory to explain deviancy by combining variables which encouraged delinquency (e.g. the social pressure from delinquent peers) with variables that discouraged delinquency (e.g. the parental response to discovering delinquency in their children).

The first two stages were used by Edwin Sutherland in his Differential Association Theory. Sutherland’s model for learning in a social environment depends on the cultural conflict between different factions in a society over who has the power to determine what is deviant. But his ideas were difficult to put into operation and measure quantitatively. Burgess, a behavioral sociologist, and Akers revised Sutherland’s theory and included the idea of reinforcement, which increases or decreases the strength of a behavior, and applied the principles of Operant Psychology, which holds that behavior is a function of its consequences (Pfohl, 1994).

Functionalism had been the dominant paradigm but, in the 1960s, there was a shift towards Social Control Theories, Conflict Criminology, and Labeling Theories that tried to explain the emerging and more radical social environment. Moreover, people believed that they could observe behavior and see the process of social learning, e.g., parents watched their own children and saw the influence of other children on their own; they could also see what kind of affect they had on their own children, i.e. the processes of differential association and reinforcement. The conservative political parties were advocating an increase in punishment to deter crime. Unlike Labeling Theory, Social Learning Theory actually supports the use of punishment which translates into longer sentences for those convicted, and helps to explain the increase in the prison population that began in the early 1970s (Livingston, 1996).

Unlike situational crime prevention, the theory ignores the opportunistic nature of crime (Jeffery, 1990: 261-2). To learn one must first observe criminal behavior, but the morals from his mother’s purse; where was this behavior learned? The theory does explain how criminal behavior is ‘transmitted’ from one person to an animal, which can explain increases in types of crimes, but it does not consider how criminal acting can be prevented (Jeffery, 1990: 252) although it may be fairly assumed that the processes of learning behaviors can be changed.

There is also a definite problem. What may be reinforcement for one person may not be for another. Also, reinforcements can be both social involving attention and behavior between more than one person, and non-social reinforcement would not involve this interaction (Burgess & Akers: 1966) Social Learning Theory has been used in mentoring programs that should, in theory, prevent some future criminal behavior. The idea behind mentoring programs is that an adult is paired with a child, who supposedly learns from the behavior of the adult and is positively reinforced for good behavior (Jones-Brown, 1997). In the classroom, a teacher may use the theory by changing the seating arrangements to pair a behaving child and a misbehaving child, but the outcome may be that the behaving child begins to be very bad.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Rotter, J. B. (1945). Social Learning and Clinical Psychology. Prentice-Hall. 
  2. ^ Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. General Learning Press. 
  3. ^ Miller, N. & Dollard, J. (1941). Social Learning and Imitation. Yale University Press. 

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