Takea moment to see how Albert Bandura explainshis research intothe modeling of aggression in children.
The researchers first let the children view one of the three types of modeling, and then let them play in a room in which there were some really fun toys. To create some frustration in the children, Bandura let the children play with the fun toys for only a couple of minutes before taking them away. Then Bandura gave the children a chance to play with the Bobo doll.
If you guessed that most of the children imitated the model, you would be correct. Regardless of which type of modeling the children had seen, and regardless of the sex of the model or the child, the children who had seen the model behaved aggressively—just as the model had done. They also punched, kicked, sat on the doll, and hit it with the hammer. Bandura and his colleagues had demonstrated that these children had learned new behaviors, simply by observing and imitating others.
Observational learning is useful for animals and for people because it allows us to learn without having to actually engage in what might be a risky behavior. Monkeys that see other monkeys respond with fear to the sight of a snake learn to fear the snake themselves, even if they have been raised in a laboratory and have never actually seen a snake (Cook & Mineka, 1990). 1 As Bandura put it, theprospects for [human]survival would beslim indeed if one could learnonlybysuffering the consequences of trial and error. For this reason, onedoes not teach children to swim, adolescents to driveautomobiles, and novicemedical students to perform surgerybyhaving them discover theappropriatebehavior through the consequences of their successes andfailures. Themore costlyand hazardous thepossiblemistakes, theheavier is therelianceonobservational learning from competent learners.(Bandura, 1977, p. 212) 2
Although modeling is normally adaptive, it can be problematic for children who grow up in violent families. These children are not only the victims of aggression, but they also see it happening to their parents and siblings. Because children learn how to be parents in large part by modeling the actions of their own parents, it is no surprise that there is a strong correlation between family violence in childhood and violence a s an adult. Children who witness their parents being violent or who are themselves abused are more likely as adults to inflict abuse on intimate partners or their children, and to be victims of intimate violence (Heyman & Slep, 2002). 3 In turn, their children are more likely to interact violently with each other and to aggress against their parents (Patterson, Dishion, & Bank, 1984). 4
Research Focus: The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression
The average American child watches more than 4 hours of television every day, and 2 out of 3 of the programs they watch contain aggression. I t has been estimated that by the age of 12, the average American child has seen more than 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence. At the same time, children are also exposed to violence in movies, video games, and virtual reality games, as well as in music videos that include violent lyrics and imagery (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003; Schulenburg, 2007; Coyne & Archer, 2005). 5
It might not surprise you to hear that these exposures to violence have an effect on aggressive behavior. The evidence is impressive and clear: The more media violence people, including children, view, the more aggressive they are likely to be (Anderson e t al., 2003; Cantor et al., 2001). 6 The relation between viewing television violence and aggressive behavior is about as strong as the relation between smoking and cancer or between studying and academic grades. People who watch more violence become more aggressive than those who watch less violence.
It is clear that watching television violence can increase aggression, but what about violent video games? These games are more popular than ever, and also more graphically violent. Youths spend countless hours playing these games, many of which involve engaging in extremely violent behaviors. The games often require the player to take the role of a violent person, to identify with the character, to sele ct victims, and of course to kill the victims. These behaviors are reinforced by winning points and moving on to higher levels, and are repeated over and over.
Again, the answer is clear—playing violent video games leads to aggression. A recent meta-analysis by Anderson and Bushman (2001) 7 reviewed 35 research studies that had tested the effects of playing violent video games on aggression. The studies included both experimental and correlational studies, with both male and female participants in both laboratory and field settings. They found that exposure to violent video games is significantly linked to increases in aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings, psychological arousal (including blood pressure and heart rate), as well as aggressive behavior. Furthermore, playing more video games was found to relate to less altruistic behavior. In one experiment, Bushman and Anderson (2002) 8 assessed the effects of viewing violent video games on aggressive thoughts and behavior. Participants were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent video game for 20 minutes. Each participant played one of four violent video games (Carmageddon, Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat, or Future Cop) o r one of four nonviolent video games (Glider Pro, 3D Pinball, Austin Powers, or Tetra Madness).
Participants then read a story, for instance this one about Todd, and were asked to list 20 thoughts, feelings, and actions about how they would respond if they were Todd:
Todd was on hisway home from work one evening when he had to brake quickly for a yellow light.The person in the car behind him must have thought Todd was going to run the light because he crashed into the back of Todd’s car,causing a lot of damage to both vehicles. Fortunately, there were no injuries. Todd got out of his car and surveyed the damage. He then walked over to the other car.
As you can see in Figure 7.4, the students who had played one of the violent video games responded much more aggressively to the story than did those who played the nonviolent games. In fact, their responses were often extremely aggressive. They said things like “Call the guy an idiot,” “Kick the other river’s car,” “This guy’s dead meat!” and “What a dumbass!”
Anderson and Bushman(2002) found that college students who had just played a violent video game expressed significantly more violent responses to a story than did those who hadjust playeda nonviolent videogame.Source: Adaptedfrom Bushman,B.J.,&Anderson,C. A.(2002).Violent videogamesand hostileexpectations: Atest ofthegeneralaggressionmodel.Personality andSocial Psychology Bulletin,28(12),1679–1686.
However, although modeling can increase violence, it can also have positive effects. Research has found that, just as children learn to be aggressive through observational learning, they can also learn to be altruistic in the same way (Seymour, Yoshida, & Dolan, 2009). 9
- Not all learning can be explained through the principles of classical and operant conditioning.
- Insight is the sudden understanding of the components of a problem that makes the solution apparent.
- Latent learning refers to learning that is not reinforced and not demonstrated until there is motivation to do so.
- Observational learning occurs by viewing the behaviors of others.
- Both aggression and altruism can be learned through observation.
EXERCISES AND CRITICAL THINKING
- Describe a time when you learned something by insight. What do you think led to your learning?
- Imagine that you had a 12-year-old brother who spent many hours a day playing violent video games. Basing your answer on the material covered in this chapter, do you think that your parents should limit his exposure to the games? Why or why not?
- How might we incorporate principles of observational learning to encourage acts of kindness and selflessness in our society?