Social Psychology

Cognitive Psychology


Biological Theory
Cognitive Approach
Social Learning Theory
Psychoanalytic Approach

Mental Health

Social Learning Theory

The Social Learning Theory was proposed by Bandura as a way of explaining how children acquire their gender identitiy based on the influence of other people (particularly their parents).


There are four stages to this approach that a child goes through in picking up a gender behaviour; these are:

Attention this is merely where the behaviour is noticed and observed.
Next is memorising where the behaviour is commited to memory

Then the behaviour is imitated meaning it is performed or reproduced
And finally there is motivation which decides whether the action is carried on and depends on whether it brings desirable consequences either straight away or anticipated.

I will illustrate this with the example of boys playing football (soccer for North Americans). A boy may see his friends playing the game (attention) and then memorise this. Later on at school he is joining in a game (imitation) and a teacher comments on how good he is (motivation). If a girl played football the behaviour may not be as well rewarded as more passive activities.

There are also some factors that will affect the chance of behaviour being modelled i.e. things that make someone more likely to copy what someone else is doing.

The appropriateness of the behaviour. For example, Bandura (1961) found that males would imitate agressiveness from another male, but not copy the behaviour if a female did it. In short, someone is more likely to imitate a behaviour they think they should do.

Also the relevance of the model to yourself. So a girl will be more likely to model someone with similar characteristics to her, like another female. And the same would be true for males.

Studies and Research

We'll now look at a pair of studies that appear to show that gender behaviours are learnt socially. Both are pretty memorable so you won't have much difficulty recalling them in an exam situation.

StudyJanis and Janis (1976)Bandura (1965)
AimObserve differences in book carrying between males and femalesInvestigate how negative behaviours are imitated.
MethodThey identified different book carrying styles and observed 2 626 people from Kindergarten to adults.Boys and girls aged 3-6 watched a TV clip where other children abused a toy called 'Bobo', at the end an adult made a positive, negative or no comment (reinforcement). The children were then put in a room with the same toy and observed.
ResultsFemales more likely to hold their books in type A positions whereas men carried their books in type B positions.The boys were nearly twice as likely to imitate the behavior than girls and girls were also far more influenced by the negative comment.
ConclusionDifferences in behavior in book carrying are down to social modelling.Children learn by observation and imitation.
EvaluationThis is good because it used a large sample from different locations. However, an issue is that the reasons could be down to Biology: that men tend to have bigger hands and so can carry thier books like that.The experiment was done in the experimental method so has poor ecological validity (not that realistic) and the behaviour of the children following the study was not investigated to see if it continued and also the previous character of the children was not considered.

book carrying positions in Janis and Janis study

Evaluation and Social Cognitive Theory

The theory doesn't take into account how children of different ages will understand and interpret behaviour. For example younger may think about a meal situation in terms of how people eat, but older children learn about how the people interact.

The Social Learning Theory only looks at how specific behaviours and doesn't look at general learning.

And the final point is that the theory doesn't look at how the child itself feels about the particular behaviour (if you don't feel happy with it will it be copied??). And it is for this reason that Bandura later modified this theory to the Social Cognitive Theory.

A piece of research by Bandura and Bussey asked 3&4 year olds to say how they felt about playing with particular toys. By 4 boys felt 'great' playing with trucks and robots and 'bad' playing with dolls. The reverse was true for girls. With this they concluded children learn to become uncomfortale with particular behaviours.