Social Cognitive Theory

Schunk’s modeling processes include instinct, development, conditioning, and instrumental behavior.  In an instinct framework, a behavior is imitated, or learned, by a person mimicking the actions of another person, with this imitation driven by an internal impetus, or instinct, for the imitation.  The development view grants less power to imitation as a driver of learning behavior; people develop schemes, or “cognitive structures that underlie and make possible organized thought and action” (Schunk, 2016, p. 122).  The schemes available to an individual are created by prior experiences, represent the individual’s knowledge at a given point, and determine their reaction to events or stimuli.  In this framework, a behavior is driven by a person’s schemes rather than learned through imitation.  In the conditioning framework, stimuli cause responses, which in turn become or create further stimuli.  Imitation happens when the same response results in the same reinforcement stimulus, which creates associations for the response.  This framework leaves it unclear how a new response could manifest.  The instrumental behavior framework also does not explain how new behaviors are learned and instead explains how responses are reinforced.  Initially, a person responds to a stimulus that it interprets as behavioral cues via trial and error; the person refines the model with which they are interpreting these cues based on reinforcement.

Bandura’s three key functions of modeling are response facilitation, inhibition/disinhibition, and observational learning.  Response facilitation is creating modeled behavioral cues that communicate the appropriateness of or even provide the motivation for desired behaviors.  Inhibition and disinhibition are simply punishment and reward mechanisms in that observers gain expectations of certain consequences, positive or negative, for certain behaviors.  Both inhibition and response facilitation encourage certain behaviors that someone may have already learned, rather than teaching new behaviors.  Observational learning does teach new behavior through “attention, retention, production, and motivation” (Schunk, 2016, p. 125).  Observers need to pay attention to the modeled behavior in order to learn and retain it.  However, the producer must also transform this knowledge into behavior, a process called production that can require practice and continued teaching.  Finally, people are more likely to learn new behaviors that they are motivated to learn.

Martins and Wilson (2012) offer two frameworks by which children could imitate or learn social aggression from television.  First, seeing the social aggression on television would make children more likely to mimic it, as “children can imitate people in their immediate surroundings…or in the media” (Martins and Wilson, 2012, p. 51).  In Schunk’s terms, this could occur in an instinct or conditioning framework.  In an instinct framework, the children who are exposed to aggression would themselves be driven to aggression via an instinctive need to copy and imitate.  This could occur even without assuming some sort of positive stimulus associated with aggression on television.  In a conditioning framework, a positive stimulus such as television-watching itself could create a positive association with aggression.  This aggression could be more likely to manifest itself in the children’s behavior if it were rewarded, as in Bandura’s inhibition/disinhibition framework.  Second, in a development framework, the children would be exposed to new schemes that would teach them aggression or make aggressive responses available in schemes, giving children an ability to display aggression that they did not previously have.

A strength of the article was its use of a correlative longitudinal study to support the gender-dependent impact of heightened social aggression in females.  This helps to account for uncontrollable factors, such as personal interest in the particular programs that were streamed.  However, despite explaining contradictory age-dependent findings, the study failed to explore differences in cognitive development stages in relation to social cognitive impacts.  Doing so would have bolstered the gender-findings in that it might negate any notions of increased social aggression among females merely relating to particular adolescent tendencies.

The study explains that it was the first to “provide evidence that viewing social aggression on television is related to an increased tendency for elementary school children to perpetrate such behaviors in the classroom” (Martins and Wilson, 2012, p. 64).  This might manifest as small initial behaviors, such as ignoring a peer when forming a group, or isolating a classmate on the playground, or it might escalate to bullying behaviors.  Teachers can combat this behavior in the classroom by motivating a social leader of the classroom to engage in learning.  This takes advantage of students that have learned to model the social leader via an instrumental behavior mechanism.  The social leader enthusiastically engaging in learning creates a response facilitation in which the observing students would imitate the social leader’s modeled (desired) behavior.

When we model desired behaviors and students observe these behaviors, they can make the educated decision to exhibit the displayed behaviors.  Rather than attempting to create a negative association with bad behavior or a positive association with good behavior, the teacher would grant their students the ability to recognize and follow good behaviors.

Martins, N., & Wilson, B. J. (2012). Social aggression on television and its relationship to children’s aggression in the classroom. Human Communication Research, 38(1), 48–71.

 Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access(7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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