One of the most influential theories of learning is the Theory of Social Learning formulated by Albert Bandura. It covers several concepts of traditional learning theory and coperant conditioning of BF Skinner.
- 1 The Theory of Social Learning, basic concepts
- 2 Learning through observation
- 3 Mediation processes
- 4 Final Ratings
The Theory of Social Learning, basic concepts
The theory is based on the fact that there are types of learning where direct reinforcement is not the main teaching mechanism, but that the social element can lead to the development of new learning among individuals. Social learning theory is useful for explain how people can learn new things and develop new behaviors by observing other individuals. Thus, this theory deals with the process of learning by observation among people.
In the theory of the social learning of Albert Bandura elaborated the year 1977 is based on theories of the behavioral learning on the classic conditioning and the operant conditioning. However, it adds two important ideas:
- Mediation processes occur between stimuli and responses.
- Behavior is learned from the environment through the process of learning by observation.
Learning through observation
Children watch the people around them to see and imitate how they behave. The individuals observed are called Models. In society, children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents and other family members, TV characters (or YouTube), friends, school teachers, etc.
Children pay attention to all these people or models and encode their behavior. Subsequently, they can imitate (that is, copy) the behavior they have observed. But they can do this regardless of whether the behavior is "appropriate" or not, although there are a number of processes that make it more likely for a child to reproduce the behavior that their society deems appropriate for him or her.
First, the child is more likely to imitate those people who perceive as more similar. Consequently, it is more likely to mimic behavior modeled by people of the same sex.
Subsequently, the people surrounding the child will respond to the behavior mimics, either with reinforcement or punishment. If a child imitates the behavior of a model and the consequences are gratifying, the child is likely to continue performing such behavior. For example, if a father sees his daughter comforting her teddy bear and says "you are a very kind girl", this will be gratifying for her and will make her more likely to repeat the behavior. His behavior will have been reinforced.
The strengthening of a behavior can be external or internal and can be positive or negative. If a child seeks the approval of their parents or partners, this approval will be an external reinforcement, feeling happy to have been approved is an internal reinforcement. A child will behave in a way that he thinks will gain greater approval, since he wants it innate.
As usual, positive (or negative) reinforcement will have little impact if the externally offered reinforcement does not match the needs of the individual. The reinforcement can be positive or negative, but the important thing is that it leads to a change in a person's behavior.
On the other hand, the child will also consider what happens to another person before deciding whether or not to copy their actions. A person learns by observing the consequences of another's behaviorFor example, a younger brother may observe a type of behavior from his older brother that is rewarded, so he will be more likely to repeat that particular behavior. This is known as vicarious reinforcement.
The identification It is produced again through a model, and consists of copying or adopting behaviors, values, beliefs and attitudes observed in the person with whom one is identifying.
Identification is different from imitation since it involves a whole series of attitudes and behaviors, while imitation usually involves the copy of a single behavior.
The mediation processes
Bandura believed that human beings are active processors of information, who value the relationship between their behavior and its consequences. Therefore, observation learning cannot occur unless cognitive processes are involved. These mental factors mediate the learning process to determine whether a new response is acquired or not.
Thus, people do not automatically observe the behavior of a model and imitate it. There is a thought process before imitation and it is called the mediation process. This occurs between the observation of the behavior (stimulus) and the imitation or not of it (response).
There are four mediation processes proposed by Bandura:
1. Attention: It is the extent to which we observe the behavior of others. In order for us to imitate a behavior, it must first get our attention. We observe many behaviors throughout the day, but many of them do not interest us. Therefore, attention is extremely important so that behavior has a sufficient influence on us to want to imitate it.
2. Retention: The retention of newly learned behavior is necessary for it to be maintained. Without retention, behavioral learning would not be established, and the new model may have to be re-observed, since we were not able to store the information about the behavior.
3. Reproduction: This is the ability to perform the behavior that the model has just shown. Daily we would like to be able to imitate certain behaviors, but this is not always possible. We are limited by our physical and even mental capacity, and for those reasons or any other, even wanting to reproduce a behavior, sometimes we cannot. This influences our decisions to try to imitate or not. In this phase, the practice of behavior repeatedly is important for the improvement of our abilities.
4. Motivation: It's about the will to perform a behavior. Rewards and punishments that follow a behavior will be valued by the observer before imitating it. If the perceived rewards exceed the perceived costs (if any), then the behavior will be more likely to be imitated by the observer. On the contrary, if the vicarious reinforcement It is not important enough for the observer, so it will not mimic the behavior.
The social learning approach takes into account thought processes and recognizes the role it plays in the decision to imitate or not certain behavior. However, although this theory may explain some rather complex behaviors, it cannot adequately explain how we develop a whole range of behaviors including thoughts and feelings. We have a lot of cognitive control over our behavior, and just because we have had negative experiences does not mean we have to reproduce that behavior.
It is for this reason that Bandura modified his theory in 1986 and called his Theory of Social Learning, Cognitive Social Theory (TSC), as a better description of how we learn from our social experiences.
Some of the criticisms of the Theory of Social Learning are due to the fact that it is limited to describing the behavior based solely on nature or experiences, and underestimates the complexity of human behavior. It is more likely that a person's behavior is due to an interaction between nature (biology) and experience (environment).
The Bandura Social Learning Theory It is not a complete explanation of all behaviors. For example, the discovery of mirror neurons has emphasized the importance of the biological component in learning, something that this theory does not raise. Although research is still in its infancy, the recent discovery of this type of neurons and its study in primates can be an interesting neurological basis to understand imitation. Basically these are neurons that are activated both if the animal does something for itself or if it observes a behavior in another.