Year Old Robert Thompson

This essay will assess and examine the claim that learning relies on external influences, drawing on examples from chapters 3, 4 and 7 of investigating psychology. Albert Bandura’s studies are from Chapter 3 ‘learning from watching’. Chapter 4 ‘changing behaviour’ will look at the work of behaviorist psychologist B.F Skinner, and in chapter 7 ‘Language and the brain’ I will focus of internal influences and alternative viewpoints.

In todays society, the internet is a powerful tool and can have an influence on behaviour. Violence from the internet and online gaming can be portrayed in a very realistic and convincing way, which can have a serious effect on the attitudes and behaviors of children and adults.

In the 1960’s, Albert Bandura, a behaviorist psychologist carried out a study which is known as the Bobo Doll study. Banduras study was the first study to explore the effects that media has on behaviour. The study involved investigating children’s reactions to portrayals of aggressive behavior that they saw performed by both filmed and live models (Bobo doll) There was also an interest in whether gender factors would play an effect. Bandura found that the children who participated in the experimental conditions and observed the aggressive model exhibited more imitative aggressive responses than the children who were in the control or non-aggressive groups. So it was found that exposure to a violent model did increase the amount of aggressive behaviour exhibited by children. However, the model being filmed or live had made no difference to the outcome.

It was also found that there was a higher aggression level in the boys than the girls. It was also found that the gender of the model had an impact on the levels of aggression observed, and this again was more prominent amongst boys. In conclusion, Bandura was able to conclude that their findings supported the study prediction, that live and filmed displays of violence would subsequently have an impact and increase the level of aggression displayed by children.

A recent example of whether media violence can have an effect on a persons behaviour is the murder of James Bugler (1983) by 10 year old Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. It has been suggested that the two boys had beforehand been watching a video called Child’s play 3 and had imitated a scene involving a character called Chucky. However, there is no evidence to suggest this was the case. It was found however, that the boys had access to violent films in their home. This case and suggestion led to widespread debate over whether violent films could impact and contribute to levels of aggression.Bandura confirmed that exposure to displays of aggression impacted and equaled greater levels of aggression.

Having explored and considered Bandura’s work, we will now look at the work of BF Skinner. Skinner is a behaviorist psychologist who studied how behaviour arises and how it can change under certain conditions. He did this by using rats and pigeons in a controlled environment known as the ‘Skinner Box’ this was a piece of apparatus in which operant conditioning is studied. When the lever or key was pressed by the rat or pigeon, a piece of food drops into the tray to be eaten. The animals are operating their environment to produce an effect and behaviour is changed by the consequences. When the lever or key is pressed, a positive reinforcement is produced (the food). Skinner demonstrated that behaviour that is reinforced will increase in frequency and punishment will weaken it. Skinner claimed that reinforcement can be applied to human behavior.

An example of reinforcement can be seen in an experiment which was carried out in London, where young people were offered a ticket to a concert as a reward for participating in voluntary work. The young people were asked to help clear up a local cemetery, they appeared to enjoy the experience. Once the young people became involved with the work, the gig ticket became irrelevant. They enjoyed doing the work alongside their peers and gained a feeling of satisfaction by helping out in the community. (Voluntary work and reinforcement video 2009)

Skinner also believed that reinforcement is based on the principle of determination and the rejection of free will. Determinism is the assertion that everything that happens including human behaviour, is determined by past events. Referring back to the consideration that media can influence a person’s attitudes and behaviors, humans are more complex and can make conscious decisions. If a person grew up in a violent family, they may be expected to be exhibit more violent behavior, as they have been exposed to it and it has been modelled and reinforced. Some psychologists would present a counter argument to Skinner, called the free-will position, which assumes that humans are able to make free choices and their behaviour is not formed entirely by their history of reinforcement. Skinner believed that the free will is not compatible with scientific thinking and determinism applies to all behaviour.

Techniques developed by Skinner are used broadly in todays society.