Social learning theory is considered to be one of the most influential theories in the fields of education and psychology. Social learning theoryidentifies learning as the primary factor in a theory of human functioning and personality development that is based on cognitive, social-interactive, self-regulatory, and self-reflective capabilities and processes. In addition to the impact of social interactions, social learningtheorists believe that the media have a great influence on human learning and development.
Albert Bandura and Richard Walters's seminal 1959 book Adolescent Aggression setinmotiontheearly foundation for the development of Bandura's ideas on social learning processes. Bandura and Walters initially sought to integrate principles from psychoanalytic and behavioral learningtheories. Results from these early studies provided Bandura and his colleagues the data to empirically refute the psychoanalytic explanation of aggression, which was grounded in Freudian conceptualizations of identification with the aggressor and catharsis or anxiety reduction need. At the time, Bandura and Walters's work was generally congruent with Robert Sears's social learning theory. Similar to Sears, Bandura integrated psychoanalytic and stimulus-response assumptions in a theory of social learning; however, Sears emphasized more psychoanalytic principles such as drive theory.
Beginning in the 1950s, researchers began to not only challenge psychoanalytic theories, they also began to question some of the principles of behaviorism and traditional learning theories because of their inability to explain some aspects of human development such as language development or the acquisition of novel responses. In particular, Bandura argued against theories that relied on trial-and-error learning because he believed that this approach was much too tedious of a learning process to explain how people acquire new knowledge and skills. Contrary to behaviorist perspectives at the time, social learning theorists emphasized the social contexts of the learning situation. Early social learningtheorists began to provide counterevidence to the behaviorist learning principle that children could not change their behavior without first being reinforced for approximations to the new behavior. Bandura's early observational learning studies provided compelling evidence that learning did not require a response contingency and that people could learn by watching someone else be reinforced or punished for their behavior. In the classic “Bobo doll” study by Bandura, Dorothea Ross, and Sheila Ross, Bandura and his colleagues showed that children were, in fact, capable of performing acts of aggression, yet they could inhibit their use of these behaviors. In opposition to behaviorist principles, Bandura's research revealed that people could learn complex patterns of behavior without performing any response or receiving rewards or punishments.
In their 1963 book Social Learning and Personality Development, it can be seen that Bandura and Walters retained only a few of Sears's initiallearning theory principles and placed increasingly more emphasis on cognitive and information-processing factors. Drawing upon Neil Miller and John Dollard's 1941 book Social Learning and Imitation, Bandura and Walters asserted that imitation plays an important role in explaining how novel responses are learned. Imitation in Bandura's early work was conceptualized as a special case of instrumental conditioning, which provided the individual with discriminative stimuli. Another core theoretical assumption stated in Bandura and Walters's 1963 book was that the environment was believed to contain social cues that would reinforce behavior that matched that of another individual. They hypothesized that imitation could occur even when an individual did not actually reproduce the behavior of another individual during the acquisition phase ...