What is Social Learning Theory?

According to Social Learning Theory, people copy the behaviors they observe. It occurs in two ways. Firstly, there is direct reception of an observed behavior. This is called imitation. The gist of this theory is that people learn through observation. Researchers applied this theory to the mass media, with TV as their chief focus of attention. There is a special kind of imitation in which, observers do not copy exactly what they have observed but make a generalized but related response. This is called Identification. As already stated, researchers had focused on the impact of TV on peoples behavior patterns. Some people copy what they watch on TV but some others do not.

The age and maturity levels could be the decisive factors in this context. For example some children tried to mimic the feats performed by Shaktiman, their TV hero and idol. Mukesh Khanna’s stunts in Shaktiman were so loved that some children lost their lives whole copying some of them. Researchers conclude that identification is the more likely way in which, TV influences behavior. Imitation and identification are the results of a process, which is as follows:

  • Observational Learning: Observers can learn new behaviors by seeing those behaviors being performed.
  • Inhibitory Effects: If an actor displays a behavior in TV and is punished for it, the viewers of, such a programmer are less likely to indulge in such a behavior. If a hero of a TV serial or movie is punished or dragged to court because he had helped some one, the viewers are unlikely to help any one.
  • Dis inhibitory Effects: If a hero or an actor of a TV serial is rewarded for showing prohibited or threatening behaviors, the viewers of such a serial are likely to perform that behavior. If a hooligan is given some reward (in a movie) for having links with the underworld, people (watching the movie) are likely to repeat this behavior (if they are given a chance). The behaviors, which were hitherto blocked, are likely to be executed, if the actor is rewarded for being on the wrong side of the moral fence.
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