Since the introduction of cinema, advances in media and technology has meant that children’s exposure to violence has become ever more accessible and realistic. There has been a long held view that the amount of violence available through media is detrimental to a child’s development as they are likely to copy what they see. This process of learning through watching others is called social learning and in 1963 Bandura conducted a notable experiment to see how this influenced children’s behaviour.
The Bandura et al. (1963) experiment
96 children (avg. age 4.4) were organised into four equal groups. In three of the groups the children observed aggressive behaviour being carried out on an inflatable doll (Bobo) by an adult model. The aggressive behaviour was shown in a different form in each of the groups, these being a live model, filmed model and a fantasy model, cat-like creature. The fourth group were not exposed to any aggressive behaviour so to provide the researchers with a baseline score.
The children took part in the experiment individually and with the exception of the variation of aggressive behaviour they all went through an identical experience. Each were led through three different playrooms, whereby in the first room they were encouraged to play with toys and were either exposed (or not exposed) to a model acting aggressively towards Bobo. In the second room the children were presented with toys but then quickly denied the opportunity to play with them; the purpose for this was to cause a sense of frustration. Once in the third room the children were left to play on their own and the researchers recorded any aggressive behaviour carried out on Bobo that was present amongst the toys.
Bandura was particularly interested in whether the children would imitate the actions of the model seen in the first room and recorded aggressive behaviour that was identical to that observed of the model. For instance the model would strike the doll using a hammer and shout the word ‘pow’.
The researchers found that children were 10 times more likely copy the aggressive behaviour that they had just observed. However, it made no difference whether the model was seen live or on film or if the violence was portrayed by a human or fantasy model. Across all groups the boys showed higher scores of aggression than the girls and they were more likely to copy the behaviour of a male model than they were a female (Oates, cited in Brace & Byford 2012).
Other influences that affect behaviour
Although Bandura was able to prove that children copied behaviour, there is not enough evidence to support that media violence will make children behave in an aggressive way. Subsequent research suggests a number of other factors can influence social learning, such as: • Priming, suggests a child’s memory of a particular situation will trigger them to repeat the behaviour for that setting • Desensitisation, suggests repeated exposure to a particular behaviour like violence will become more accepted and likely make the child behave accordingly. • Script learning implies children learn how to deal with everyday life through a sequence of behaviours. For instance how to behave in a shop. Children also rehearse