What is Social Learning?
Social Learning theory was developed by psychologist Bandura who identified that that human behaviour is developed through the continuous interaction of cognitive, behavioural and environmental influences. We learn new patterns of behaviour through observing others and seeing what happens to them & for them. This occurs alongside our own direct experience of our behaviour and the responses made to our demands. This is all within the context of the environment in which we live and ours/society’s beliefs.
Reinforcement principles have an important role to play in developing behavioural responses. We will not repeatedly engage in a behaviour if it does not meet a need we have, even though this need may not be obvious to others and we may not be consciously aware of this need. Behavioural patterns can become established over time, even those that may not appear to be helpful, as at some point they have satisfied a need that we might have. The process of satisfying a need, or reinforcement, ensures that the behavioural pattern is activated next time that need is present or there are similar triggers in the environment. Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour recurring through two mechanisms:
Positive Reinforcement: we gain something we need/desire as a result of our behaviour e.g. getting to spend time with staff, getting to do an activity we want, getting money, getting a sensation of calm or relaxation.
Negative Reinforcement: we lose something that was not wanted as a result of our behaviour e.g. we get some peace and quiet, we get rid of tension in our body, we don’t have to do a task we didn’t want to do, we get rid of a headache etc.
If we can understand the function of the behaviour and therefore identify the pattern of reinforcement it is possible to support changing the pattern of behaviour, when maladaptive, by introducing alternative means of meeting the new. This will take away the need to continue with the maladaptive behaviour. This takes time and consistent support as often it is undoing over learned behavioural patterns.
Punishment, in theory, reduces the likelihood of behaviour occurring. The evidence shows that punishment only creates a short-term behaviour change and is not effective in the long term. In addition, it is unethical and leads to feelings of anger/frustration and anxiety for those being punished. Punishment involves the removal/restriction of things that are wanted or desired as a result of behaviour (e.g. loss of mobile phone/TV access/no trip/deduction of money) or the introduction of things that are unwanted as a result of behaviour.
Punishment is not advocated due to the ethics and the lack of evidence for its efficacy. It is important to understand the principles of punishment as it can be easy to believe that “there needs to be consequences for bold behaviour” as this may have been our own experience of growing up, highlighting the interaction between our own experiences and our expectation for how others should be treated.