At birth, we’re amoral with no concept of what is right or wrong. However, by adulthood most people will develop morality; a system of our own personal judgments, values and beliefs (Gross, 2015). Social learning theories can offer an explanation of human moral development.
Albert Bandura is arguably one of the most influential of the social learning theorists (Gross, 2012). Accepting the principles of classical conditioning Pavlov (1902) and operant conditioning skinner (1948) argues that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. Children observe the people around them, behaving in different ways which is shown in the famous Bobo doll experiment (Bandura 1965) children watched a video of an aggressive model that punched, kicked and threw a doll, they spontaneously imitated the models behaviour. Children observe the behaviour of various models (individuals) within society on a daily basis, from their parents to their friends, teachers and even video games.
Models provide behaviour to observe and imitate (McLeod 2016) observational learning can take place without any reinforcement, Bandura suggests that exposure to the model is enough for imitation to occur. However, imitation may be more likely depending on the consequences of the behaviour. Reinforcement can be positive or negative.
If behaviour is imitated and the consequences are rewarding it is more likely to be repeated (reinforced). (Gross 2015) Bandura offers a more complex explanation of reinforcement because it takes cognitive factors that affect learning and chances of imitation. These include: Attention (how much behaviour is noticed), Retention (encoding the information for retrieval in long term memory storage), Reproduction ( the ability to imitate the behavior) and motivation ( the will to perform the behaviour) “The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation “(David, 2015) The theory is useful for social workers because it will enable them to understand how a childs environment can affect their moral development.
If a child is living in a violent household where they have a strong bond with a parent of the same sex, that they can identify with, is physically abusing another member of the household, the child may model or imitate the behaviour. The social worker may see it in the best interest of the child to remove them from that environment. Although, due to the strong bond the child has with the parent this could prove tricky and extremely hard thing for a social worker to have to do, that could be heavily critised (Ingleby, 2010)