Ethical and Moral Issues in Social Learning Theory


Social learning theory was put forward by Albert Bandura in 1977. The theory states that a person’s behavior is gained by adopting it from somebody else. The behaviors are learned through observation, imitation, and also through modeling. According to Bandura, behavior social learning is very relevant to criminology. For instance, Bandura stated that aggression is a character that is adapted by one person tops another through behavior modeling. Bandura argued that most of the behaviors are not inherited, but are learned. Learning of behavior helps the individuals to form ideas of how characters are acted and afterward the coded information makes a person know what to do. Social learning theory has three main concepts. Firstly, it is the idea that people can learn behaviors through observation. Secondly, it is the fact that a person’s internal mental condition is crucial in the process of learning behaviors. Lastly, it is the recognition of the fact that observing a behavior does not entirely mean that a person will change his or her character. According to Bandura children are in at high position of adopting aggressive behaviors by observing other people, getting it from their surroundings, or watching the character from the media (Cherry 2011)

According to the Bobo doll experiment conducted by him, children will admire the aggressive behavior from the adults because of the reinforcements associated with it. Some of the tributes of aggressive behavior according to Bandura are reduction of stress in oneself, financial advantage, the building of self-esteem, and above all, a person gets praises from other people when he/she becomes aggressive. Bandura explained further that aggressiveness causes a child to be a criminal in adult life, but if the character of aggressiveness is detected at the early development stage, then it is possible to reframe the child from becoming a criminal (Delores, 1998).

A critical review of the social learning theory

The social learning theory puts that a person mostly the children adopt modeled character from observing other individuals, learning from the environment, and moreover, watching the media. The theory is in a way ignorant of the person’s biological state that also determines one’s character. On the other hand, the genetic, the brain capacity, and the way of learning certain situations may be different in a person which means that each individual person translates an aggressive act differently. For example, a person may observe a violent attack of one person on the other, and instead of becoming violent someday; the person turns out to be sympathetic and peaceful. According to biological theorists, individual behavior is not by learning but caused by the automatic nervous system (Jeffery, 1985, p.239).

In the Bobo doll experiment conducted by Bandura, children were put in a room with dolls, but they were not allowed to touch dolls. Later the children were shown a movie that showed the Bobo doll beaten and mistreated. The response of the children to the aggression was tested to see if it would appear later in their life. Some critics argued that the children were forced to react to the aggressive movie since they were teased and they were disappointed in not holding the dolls. The Bobo doll experiment can be said to be unethical and immoral because it was instructing the children to be aggressive (Worthman & Loftus 1992, p.45). According to Bandura, children sometimes learn aggressive behavior from television. But as psychologists puts it, television does not contribute to aggressiveness. Instead, some of the programs like cartoons, for instance, Tom and Jerry there is some bullying behaviors which children find funny and entertaining. Generally, for any television cartoon program, it is the adults who have to explain to the children that the programs are not real (Worthman & Loftus 1992, p.45).

Ethical issues arising from the implementation of the social learning theory

It is unethical to deny the child the right to have the parent. If the Department of Job and Family Services remove the children from their aggressive homes and place them in the state care, then it is not in a way ethical or moral. As it is known, parents need to watch the child grow so that the parent can teach the child some of the life situations. In these care centers, both the parent and the child don’t have contact with each other and therefore the state could be denying the parties their rights for each other. Moreover, the assumption that a child is put in the state or foster care is not always better for the child since some foster parents are more abusive to the foster children. The care of the parent could be good even if the parent is aggressive.

It is not moral to interfere in one’s family affairs

The implementation of the social learning theory in the society by the Department of Job and Family Services could mean that the department was to establish families with violence in the house. Since it is difficult to know the existence of aggressiveness between the families, the department would have spied to know children exposed to such situations. Therefore, it meant that the department was interfering in a family affair without the consciousness and permission of any of the parents. It is not moral to meddle in one’s private life especially a family (Akers 2009, p. 340).

Failure to prove that a child can be affected by parents’ violence.

The department of job and family services may implement the theory without being sure if it is true that the child’s behavior is adapted from the parents. It is unethical to act in a situation without enough evidence of the circumstances.

Impact of the policy on the society at large

The implementation of the policy may positively and negatively affect the family mostly the child. The positive impact on the children is that the child can grow well without the stressful situation caused by the parent’s aggressive behaviors. If there is violence in the family, the child tends to grow slowly and stressed. But if the department implements the policy, children will be able to enjoy childhood development.

On the other hand, the parents will always try to behave in the right way in the presence of their children to prevent the children from modeling them. The policy will also create a positive impact on the society since the aggressive members will be trained on their violent, abuse, alcoholic, and drug-influenced characters. Generally the society members mostly the children will have an opportunity to observe and model the behaviors that create positive and important rewards to themselves and the community at large.

Nevertheless, the policy implementation in society may create a negative impact. For instance, the separation of the children from their parents may lead to the children becoming even more aggressive because of a lack of parental love in their early development stages. The society members may not stop the aggressive behaviors rather the behavior may increase. Since the behavior is not only gained through observation but also caused by biological status, then the department may not be able to contain the behavior because it is controlling the social part of it.

Department interpretation on the policy

According to the social learning theory, the department of job and family did not misinterpret the theory. The department had referred to the theory which proved that children’s aggressive behavior had been previously got from the parents, environment, or the media. According to the department, some of the children were experiencing a violent family situation which would be of negative effect on their psychology. The policy applies to the situation since the parents have direct contact with the children. Since the parents are superiors to the children, then the behavior modeling could be easy according to the theory (Akers 2009, p. 340).


As the social cognitive theory puts it, most of the behaviors are observed, imitated, or modeled. So it is important for the society to avoid exposing bad pictures and behavior of certain people mostly the ones posed as heroes by the society members. On the other hand, the parents should avoid becoming violent before their children. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that behaviors are not only gained through social model, but also the biological status influences the person’s character. Therefore, to prevent children from becoming criminals when adults, it is good to monitor their behaviors and as parents, guide them in knowing the right thing and the wrong action.


Akers, R. (2009). Social learning and social structure: a general theory of crime and deviance. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Cherry, K.(2011). Social Learning Theory: An Overview of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Web.

Delores,M. (1998). The Social Learning Theory. Web.

Jeffery, C.R. (1990). Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Approach. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Worthman, C., & Loftus, E. (1992). Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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