Many young children imitate violence that they watch on television. As they watch their favorite superhero defeat the evil villain, the youngsters mimic the hero’s every move. Just this week, my nephew came over and watched the “Guardians of the Galaxy” through on demand for what seems like the hundredth time. After the movie, he was still repeating the moves. Elijah, my nephew, now tries to defeat my dog because it will not play with him and barks. It is very funny to watch him but why did my nephew pick this violence up? He learned this behavior through a process subscribe to in social cognitive theory. This theory posits that individuals obtain knowledge through observing others in the daily events, the media and social interactions (Bandura, 1986). It actually has four step which include attention, representational process, behavioral production process and the motivational process (Schneider, Gruman and Coutts, 2012). These four steps work in concert to instill the behavior in young individuals through depiction of violence in the media.
The first step is to gain the attention of the young child. In this particular instance, my nephew is amazed by the stunts and special effects of the movie. The sounds of the spaceships firing lasers get his full attention. The action seems so real to him. Studies have shown that the more realistic the violence is to the child, the greater the attention they will pay (Huesmann and Taylor, 2006). In addition, the violence is an important part of the movie. The hero and his gang of rebels take on the evil overlord while operating on the outside of the law. The realism of the violence and the situation draw my nephew to the movie.
The second process is known as the representational process. In this step, Elijah actually acts out his fantasy that he has just viewed. In this instance, he has viewed the violent action scenes several times and rehearses the action as it plays out on the movie. This rehearsal will allow my nephew to transform and restructure the violence into a system that allows him to store it in his memory (Bandura, 1986). This enable him to retain and recall the behavior for situations in the future.
The next step is called the behavioral production process. Elijah has learned all the moves and can recall them at will. Now he can apply the behavior to other situation outside of the movie scenes. The observed behavior can be generalized to closely associated behaviors and situations (Schneider, Gruman and Coutts, 2012). Elijah constantly tries to use the fighting moves on my dog when she barks at him. He believes that my dog is attacking him and it is a reasonable response to fight. There is an assortment of karate chops and the shooting of toy laser guns in the direction of my dog, Coco.
The final step in this theory is the motivational process. People are motivated to perform and behave a certain way. As stated earlier, Elijah feels that the dog barking is an act of aggression. In reality, my dog just wants to be a part of the festivities. However, my nephew feels that he is justified in his actions. Many studies have shown that children believe that self-defense is a proper justification for violent behavior (Berkowitz and Powers, 1979). This justification gives him the motivation to use the violent behavior in a situation that he deems appropriate. It does not help that the many children today are inundated with violent images that may desensitize children to violence.
In closing, my nephew went from a sweet little boy to an evil-fighting guardian of the galaxy. The transformation included four different processes which include the attentional process, representational process, behavioral production process and the motivational process. These processes allowed him to learn the violent behavior, retain it, apply it to new situations and find the motivation to use it. This encompasses all the elements of the social cognitive theory.
Bandura, A (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
Berkowitz, L and Powers, PC (1979). Effects of timing and justification of witnessed aggression on the observers’ punitiveness. Journal of Research in Personality. 13 pg. 71-80
Huesmann, L and Taylor, L (2006). The Role of Media Violence in Violent Behavior. Public Health. V 27 pg.393-415
Schneider, F, Gruman, J and Coutts, L (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Sage Publication Inc.: Thousand Oaks, CA