Case Study: Social Learning Theory

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The theory that I am choosing to present to the class is The Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura. I believe this theory can help explain more about a client’s husband that physical and verbally abuses her that I have encountered at my internship. A study published in the Journal of Family Violence found that this theory is commonly used to explain perspectives in the marital violence literature (Mihalic & Elliott 1997). Albert Bandura, a social learning theorist, coined the term in 1963. In the article “Social learning according to Albert Bandura” the term had influence from B.F. Skinners radical behaviorism, but Bandura added his own concepts, such as modeling (Wulfert, 2018). Bandura changed his theory to “social cognitive theory” in 1986 to more adequately explain what he had been supporting since the 1960s (Wulfert, 2018). Its goal was to better explain how our behavior develops, how it is retained, and through different process that can be modified. Bandura sought out to accomplish this by understanding the causes of human action and the systems through which they operate (Wulfert, 2018). He proposed that external causes of behavior, such as rewards and punishments and internal causes of behavior, such as thoughts, expectations, motivations, and beliefs are believed to play a crucial part of a system of intertwining causes that influence behaviors and other parts of the system (Wulfert, 2018). All people use verbal and nonverbal symbols, such as language and images, to manage different types of information and retain their experiences in the form of cognitive images. These stored memories serve as a guide for how we will present future behavior (Wulfert, 2018). It can be noted that one of the most important contributions to social learning theory is the understanding of how we develop behavior through secondhand learning. This is also called learning through modeling (Wulfert, 2018).

While at my internship, I have been dealing with numerous cases. One story has stood out to because I have been able to meet this client and hear her story face-to-face. Most of our cases are dealt with over the phone, so this one felt more personal than others. She came to America to become a U.S. citizen. She met a man while she was here, and they married soon after. She said he turned into a monster of a person a couple months after they got married. She has been physically and verbally abused by her husband for the last three years of their relationship. She planned on escaping her marriage but came to The Immigration Project for help before acting.

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Furthermore, I believe that I can help better understand this client’s situation from Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. This theory can be applied to a client that is abusive towards their spouse. If her husband has grown up in a household that experienced this type of aggression, it is possible that therefore he is abusive towards his wife. This is crucial in the development of future behavior in children who witness aggression in their household. In the article “A social learning theory model of marital violence” it provides information on how the social learning theory is applied to marital abuse. Not only children, but people in general watch what other people are doing and what their results are from the action that they performed. From these observations, people form ideas about how to perform new behaviors and how this will later guide their own actions. If a child comes from a home where they observed parents and significant others behave in intimate relationships, this provides their beginning stages of learning of behavioral choices which are considered “appropriate” for these relationships. If the family of origin handled stresses and frustrations with anger and aggression, the child who has grown up in such an environment is at greater risk for portraying those same behaviors, whether they witnessed or experienced these behaviors (Mihalic & Elliott 1997).

In addition, my client has expressed minimally about her husband’s upbringing. She expressed that all the years that she has know him, he never gave an impression of him being an aggressive or frustrated person. I also thought that it is possible that perhaps his parents were not aggressive, but there were other people who influenced his violent behavior. Violence is modeled by close family or friends. These are role models given by the family (parents, siblings, relatives, and boyfriends/girlfriends). The behaviors, direct or indirect, are reinforced in childhood and eventually display in adulthood when stressful situations arise (Mihalic & Elliott 1997). Perhaps, his behavior was learned through another close relationship in his life growing up. If a person is taught that a certain behavior is accepted, then they will continue to perform that certain behavior. It can be possible that her husband suffered abuse in his childhood, resulting in a sense of powerlessness, shame, and failure to trust others. This can highly impair the growth of normal coping systems, which may lead to violence as a familiar strategy (Mihalic & Elliott 1997). If her husband felt like he had a lack of control in the relationship, he might have coped with these feelings through violence towards his wife to display the opposite of what he felt as a child.

On the other hand, there may be other factors that play into marital abuse or abusive relationships in general. There may be other confounding or intervening variables that can account for aggressive behavior. According to Bandura (1969), being exposed to violence does not guarantee observational learning. A complete theory of observational learning includes four factors that influence “the nature and degree of observational learning: attentional processes, retention processes, motor production processes, and incentive and motivational processes” (Mihalic & Elliott 1997). It is important to view his behavior according to additional theories and information to better understand this client.

Overall, this client has experienced a tragic story of abuse, like many others. The social learning theory has been able to help me better understand this client’s husband in some way. Further research on aggressive behaviors can ensure a more in-depth understanding for future aggressive clients. Albert Bandura has been able to shine light in this realm of research that is needed to be done in order to better help clients with these behaviors and how we can help them adjust these behaviors in a healthier manner.


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