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Understanding of human behavior is the broad subject matter of the discipline of psychology. Most studies have thus focused on understanding the cause of human behavior and what actually sustains it. It is interesting to explore how children and even adults learn and acquire behavior. Weiten (2011) cited that various agents of socialization introduce children to socially approved behaviors as well socially sanctioned actions. As people interact with their environment, behavior acquisition occurs (Chance & Krause, 2009). This either develops to form their personality if reinforced or diminish if sanctioned.  This paper seeks to examine whether behavior can really be acquired through observation and interaction with one’s environment. 

In order to operationalize the concept of observational learning as used in this context, it will precisely be defined. Observational learning in this context is the process by which a person acquires behavior by imitating what another person considered as a model actually does or behaves (Chance & Krause, 2009).Various perspectives exist relating to how individuals acquire behaviors. Worth noting is the fact that learning of human behavior begins as early as one’s childhood stages of development. Whereas it is possible that behavior can be learnt through reinforcement and training, social learning remains generally a strong process by which behavior is acquired at the formative stages of human development (Nehaniv & Dautenhahn, 2007).

 Learning takes place as one becomes influenced by various agents of socialization. This includes the immediate family, the peers and other agents such as the media (Comer & Gould, 2011). One acquires behavior by observing what goes on around him/her all the time. If a child observes an adult considered to be a model to behave in a particular way, the child actually gets influenced to behave the same way in total disregard to the acceptability or otherwise of the observed behavior by the normative standards.

Does Behavior Acquisition occur through Social Learning?

People acquire behavior differently depending on the environment to which they are exposed. The learning process takes place indirectly by virtue of observing another person’s conditioning and response (Powell, Symbaluk & Honey, 2008).  For example, observing a close friend’s assertiveness earn him/her a car at a fair cost after bargaining with the salesperson may influence or strengthen one’s own tendency to be assertive when dealing with the salespeople. This implies that the reinforcement experienced by the observed person shapes one’s own behavior (Chance & Krause, 2009).

Learning and behavior acquisition actually takes place through observation, although certain conditions must be met. Behavior is acquired only when one is attentive to observe what happens in the environment. Comer & Gould (2011) cited that watching a socially sanctioned behavior bring positive consequences can therefore make one acquire a socially disapproved behavior. The opposite of this is also true. However, whereas learning occurs through attention to the object of observation or the model, the ability of an individual to retain a mental representation of what is observed and learnt in the past determines the success of the learning process (Nevid, 2012).

Behavior is acquired when the learning process is permanent. This is only possible when one is able to reproduce the observed response. This happens when one converts the mental representation of the observed response and its consequences into an overt behavior (Nehaniv & Dautenhahn, 2007). Acquisition of behavior takes place only when one is motivated to observe the environment and is faced with a situation similar to what was observed. For example, one would be respond aggressively to a situation if the consequences of such a response by a model in a similar condition had positive outcomes. This happens in both children modeling an adult or adults observing the response of another influential personality (Hays, 2006).

Study Design

In order to examine whether behavior can be acquired through observational learning, children will be used as subjects. Acquisition of aggressive behavior by children will be used as the subject of analysis in this study.  The study hypothesizes that children that witness an adult role model behaving aggressively would acquire the same behavior and respond in the same way in the absence of the adult model. On the same note, children that observe a non-aggressive adult would be least aggressive and violent even in the absence of the adult. The group of children exposed to a non-violent adult is less likely to exhibit aggressive behavior than the control experiment children that had no role model.

The study will involve grouping of the subjects into three distinct categories. The first group of two children will be put in the presence of an adult who constantly responded to situations aggressively and violently. The adult model in this category of participants will be portrayed to have positive consequences his/her aggressive or violent responses. For example, by being verbally aggressive, the model wins his way and people generally avoid controversial arguments with him/her out of fear of falling victim of his aggression (Nevid, 2012). This constantly makes him succeed in situations where the less violent often lose out. The children will be allowed to witness all the instances when the adult model behaves aggressively and the positive results of such behavior.

The second group of the participants will also be exposed to an adult model that is not aggressive and violent. For example, the adult model in this category will respond soberly and rationally even to pressing and controversial situations. The children in this category will be exposed to instances when the model adult remained calm and rational in a situation that was generally chaotic and the positive consequence or outcome of the response.

The subjects used as control experiments will be left un-exposed to any models and thus will grow un-influenced by neither very aggressive and violent models nor the calm and rational model. This control group will be used to evaluate the results and outcome of the study or experiment. The analysis will determine whether or not the subjects acquired behavior by observing the adult model.

Results, Evaluation and Conclusion

The children who were exposed the aggressive adult model acquired aggressive and violent behavior and were also likely to respond to situations the same way the adult responded. This category of participants is generally likely to be very aggressive even in adulthood. Those subjects exposed to a non-violent adult model or no model showed little acquisition of aggressive behavior. These studies confirm the hypotheses that behavior can be acquired through observation of a model. The results thus strongly suggest that behavior can be acquired through observation of a powerful model (Hays, 2006). Thus learning can take place through observation.

Acquisition of behavior takes place through observation (Chance & Krause, 2009). It is therefore, possible that even adults who watch violent video programs are likely to act violently. Available studies have confirmed the fact that learning takes place through observation. This is what Albert Bandura referred to as vicarious learning or imitative learning. People are therefore very vulnerable to social influence. An aggressive or violent parent or care-giver is thus likely to raise children who are similarly very violent or aggressive especially if the aggressiveness or the violent behavior is reinforced by positive consequences (Nevid, 2012).

In conclusion, human behavior or overt responses are consequences of positive outcomes of the learned responses. The more the outcome remains pleasing to a subject, the more the behavior is likely to remain. However, imitative or observational learning is not by itself adequate enough to account for all the overt behaviors that people display. People are likely to avoid responses that invite aversive feelings even if such responses are observed from a model. But to a large extent, behavior can be acquired through modeling.

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