Social Learning Theory, Application to Ben’s case

Please use the Social Learning Theory developed by Bandura and explain the offenders
behaviour in the case study attached to write this paper.

Social Learning Theory, Application to Ben’s case

Summary of Case

Ben, a teenager was born into a dysfunctional family. His parents constantly fought while his
father sexually molested him and assaulted him. He also witnessed his father abusing other
women sexually and in a violent manner. By the age of ten his elder siblings had all moved out,
leaving him with the alcoholic and abusive father. He was taken into forster care where he
moved from home to home, all the time being unable to feel at ease given the fact that he had
acquired several antisocial behaviours such as juvenile delinquency and general indiscipline,
something that complicated matters with the more strictly run homes. He subsequently ended up
in an orphanage where he still got into trouble for stealing with his unruly friends and also
robbing a household. At 14 he sexually assaulted another boy. Since then he has been living on
and off the streets alternating with a hostel. He was recently accused of raping a boy and he
surprising thing is that he is not at all frightened at the prospect of being convicted and sent to
prison. On the contrary he is more concerned about the fact that he is innocent so long as he did
not inflict any injury on the young victim.

To possibly gain an understanding of Ben with respect to his unruly behaviour and unapologetic
demeanour, Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory shall be applied. This will then call for an
analysis of his life story through comparisons to the different facets of this theory (Biggs and
Telfer, 1987).

Introduction of Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

This is one of the several theories that have been put forward in an attempt to explain people’s
behaviours and the reasons why they do what they do. As the name suggests, the social learning
theory seeks to generate logical explanations for how people behave based on their immediate
environment and their personal attributes such as age and gender among other factors. This
analysis encompasses a wide array of environmental parameters that then aid in explaining why
one would act in a particular way.

Bandura’s theory of social learning has two core principles that guide it. The first of these is that
people learn through observation. The second of these principles involves something known as
‘vicarious learning’ which is learning through the consequences that result from others’
behaviours. From Ben’s story it is clear that he has had several influencers who have contributed
to his current state. He has had people in his life gain a position of influence and they include his
father, mother, siblings, friends and fellow delinquents he interacted with while on detention.
The overly strict yet impersonal homes too have contributed to his current behavioural state.
(Leonard and Bale, 1999)

When it comes to learning through observation, most of his behaviours mirror those of his father.
When we take a look at Ben’s most recent case, he sexually assaulted a young boy after an
episode of drinking and consuming narcotics. He also threatened the same boy with violence
through the pocket knife he had on him. Now when we look at the information that is available
on Ben’s father, it is mentioned that he was an abusive and violent alcoholic man who went to
the extent of abusing his son and possibly the older children during their earlier years (Gupta and
Derevensky, 1997).

Since he was exposed to these from a very young age, he probably grew up not seeing anything
wrong with sexual abuse or substance abuse. The people to set for him an example showed him
that alcoholism and violence is part of everyday life and he grew up not seeing anything wrong
with the same. With regard to sexual assault, he probably just did the same thing his father had
exposed and subjected him to. This could explain the casualness with which he treats the matter.
He did not attempt to escape or silence the victim who he raped in the park and neither did he
attempt to escape so as to avoid arrest. This is a clear indication that he is numbed to the severity
of this incident. To him there was nothing out of the ordinary with this rape that he had done.

It is also mentioned in the report that he had strong suspicions about his father doing the same to
his older siblings who must have kept it to themselves. This further cemented his viewpoint on
sexual assault being something that is normal. This is because they just seemed to continue with
their lives as if nothing had happened. He therefore assumes that those who are subjected to
sexual abuse need not report it but rather accept it and move on. His mother’s silence regarding
the matter also contributed tremendously to the way he understood such matters; considering the
fact that he actually sexually abused the three boys at the orphanage. This was probably not the
first time he did such a thing but rather the first the first time he had been reported. This is an
illustration of ‘modelling’ as presented in the theory of social learning. This is because he
observed what his father was doing and repeated the same. The same took place with his
mother’s actions. From his father he saw violence and alcoholism while his mother showed him
the turning of a blind eye to sexual abuse.

The friends he had also influenced the behaviours that he had. From an early age he was
spending time with children who were experimenting with various solvents that act as stimulants
and this got him used to getting in a drug-induced state from an early age. These friends also got

him into stealing from households as it is reflected through the breaking and entering charge on
his file. By being with his friends he was bold enough to commit such acts. It is also likely that
he got some of the violent characteristics from these friends of his. When he raped the boy it is
said that he casually left the friends who he had been drinking and smoking with to assault the
boy. The fact that none of them raised a finger to condemn his actions is a clear indication that
they condoned his actions. In Bandura’s Theory, this is known as ‘disinhibition’ which is
basically the removal of any inhibitions he might have had about actions such as abusing drugs,
robbery, violence and even sexual assault. Within this group’s moral composition, there was no
opposition to such actions.

Reasons why Ben imitated the snit-social behaviours

In Bandura’s theory there are several reasons that will increase the likelihood of one imitating
behaviours he or she is exposed to. There are attributes that the models have which will increase
the chances of them being imitated (Johnson and Ferraro, 2000). At the same time observers tend
to have a particular group of characteristics that lead them to easily imitate what they see in the
models around them. In this case Ben is the observer while the models are his parents and the
company he kept (Hunter, 2006).

When it comes to observers, they are more likely to pick habits from the models if they have low
self-esteem, lack self-confidence and get the habit reinforced upon them on a constant or regular
basis. Now when these are checked against Ben’s life it is clear that he possesses all three pre-
conditions. Firstly, he was the last born in a dysfunctional family overrun by violence,
alcoholism and sexual abuse. He probably never got a change to bond with either of his parents.
His siblings also moved out of home when the troubles were escalating and this meant that he

had to somewhat ‘fend for himself’ emotionally. When he left home he bounced from one foster
home to another scarcely fitting into any of them. Eventually he ended up in an institution. In
school he was also considered difficult, troublesome and weak and this indicates the kind of
attitude teachers approached him with. These events and situations meant that there was no
opportunity for him to receive nurturing and love which boost the self-esteem of a child. Since
his father was alcoholic, the cases of violence and abuse were repetitive and these served as
reinforcement of the violent tendencies (Wood and Bandura, 1989; O’Connor, 1996).

When it comes to models, they have to share attributes such as gender, age, status and similarity
with the observer for their behaviours to be adopted. Ben’s father must have had a lot of things in
common with him including appearance and possibly temperament (Bussey and Bandura, 1999).
At the same time it is obvious that they are both male. His peers too are male and possibly from
the same social class considering they attended the same school and lived in the same
neighbourhood. The friends he has later on in life too have similarities with him in that they all
live in the hostel and have the same habits such as drinking and smoking marijuana in the park.

With all these similarities, it becomes possible for the observer to witness the model’s actions
and subsequent results. At home it can be said that Ben saw his father dominating the household
and his family through acts of violence. When he went to the foster homes, the impersonal
discipline being imposed denied him a chance to witness or experience empathy (Webb and
Sheeran, 2006). With his friends, he probably saw that stealing gave someone access to things
that were ideally out of his reach. With regard to drugs and alcohol, the examples he had around
him only presented these as an avenue of dealing with frustrations (Perry and Bussey, 1979).


Ben’s case is an ideal example of how social learning is manifested in the shaping of people’s
personality. The theory employs the various elements of an individual’s immediate social
environment to aid in pin-pointing the origins of one’s most outward character traits. Out case
example is a teenager who had a rough childhood of sexual abuse and abandonment with the
result being a person who completely lacks morals and therefore replicates what he experienced
to those around him.


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