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Social Learning Theory and Media
We all pay attention to what we observe in movies and television and learn from it without being largely conscious. Characters in media act in certain ways and receive certain outcomes for those actions. We are keen on recognizing whether those consequences are positive or negative, and we mold our behavior accordingly.
What is the Social Learning Theory?
The social learning theory is a psychological theory that suggests that people learn new behaviors, attitudes, and values through observation and imitation of others. This theory has been applied to studying the media and its effects on individuals and society. Albert Bandura's work on the effect of model observation and the resulting behavior paved the way for social learning theory. Through his work with children, he developed his theory of observational learning. He stated that a person's behavior is shaped by observing a model and the consequences they face for that behavior. For example, a person may learn not to steal after watching a thief get caught and jailed for his crime. This theory is useful in studying the far-reaching impacts of certain kinds of media.
How is Social Learning Theory Related to Media?
According to the social learning theory, media can serve as a powerful influence on an individual's behaviors, attitudes, and values. The media, including television, movies, music, and social media, often depict certain behaviors, attitudes, and values as more prevalent or acceptable than they are. This can lead individuals to imitate or adopt these behaviors, attitudes, and values, even if they are not representative of the diversity of human experience. In general, media can have two sociological effects on its audience. It can normalize certain kinds of behaviors, and it can stigmatize certain kinds of behavior.
The Normalization of Certain Kinds of Behavior
Television, movies, music, and social media, can play a significant role in normalizing certain behaviors. This is because the media often depicts certain behaviors as being more prevalent or acceptable than they are, which can lead individuals to believe that these behaviors are more common or normal than they are. One example of the normalization of certain kinds of behaviors in media is the portrayal of violence. The media often depicts violence in a glamorized or sensationalized way, which can make it seem more acceptable or normal than it is. This can lead individuals to believe that violence is more acceptable or effective in resolving conflicts and may increase aggressive or violent behavior.
Another example of the normalization of certain behaviors in the media is the portrayal of substance use. The media often depicts the use of drugs and alcohol as more prevalent or acceptable than it is, which can lead individuals to believe that substance use is more common or normal. This can increase the risk of substance use and abuse, as individuals may be more likely to engage in these behaviors if they perceive them as more prevalent or normal in society. There is a positive aspect to these tendencies as well. Media can reinforce social groups and activities that have been misunderstood and stigmatized.
The media, for example, can help to normalize LGBTQ+ people. This promotes open-mindedness and acceptance of certain societal issues, as the media may portray them as normal and nothing to be concerned about. Recently, conversations about positive mental health have found a home in the media, which has normalized conversations about mental disorders and personal well-being. The media is capable of depicting positive mental health in several ways. Some examples include −
Showing characters who prioritize self-care and engage in activities that promote mental well-being, such as exercising, meditating, or spending time with loved ones,
Depicting mental health treatment in a positive light, such as through characters seeking therapy or medication and experiencing positive outcomes as a result,
Portraying mental health conditions accurately and sensitively, rather than stigmatizing or misrepresenting them.
Highlight the importance of mental health and its role in overall well-being.
The Stigmatization of Certain Kinds of Behavior
Stigmatization occurs when a specific group or idea is negatively labeled or discriminated against by society, and it can have serious consequences for the stigmatized individuals or groups. One way that the media stigmatizes certain things is through the portrayal of negative stereotypes. The media often depicts certain groups or individuals negatively or stereotypically, contributing to negative attitudes and behaviors toward these groups or individuals. For example, the media may portray certain racial or ethnic groups as criminals or lazy, contributing to negative attitudes and behaviors toward these groups.
Another way that the media stigmatizes certain things is by portraying negative themes or ideas. The media may depict certain behaviors or attitudes as undesirable or deviant, contributing to negative attitudes and behaviors towards these behaviors or attitudes. For example, the media may portray certain mental health conditions as dangerous or undesirable, contributing to negative attitudes and behaviors towards individuals with these conditions. It is critical to recognize the potential for media to stigmatize certain behaviors and qualities and be mindful of the media one consumes.
By considering that media may portray certain types of relationships, lifestyles, or body types as being ideal or desirable, even if they are not representative of the diversity of the human experience, This can create pressure for individuals to conform to certain standards or expectations, which can lead to misunderstandings or conflicts with others.
It is important to recognize the potential for media to shape an individual's behaviors, attitudes, and values and to be mindful of the media one consumes. By considering the social learning theory and its implications for media, individuals can make more informed and mindful choices about the media they consume.
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