Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Cue Arousal and Social Learning Theories

Cue Arousal Theory / Aggression Cue Hypothesis 

Berkowitz (1969) then revised the Frustration-aggression theory and came up with the Cue Arousal Theory.

Berkowitz (1969) states being frustrated heightens one's predisposition toward violent actions. Contextual factors come into play and how an individual interprets the situational cues at hand best predicts whether this athlete will exhibit aggression. This incorporates learning and arousal into the explanation for aggressive behaviour. Frustration causes an increase in arousal but aggression only occurs if there are socially acceptable cues present. For example if the coach reinforces behaviour or if the performer thinks there is no official watching.

Berkowitz’s (1969) Cue Arousal Theory

Berkowitz (1969) also proposes that sport related cues are more likely to increase aggression:

  •   People associated with aggressive acts (a coach, player or fans)

  • Sports associated with aggression (contact sports)

  • Places associated with violence (a venue linked to previous experiences of violence acts)

  • Objects associated with aggression (bats, boxing gloves etc)


Tajfel (1978) suggested that people may be aggressive simply because they are in a situation where aggression is legitimate or where somebody is seen as legitimate target for aggression.

If this theory is correct then it may explain why some players are able to maintain composure and control their arousal levels and not act aggressively. 

Social Learning Theory (SLT)

Bandura (1973) adopts the nurture approach, rejecting the idea that aggression is innate and proposes that aggressive behaviours are learnt through observation and copying actions. In essence, aggression is primarily a learned behaviour which is the result of an individual's interactions with his or her social environment over time (Bandura, 1973) so here catharsis has no place. If this copied action is reinforced (by coaches, fans, team mates or parents) then it is repeated in similar situations, this is known as a Vicarious Experience. It is also based on the premise that aggressive behaviour is acquired via operant conditioning. Operant conditioning occurs when one is reinforced or rewarded for performing a behaviour.  

Vicarious Experience (Wiggins-James 2006) is the process of watching other performers and copying their actions, it is more likely to be successful if the model is a significant other or someone of a similar ability. Research concerning vicarious catharsis specifically suggests that individuals tend to be more aggressive after observing aggression in the sport world (Tenebaum et al, 1997).   

If a performer sees a role model in the media not being punished for aggressive acts or play, then they feel that this is acceptable behaviour and imitate it. This view is supported by Silva (1984) who says that one of the main promoters and maintainers of aggressive behaviour in sport is vicarious reinforcement with "the tendency to repeat behaviours that we observe others rewarded for performing." Conversely, "we are less likely to perform a behaviour that we have seen another individual being punished for doing."


  •   It does not fully explain how some people may be aggressive without observing others if placed in a particular situation. 

  • It does not explain how the same people can observe an aggressive act and the majority will not produce an aggressive response and only a minimal number will mimic the action (Stafford-Brown et al, 2007).

Whilst there are negative characteristics to SLT it should be viewed that if players can be taught negative behaviour they can conversely be taught acceptable behaviour so therefore it is possible to control arousal levels and modify behaviour if correct reinforcement is provided. 

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