Ever Wonder Why Aggressors & Victims Act The Way They Do?

Ever wonder why aggressors and victims act the way they do? Where did they learn such behaviors? Well, Bandura’s social learning theory is one of many explanations. He believed, since birth children learn to develop responses imitating models, beginning with their parents. At an early age, children can become confused on which behavior is correct, and witnessing violent behaviors in their home may provoke them to lash out by hitting or pushing, depending on the behavior they have learned. Bandura’s theory suggests that children not only learn violent behavior, but they learn a positive attitude towards it. Believing it is a resolution to their problems. Basically, children would think that violence will get them what they want, if they hurt others they will not get into trouble, stereotypical roles and unhealthy relationships. Kids who witness domestic violence each day in their homes become desensitized. Increasing violent behaviors as they get older in their personal relationships.

Related: Who Are The Abusers and Victims of Domestic Violence?

But how do children learn these violent behaviors? Well, the child focuses on the characteristics of the models and if the model is similar to them, the greater the influence. Albert’s theory states that learning is cognitive and a continuing process, whether or not it is reinforced. To Bandura, this learning process occurs through observing the consequences of the model’s behavior and this is done by attentional, retentional, production and motivational-incentive processes. Attentional process is to perceive the model, and the influencing factors are sex, age, status and how similar the model is to the observer (Shutlz. D.P., Theories of Personality). Retention process is to retain what was observed by encoding it symbolically. This is done by using imaginary representations like images that are easily retrievable or verbal representation, for example describing what the model is doing (Shutlz. D.P., Theories of Personality). Production process occurs when the child, adolescent or adult translates their verbal or imaginary representations into practice. Incentive-motivational process is “perceiving that the model’s behavior leads to a reward and thus expecting that our learning—and successful performance—of the same behavior will lead to similar consequences” (Shutlz. D.P., Theories of Personality).

Now how can Albert Bandura’s theory be applied to the aggressor and victim? Well, let’s start with the aggressor. This theory states that people learn through observing models in their social lives, meaning children who live in a home where domestic violence is present, will learn that behavior. Since parents are the first model in their lives, they will observe the act, internalize it and then use it. Firstly, the child will go through the attentional process, perceiving the model’s age, sex and how similar they are to them. For example, if the son sees his father become violent with the mother, then the son might feel the father model is closer to him because they are both male. Then comes the retentional processing encoding the behavior though imagination or verbal representation. For example, internally telling himself the steps his father used to abuse the mother. The third, is the production process, here the son will act out what he learned from observing his father. For example, punching a person they know on the face because they saw their dad do that. And since the child observed that his father (model) was successful (motivational-incentive process), then they too will have the same consequences. Creating an unstable adult who will have failing personal relationships in the future if not corrected.

The same process will go with the victim, the only difference is that is they will internalize the role of the victim at a young age. Since most of the victimizers are male, I will use the same example in the paragraph above. The father abuses the mother and the daughter, observes the mother’s behavior because she identifies more with her (attentional process). During the retentional process, the daughter will encode using imagination. For example, creating a symbolic image of her mother begging and trying the please the father. In the production process the daughter will act out the same behavior displayed by her mother during the violent attacks. And since she learned that her mother’s behavior “calmed down” the situation for a while, then she too can do that as well. Creating an adult who will handle situations with poor copping skills.

In this case both the son and daughter have learned the patriarchal roles of what a man and women should do. This will only create future dilemmas for the both of them. Not only observing and learning violent or submissive behaviors from their parent is enough, but sadly the media bombards children with these unacceptable behaviors. They see it in movies, televisions, and in school. And by using the same processes explained above children will internalize unhealthy modes of handling situations.


Shutlz. D.P. (9th edition). Theories of Personality. Belmonst, CA. Michele Sordi.

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