Question: Can classroom bullying be attributed to social modeling and/or vicarious learning?
Albert Bandura postulated that people learn behavior through modeling (Bandura, 1977). According to this theory, people learn how to behave by watching those around them. There are certainly some examples where this would seem to be the case, but as a general principle, I disagree with Bandura, at least with regards to violence. I do not believe that violence is a trait that is learned through social modeling at all. Violence, whether we like it or not, is an intrinsic part of being human.
Any day that you watch the news you will see evidence of violence; shootings, muggings, rape, murder. It happens every day all over the world. Most of the media is quick to blame violent video games, saying that the shooters were influenced and learned how to do it from these video games, which would support Bandura's theory (ABC News, 2013). However, others, myself included, are quick to argue the fallacy of this logic in what has become a hotly debated topic (Atlantic wire, 2013).
Regardless of what side of this debate you find yourself on you cannot logically deny the fact that violence has existed long before video games. There are many famous mass shootings that happened prior to the advent of violent video games: George Hennard - 1991, Patrick Henry Sherrill - 1986, James Huberty - 1984, George Banks - 1982, Joseph Whitman - 1966, etc (CNN, 2013). So, if social modeling through video games is to blame for today's modern killers, then what social modeling is to blame for these killers? Television? What about mass murders that happened prior to television? Did Jack the Ripper learn how to kill through social modeling in victorian literature?
In parts of the world that are completely devoid of media, children still violent games with each other (Diamond, 1999). One could make the argument that these children learned to be violent through social modeling through their parents and other adults in their communities. However, violence has been used as a family event and a form of entertainment for hundreds of years. During the "wild west" and the colonial era of American history public executions were common practice that included the whole family. This practice originated from Medieval europe where it was precedated by the Roman practice of the gladitorial games.
Probably the most damning concept to Banduras theory is Otzi the Iceman. Otzi is the oldest, intact complete human remains ever recovered from anywhere in the world with his mummified corpse dating back 5,000 years ago (PBS, 2011). He is damning to bandura's theory because in addition to being the oldest intact human ever found, he's also the world's oldest cold-case murder victim; he was shot in the back with an arrow and cudgeled over the head (PBS, 2011). If Bandura's theory of social modeling is correct, and we learn our behaviors from those around us and our parents, then where did the people who came before learn how to be violent? One might argue that violence was learned and perpetuated from the earliest humans, but where did they learn it? Additionally, there are many examples of people who do the opposite of the behaviors that were socially modeled for them; pastor's chidlren becoming involved in gangs or drugs, people who grew up in a gang family becoming police officers, etc. If social modeling is correct, then why do these people deviate from, and do the exact opposite of the behaviors that were modeled for them?
To get back to the original question; can classroom bullying be attributed to social modeling and/or vicarious learning? No, I don't think so. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that this is not the reason why children bully each other. I would argue that there is something within our residual evoluationary psychology that makes children bully each other, rather than social modeling. I would argue that peer pressure and the need for acceptance plays a much bigger role than social modeling.
Personally I think that peer pressure and evolutionary psychology play a more important role than social modeling. Humans are an intrinsically social group. In our days as a hunter-gatherer society society ostracization from the group meant almost certain death (Diamond, 1999). This is one reason we still like to form groups and perpetuate an "us vs. them" mentality in everything we do from religion to politics to sports. In a throwback from our hunter-gatherer days we still view strength as a desirable trait and people are incined to try to "prove" their strength by picking on those weaker than they are.
ABC News (2013) How Violent Video Games fit in with Violent Behavior. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/navy-yard-shooter-played-military-style-videogames-relevant/story?id=20285169
Atlantic Wire (2013) Don't Blame Video Games for Monday's Mass shooting. http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/09/dont-blame-violent-video-games-mondays-mass-shooting/69499/
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review,
Diamond, Jared. (1999) Guns, Germs, and steel: The fate of human civilizations.