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Albert Bandura delineated a social learning model for classifying psychological dysfunctions as an alternative to the medical or disease model. In essence, a social learning taxonomy of psychopathology observes the interaction between behavioral predispositions (subject variables) and stimulus events. An analysis of this type, according to Bandura, can help to explain the acquisition and maintenance of deviant response patterns and to guide therapeutic processes. His taxonomic scheme treats mediating events as intervening variables, which are related to manipulable stimulus variables and their response sequences by well-defined laws.

Abnormal behavior is seen as the learning of maladaptive behavioral response patterns that can be directly modified by the stimulus variables that affect both the mediating and terminal behavior. In this type of theoretical orientation, no underlying pathology needs to be modified or removed; the behavior itself is changed. In this view, the conditions that maintain deviant behavior are a function of the environmental contingencies of which the individual is a part. A social learning taxonomy then, necessarily ‘‘highlights the reciprocal relationship between stimulus events and behavioral variables’’. The taxonomic scheme that Bandura proposed for abnormal behavior is based on six distinct patterns of deviant behavior: (1) behavioral deficits, (2) defective stimulus control of behavior, (3) inappropriate stimulus control of behavior, (4) defective or inappropriate incentive systems, (5) aversive behavioral repertoires, and (6) aversive self-reinforcing systems. Each of these will be discussed briefly. Behavioral Deficits.Some persons are considered maladjusted because of a lack of the requisite skills for coping effectively with the social, academic, and vocational demands of their environment. These individuals receive insufficient rewards and may receive punishment because of their deficits. Inadequate modeling and insufficient or poorly managed reinforcements are likely to produce behavioral deficits. Individuals who have poor social skills (personality disorders) may be viewed as examples of this disorder.

Defective Stimulus Control of Behavior. Individuals may possess adequate repertoires of responses that enable them to receive positive reinforcement from the environment, but they may behave inappropriately and go unreinforced because of an inability to discriminate among important stimuli. Defective stimulus control is due to faulty social training or to a breakdown of previously established discriminative behavior. Schizophrenic behavior, such as failure to respond to social cues, may be an example of this disorder. Inappropriate Stimulus Control of Behavior.Maladaptive responses may arise from formerly innocuous and inappropriate stimuli that have acquired the capacity to elicit highly intense emotional reactions. This category involves autonomic reactivity and the physiological response. Disorders are reflected in a wide variety of somatic complaints, including muscular tension, anxiety, phobia, insomnia, fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular disturbances. Control of the previously innocuous stimuli is brought about through aversive and vicarious classical conditioning. Defective or Inappropriate Incentive Systems.Maladaptive behavior may be due in large part to the fact that certain potentially harmful or culturally prohibited stimuli have very strong positive reinforcing functions for the individual. Sexual deviations, such as fetishism and transvestism, are examples of these maladaptive patterns. Various types of drug abuse and their reinforcing pharmacological aspects are other examples. These response patterns are learned through reinforcement and modeling.

Aversive Behavioral Repertoires.In this category, an individual engages in behavior that generates aversive consequences to others. Individuals in this category include children who are very aggressive, annoying, or attention seeking; children who show clinging dependence; and adolescents or adults who engage in antisocial activities or other forms of socially disruptive behavior. Aversive behavioral patterns are learned patterns of response to stress, frustration, and other forms of emotional arousal, originating from the observation of adult and peer models who provide the developing child with ample opportunities to observe their frustration reactions in different stimulus situations. Bandura’s modeling experiment with a ‘‘Bobo’’ doll and children imitating aggression are examples of this type of behavioral repertoire. Aversive Self-Reinforcing Systems.In contrast to the external reinforcing stimuli highlighted previously, this group implies self-administered reinforcers. Self-reinforcement may be contingent upon performance that is indicative of personal merit or achievement. Self-administered positive and negative stimuli are powerful incentives forb nlearning and are effective reinforcers in maintaining behavior in humans. A good example of this type of disorder is depression.

Although Bandura’s taxonomic schemata demonstrated the strong influence of social learning upon behavior, a major problem with this approach is that a person’s psychopathology may be classified on the basis of behavior (behavioral deficits), etiology (defective stimulus control), or inferred states (aversive self-reinforcing systems). To further aggravate this problem, a given ‘‘individual’s learning history may have produced deficient behavioral responses, avoidant response patterns under inappropriate stimulus control, and a powerful aversive self-reinforcement system’’. Thus, this system violates the principle of a single classification variable and hopelessly confuses the issue of an empirical determination of the cause or causes of a given behavior pattern. Is compulsive hand washing a response pattern caused by social learning? Research has not been able to establish definitely the etiological components of this behavior; therefore, should they be established by definition? A very serious problem is that social learning theory is theoretical. Consequently, such a system biases any attempt to test social learning theory against competing explanations. A circular argument always occurs when a specific theory of behavior is evaluated by measurement procedures developed from that theory. Systems of classification and their concomitant measurement procedures must be independent of specific theories of behavior to allow an objective evaluation of competing theories.

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