Scholars differ in their assumptions about the strength of accumulated evidence concerning social learning theory. One area of potential weakness is a possible dearth of evidence regarding differential reinforcement, the theory's central causal mechanism. We report results from a systematic review of (1) a sample of experimental studies concerning human reinforcement learning as well as (2) criminological/sociological studies cited by proponents as supportive of social learning theory. This review is designed to assess the empirical basis for reinforcement and social learning. It suggests that results of experimental research, though supportive of the reinforcement process, may be limited in applicability to social learning theory's hypotheses regarding differential reinforcement, and direct tests of differential reinforcement hypotheses are rare in the non-experimental literature. We conclude that the strength of social learning theory could be enhanced by more thorough and direct testing of reinforcement hypotheses and we offer suggestions about how to accomplish that.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science