Children's preparedness to learn high magnitude responses


Diener, E., Bugge, I., & Diener, C. (1975). Children's preparedness to learn high magnitude responses. The Journal of Social Psychology, 96(1), 99-107.


Debate has raged among psychologists about whether aggression in man is learned or innate. Following Seligman's suggestion, the authors hypothesized that man may be biologically prepared to learn aggressive responses. In Study I, seven sets of twins were frustrated and verbally attacked before the learning trials. The twins were run in a matched subject design with one twin reinforced for punching a Bobo clown hard and the other twin for punching it lightly. Supporting the hypothesis, children learned the high magnitude response in fewer trials and with fewer reinforcements than their twin assigned to the low magnitude condition. In Study II seven additional sets of twins were placed in the same learning paradigm but were not attacked or frustrated. The twins in the high magnitude condition learned the correct response in fewer total trials, and the data on the number of reinforced trials were of borderline significance in the predicted direction. Future research was suggested to discover whether the preparedness to learn uncovered in these two studies derived from innate biological sources, previous learning sets, or response discriminability.

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