Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Social Learning Theory Anorexia

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Social Learning Theory Anorexia

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that often comprise more than just ‘food’ outside influences such as family members, role models, and media impact how people perceive themselves. As a result, they affect the development of eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that causes a person to maintain a deficient weight by exercising too much or suppressing their diet. People with anorexia often think they are overweight, even though this is not the case.

Albert Bandura proposed the social learning theory (SLT) in 1977. The theory assumes environmental and cognitive factors working together cause behaviour.

This article will describe and evaluate the social learning theory of anorexia nervosa.

Social learning theory and anorexia nervosa

The SLT explains that behaviour is a result of:

  • Environmental factors via operant and classical conditioning techniques, known as observational learning.

  • Cognitive factors before individuals learn a new behaviour, they think about whether they want to learn it.

The SLT explains anorexia as follows:

  • During childhood, children encode the behaviour of their role models (e.g., celebrities or parents), imitating it.

  • They do not imitate all behaviour, but if it is reinforced, or if it is the generally accepted opinion of society, they are likely to replicate it.

  • Society and media perceive ‘skinnier women and ‘muscular’ men as more attractive.

Behaviours an individual may observe and imitate, and that may cause the onset of anorexia are:

  • Parents criticising their weight.
  • Media praising celebrities for their weight loss.
  • The person in question being praised for their weight loss.
  • Observing models restrictive-dieting.
  • As a result, a person can develop a distorted image of themselves and model the behaviour they observed, causing the onset of anorexia nervosa.

Social Learning Theory Anorexia SLT Environmental and Cognitive factors StudySmarterSLT considers both environmental (home) and cognitive factors, Pixabay

Social learning theory and behavioural explanations for anorexia

As previously stated, the social learning theory considers aspects of the behavioural approach for explaining anorexia nervosa. According to the social learning theory, people can learn anorexia nervosa via associations (principles of classical conditioning). They can then maintain this maladaptive behaviour via reinforcement (principles of operant conditioning).

Classical conditioning

An example of how classical conditioning explains anorexia in terms of the development of a fear of food is:

The individual may form an association between eating and psychological distress, causing avoidant behaviour and leading to anorexia.

Operant conditioning

Here are some examples of how operant conditioning may explain anorexia:

  • Positive reinforcement words of encouragement, e.g. ‘you look good since you have lost weight’.
  • Negative reinforcement skipping meals to stop them from feeling guilty for eating.
  • Vicarious reinforcement observing someone else losing weight and being praised for it (a desirable outcome) and adjusting their behaviours and weight to achieve the same reward.
  • Reward- they lose weight if they do not eat.
  • Punishment if they eat, they will gain weight.

Consider the review of multiple studies by Keel and Klump (2003). Here, they found that the role of media influences and culture affects the rate of anorexia nervosa. The research found anorexia nervosa in all countries, but the more Westernised countries had higher rates of anorexia. However, other factors exist, so we can only say that the Western media plays a role and is not the only determining factor.

Social learning theory and cognitive explanations for anorexia

The cognitive aspect of the SLT theory explains behaviour in terms of faulty schemas and thought processes that lead people to develop maladaptive behaviour. If this behaviour is reinforced via the vicious cycle, it can lead to the onset of anorexia.

Beck’s vicious cycle

While under this psychological pressure, the individual is sensitive and easy to influence.

If someone gives them positive feedback concerning their weight, this encourages them to continue this maladaptive behaviour. If a person starts restrictive eating and does not lose weight, they may receive negative feedback, thus thinking they need to be more stringent. This process results in a vicious cycle and causes the individual to fear food and weight gain, called Beck’s vicious cycle.

Beck’s vicious cycle contributes to the onset and maintenance of anorexia nervosa.

Evaluation of social learning theory of anorexia

Let us now discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the social learning theory of anorexia.

Strengths of the SLT approach

The strengths of the SLT approach are:

  • Grabe et al. (2008) found that women exposed to media images about the thin-ideal body had body image concerns.

  • SLT approach is more holistic because it takes a multifactorial approach (uses more than one approach to explain phenomena) to explain anorexia, i.e., it does not try to over-simplify complex human behaviours. This model demonstrates that individuals genetically predisposed to anorexia (more likely to develop it) develop an eating disorder due to psychological pressures from external forces.

Weaknesses of the SLT approach

The weaknesses of the SLT approach are:

  • This model ignores the importance of biological factors leading to the onset of anorexia. For example, Kaye et al., 2015 found that patients with anorexia had high levels of dopamine receptors in the basal ganglia (region of the brain involved in reward processing).

    • Therefore, dysfunctional eating behaviour may result from dopamine irregularities in the basal ganglia.

  • Similarly, Kaye et al. (2005) found that serotonin neuronal systems may create vulnerabilities related to pathological feeding and make some individuals more susceptible to developing eating disorders (alongside the environmental stressors).

  • One problem with this model is that not everyone who has such role models (role models that cause or encourage unhealthy eating behaviours, such as promoting the dieting culture the SLT explains as a possible cause of anorexia) develops anorexia. This idea suggests that the diathesis-stress model may provide a better explanation for anorexia.

The diathesis-stress model is a biopsychosocial model that explains the onset of anorexia. Individuals who develop the eating disorder initially have a genetic predisposition (genes that make them more vulnerable to developing illnesses) to anorexia. Being exposed to enough psychological pressures from external forces triggers these genes.


Social Learning Theory Anorexia - Key takeaways

  • Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that causes a person to maintain a deficient weight. They may do this by over-exercising or suppressing their diet.
  • The social learning theory (SLT) account of anorexia argues that environmental and cognitive factors cause anorexia.
    • The behavioural approaches that the SLT considers for explaining anorexia are classical and behavioural conditioning. They suggest eating disorder results from learning via association and reinforcement of maladaptive behaviour.
    • The cognitive aspect of the SLT theory explains behaviour in terms of faulty schemas and thought processes that lead people to develop maladaptive behaviour. If this behaviour is reinforced via the vicious cycle, it can lead to the onset of anorexia.
  • According to the SLT, observing, imitating and modelling the behaviour of role models causes anorexia.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Learning Theory Anorexia

The theory assumes environmental and cognitive factors that work together cause behaviour.  

The role of the media, society’s ‘idealistic’ values of how a person should look like, and role models.

People learn behaviour by:

  1. Observing.
  2. Imitating.
  3. Modelling.

A limitation of the SLT is that it ignores biological influences that may cause anorexia. The model does not explain why all individuals who have such models do not develop anorexia nervosa.

During childhood, children encode the behaviour of their role models (e.g., celebrities or parents), imitating it. They do not imitate all behaviour, but if it is reinforced, or if it is the generally accepted opinion of society, they are likely to replicate it. As a result, a person can develop a distorted image of themselves and model the behaviour they observed, causing the onset of anorexia nervosa.

Final Social Learning Theory Anorexia Quiz

Question

What is anorexia nervosa?

Show answer

Answer

Anorexia nervosa is a medically recognised eating disorder that affects a person's food intake and body weight. Those with anorexia nervosa often refuse to eat or restrict their eating, have an unhealthy fear of weight gain, and cannot maintain healthy body weight due to perceived self-image/body-image issues. 

Show question

Question

Does Bandura disregard the behavioural approaches?

Show answer

Answer

No, his theory incorporates aspects of the behavioural approach.

Show question

Question

What year was the SLT founded in?

Show answer

Answer

The SLT was founded in 1977.

Show question

Question

What are the concepts of the SLT that can lead to the onset of anorexia? 

Show answer

Answer

The key concepts of the SLT approach are:

  1. Observation.
  2. Imitation.
  3. Modelling.

Show question

Question

How does the classical theory explain anorexia? 

Show answer

Answer

The individual may form an association between eating and psychological distress, which can cause avoidant behaviour and lead to anorexia.

Show question

Question

How can positive reinforcement contribute to the onset of anorexia?


Show answer

Answer

If someone receives words of encouragement (e.g., ‘Have you lost weight? You look good.’), they are likely to continue the behaviour.

Show question

Question

Which of the following statement is an example of negative reinforcement?

Show answer

Answer

A person skipping meals to stop themselves from feeling guilty for eating.

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of the SLT for anorexia? 

Show answer

Answer

  • Grabe et al. (2008) found that women exposed to media images about the thin-ideal body had body image concerns.
  • SLT approach is more holistic because it takes a multifactorial approach (uses more than one approach to explain phenomena) to explain anorexia, i.e., it does not try to over-simplify complex human behaviours. This model demonstrates that individuals genetically predisposed to anorexia (more likely to develop it) develop an eating disorder due to psychological pressures from external forces.


Show question

Question

What are the limitations of the SLT for anorexia?

Show answer

Answer

  • This model ignores the importance of biological factors leading to the onset of anorexia. For example, Kaye et al. (2015) found that patients with anorexia had high levels of dopamine receptors in the basal ganglia (region of the brain involved in reward processing).
    • Therefore, dysfunctional eating behaviour may result from dopamine irregularities in the basal ganglia.
  • One problem with this model is that not everyone who has such role models (role models that cause or encourage unhealthy eating behaviours, such as promoting the dieting culture the SLT explains as a possible cause of anorexia) develops anorexia. This idea suggests that the diathesis-stress model may provide a better explanation for anorexia.

Show question

Question

What is an issue with an approach being regarded as reductionist?

Show answer

Answer

A problem with reductionist approaches is that they tend to disregard important factors that explain phenomena and over-simplify complex phenomena.

Show question

Question

Who created the vicious cycle?

Show answer

Answer

Beck created the concept of the vicious cycle.

Show question

Question

How does positive feedback affect anorexia nervosa?

Show answer

Answer

If someone gives someone under intense psychological pressure positive feedback concerning their weight, it may encourage them to continue maladaptive behaviour that contributes to the onset of anorexia.

Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of positive feedback?

Show answer

Answer

‘You look good! Have you lost weight?’

Show question

Question

Which of these is an example of negative feedback?

Show answer

Answer

‘You look good! Have you lost weight?’

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Social Learning Theory Anorexia quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.