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The social learning theory proposed by Albert Bandura proposed the idea that people can learn through observation, also that the internal mental state are an essential part of this process. He also believed that just because something is learned, does not mean that it will result in a change in behaviour. In Banduras Bubo doll experiment he demonstrated that children learn to imitate behaviours they have witnessed in other people. This theory can be explained in smoking behaviour and why children smoke.

Social learning theory states that we copy or model our behaviour from role models for example from parents, media or peer groups. So when a child observes a role model smoking and enjoying the habit, they try to imitate it. At first they might find this disgusting or revolting but continue with this habit because they expect to enjoy as much as their role model does. Parent’s attitude to smoking can be a strong factor in why children take up smoking. (Lader D, Matheson J. Smoking among secondary school children in 1990. London: HMSO; 1991.).found that when the parents smoked, their children were twice as likely to take up the habit as those whose parents did not.

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The learning theory approach is very experimental in its approach, therefore ignoring the mental processes involved in learning, proposed by the cognitive psychologists. It ignores the built in bias in learning due to evolution. It also ignores free will as a reason to smoke.

Cognitive approach

Cognitive psychologists believe that the study of the internal mental process is an important way to understanding human behaviour. Cognitive processes actively organise and manipulate the information we receive-humans do not just passively respond to their environment. The cognitive perspective is concerned with the “mental” functions such as memory, perception and attention. It views humans as similar to computers in regards to how we process information, and most of their theories are scientific in their approach.

Cognitive psychologists explain smoking behaviour by using the Theory of Reasoned Action, and the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Fishbien & Ajzen 1975 1982). Individuals elaborative thoughts on subjective norms are perceptions on whether they are expected by their friends, family and the society to perform the recommended behaviour. Social influence is measured by evaluation of various social groups.

For smoking behaviour the subjective norm from a peer group would include thoughts such as “most of my friends smoke” or “I feel ashamed to smoke in front of my friends”. Subjective norms from members of your family might include “all my family smoke so it seems natural for me to take up the habit” or “my parents will be mad if they see me smoking”. Subjective norms from society or culture can include thoughts such as, “Everyone is against smoking,” and “We assume everyone is a non-smoker”, using the TRA along with TPB and perceived behavioural control, Cognitive psychologists have been effective in explaining some of the reasons for smoking behaviour.

Even though the cognitive approach can predict the behavioural intension of smoking behaviour, it does not necessarily explain the biological reasons for smoking (addiction to nicotine). The research by cognitive psychologists can be over- hypothetical, ignoring the huge complexities of a human being for example cultural bias, and free will. Psychodynamic approach Sigmund Freud was the pioneer of this approach. Freud believes that events in our childhood can have a significant impact on our behaviour as adults.

He also believed that people have little free will to make choices in life. Instead our behaviour is determined by the unconscious mind and childhood experiences. Freud believed our behaviour is also motivated by sexual and aggressive drives. The drives create a psychic energy that will build up (like steam in an engine) and create tension and anxiety, if it cannot be released in some form. An aspect of Freud’s psychoanalysis is the theory of psychosexual development. It shows how early experiences effect adult personality. There are five stages oral, anal, phallic, latent and the genital stage.

To explain smoking behaviour using Freud’s theory we would have to refer to the oral stage of psychosexual development. Sigmund Freud proposed that during this first stage if a nursing child’s appetite were thwarted during any libidinal development stage, the anxiety would persist into adulthood as neurosis (functional mental disorder). Therefore, an infantile oral fixation would manifest itself as an obsession with oral stimulation. This oral fixation can manifest itself as a need for oral gratification for example smoking, chewing and nail biting.

Freud’s approach is one way of looking a smoking behaviour but there is no evidence to confirm that extended breast feeding might not lead to an oral fixation, nor will it contribute to a person developing addictions in later life. Raith E The Duration of Breast-feeding and the Incidence of Smoking (2003) of 87 participants reported no causal relation between the breast feeding period and whether a child grows up to smoke.

Humanist Approach

The humanist approach believes that the proper understanding of humans cannot be gained from studying animals. That psychology should research areas that are important to human existence, not to neglect them because they are too difficult. Psychology should investigate the internal experience as well as external behaviour and consider that individuals show a certain amount of free will. Two of the most influential and enduring theories in humanist psychology emerged in the 1950s and 1960s those of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

To explain smoking behaviour using the humanist approach we can refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (1908 -1970), his theory like Freud’s centre’s on the different stages of human development. Maslow hierarchy of needs used terms such as physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation to explain human developmental psychology. The esteem stage of the hierarchy focuses on a human need to have self-esteem or feel respected. Low self- esteem presents a human desire to be accepted, so by engaging in certain behaviour like smoking, a person might feel more accepted by their peers. There could be an element of free will when choosing to engage in smoking or not.

There is merit in this approach in that each human being is unique in the way they think and feel but fails to acknowledge the scientific reasons for a person to smoke for example addiction to nicotine. There is a lack of empirical evidence to support its ideas.

To summarise there are scientific and non-scientific reasons to explain smoking behaviour, and the main psychological perspectives can give explanatory powers towards the reasons that we smoke. Maybe with differing opinions we can gain some insight into how we can understand our behaviour in the future.


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