Albert Bandura was born in Canada to Polish immigrant parents in 1925 (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). After taking a Psychology class specifically meant to fill time, Bandura became enthralled with the topic and went on to earn a PhD in the subject in 1952 from the University of Iowa (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Bandura went on to become a successful social cognitive theorist believing that learning occurred by observing others in various situations (Rathus, 2015). Including a long history of writing and publishing articles Bandura was the American Psychological Association President in 1974 (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Most of the research conducted by Bandura regarded how observational learning effected behavior. Bandura began the research of observational learning and behaviorism at a time period in which Skinner’s behaviorism was the most widely used side of Psychology of the time (Schultz & Schultz, 2017).
Bandura began a career in psychology at a time in which B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning theory still ruled the psychology department. Skinner theory was based upon the idea that behavior was learned through a system of punishment and rewards known as operant conditioning (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Throughout Skinner’s studies, subjects would be punished for incorrect behavior sequences and would be rewarded for correct behavior sequences. An example of operant conditioning according to Skinner would be when a parent rewards a child for peeing in the toilet and punishing them for soiling underwear (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Bandura argued operant conditioning was extreme and an unnatural form of learning that could result in injury before the correct behavior is reached. An example of harmful operant conditioning would be teaching a child to swim using operant conditioning, and the child could be injured before the reward for swimming is achieved (Bandura, 1969). Instead Bandura proposed that learning comes from the observation of behaviors conducted by others. Due to Skinner and operant conditioning having been an established and consistent form of learning there was a small amount of resistance to the social learning theory proposed by Bandura (Friedman & Schustack, 2011). Due to Bandura having not been established in the field of psychology, Bandura’s publications opposing the operant conditioning was not accepted initially. After the first publications of Bandura’s first works the quality of work and connection to the real world overshadowed Bandura’s youth. At approximately the same time Bandura was developing and introducing the Social Learning Theory the invention of the television had become mainstreamed. The television was a powerful source that children would, and continue to, imitate both consciously and unconsciously. Many of the experiments performed by Badura later was influenced by the effect of television and modeling behaviors.
Social Learning Theory
Bandura became widely known for the Social Learning Theory, which can also commonly known as the
Bandura did not believe in the unconscious repetition of imitating behavior, rather that a person consciously decided to repeat a behavior that had been previously observed (Friedman & Schustack, 2011). Bandura introduced and furthered the education and writings in observational learning. Observational learning refers to a form of learning by observing others, such as parents and caregivers, in various situations such as cooking, socializing, and other various day to day functional tasks (Bandura, 1969). In order to decide which behaviors to imitate, Bandura believed that there were various psychological process a child went through in order to determine what behavior to imitate (Bandura, 1963). One process Bandura outlined was the response consequences to the model and imitation in which children that witnessed an aggressive behavior being rewarded were significantly more likely to imitate the aggressive behavior. Children that observed the punishment of aggressive behavior were significantly less likely to imitate the aggressive behavior and held little differentiation from the control group (Bandura, 1963). The second process outlined was the role nurturance played upon the facilitations of imitative behavior. Children that observed a warm, affectionate, or rewarding behavior by the parent or caretaker when performing the takes were more likely to associate the activity with positive values, therefore, increasing the motivation of the child to duplicate the behavior (Bandura, 1963). The nurturance principle in observational learning is similar to the reward system in operant conditioning. If the parent or caregiver appears to feel rewarded by the task the child is more likely to reproduce that behavior even though the child has not been rewarded personally.
In order for observational learning to occur there must be models, the idea or person the behavior is modeled after, and observers, or the people with the behavior that is being affected (Rathus, 2015). A popular study conducted by Bandura regarding the effects of observational learning is the Bobo doll experiment. The study included two groups of children and an inflatable doll. The control group did not witness any adult play or be around the inflatable doll. The second group of children watched an adult abuse, hit, kick, and yell at the doll. After the adult left the room the children in the second group were significantly more likely to play with the inflatable doll in an aggressive or abusive manner (Bandura, 1963). Bandura also found that the magnitude of aggression in which the experimental group played with the doll did not change when the children witnessed the adults abusing the doll in person versus on the television, or as cartoon characters (Schultz & Schultz, 2017).
Considering the theory created by Bandura encompasses modeling as a strongpoint there are many unintentional applications of the Social Learning Theory. Bandura largely studied and focused on the transmission of aggression in addition to the observational learning. Such as with the Bobo doll experiment, Bandura concluded that children who are exposed to violent natures, such as television programs, violent neighborhoods, or video games (Bordens & Horowitz, 2017). The topic of violent video games causing violent behaviors has been a wildly discussed topic since the invention of the television. The theory outlined by Bandura has been cited in multiple research studies on the specific consequences of violent video games since the discovery of the Social Learning Theory. The Bobo doll experiment alone has been replicated numerous times across the world. A study in Lebanon conducted by McHan found that when children were shown a video of aggressive play with the Bobo doll the children were more likely to play aggressively in a later play session. Children that were shown the nonviolent video of a child playing with toys were significantly less likely to play aggressively later on (Bordens & Horowitz, 2017). Bandura’s theory of social and observational learning has also been applied to studies conducted on the exposure to aggression and violence in natural settings. A study inspired by Bandura was conducted by Gorman-Smith ad Tolan in order to explore the effects of violet communities on male minorities. Gorman-Smith and Tolan found there was a significant positive correlation between violent neighborhoods and the aggression, depression, and stress felt by male minorities (Bordens & Horowitz, 2017). As the violence in the communities increased so did the aggression and stress levels of the male minorities.
Bandura’s theory has also been applied through commercials and various forms of advertisements. Companies have geared the commercials of products to specific, impressionable audiences. When a commercial for a product depicted the actor in the commercial to be popular, attractive, or possessed other desirable traits the sale of the product increased (Bordens & Horowitz, 2017). The same thing also happens with social media. When a post becomes viral or popular many people have interacted with that post or have watched it multiple times. There is an increase in the number of posts imitating, mimicking, or recreating said video or post (Mbati, 2013). When impressionable people find videos or posts that have resulted in extreme popularity for others of the same age the tendency to imitate the behavior increases. This can be attributed to Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. When a behavior is observed and appears to have been rewarded, there is an increased potential for recreating said behavior, such as with the popularity of a viral video.
- Bandura, A. (1969). Social-learning theory of identificatory processes. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research (pp. 213-262). Chicago: Rand McNally.
- Bandura, A. (1963). The role of imitation in personality, The Journal of Nursery Education, 18(3).
- Bordens, K. & Horowitz, I. (2017). Social psychology. Academic Media Solutions.
- Friedman, H., & Schustack, M. (2011). Personality: Classic theories and modern research. Pearson
- Mbati, L. (2013). Online social media applications for constructivism and observational learning. The international review of research in open and distributed learning, 14(5). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodvl.v14i5.1579
- Rathus, S. (2015). Human development. Boston, MA. Cengage learning.
- Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. (2017). Theories of personality. Boston, MA. Cengage learning.
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