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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Albert Bandura’s Theory of Observational Learning

Albert Bandura’s Theory of Observational Learning

Observational Learning is a method of retaining and replicating novel behaviour that is merely gather through the interpretation of others. In 1960s, an American psychologist, Albert Bandura has rejected the strict behaviouristic view of learning process and creates a bridge to the cognitive models for learning through his works and theory. His theory of social learning states that a new behaviour is acquired through observation alone and thus learning appears to be cognitive. The Social Learning and Imitation theory suggested that people obtain competencies and new modes of behaviour through response consequences. (Miller & Dollard, 1941: pp.26-42). Social learning theory explains human behaviour in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between the intrinsic reinforcement of cognitive, behavioural, and the external reinforcement of environmental influences. 

Through the famous “Bobo Doll” experiment which demonstrated children learning and imitating behaviours they have observed done by a live model, Bandura identified three basic models of observational learning. “In addition to imaginal responses, the observer acquires, once verbal labels have become attached to objective stimuli, verbal equivalents of the model’s behaviour during the period of exposure” (Bandura, 1965).  In other words, the three basic models of the External Reinforcement in the process of Observational Learning includes A Live Model, an individual demonstrating a behaviour, A Verbal Instruction Model which involves explanation of a behaviour and A Symbolic Model of a real or fictional characters displaying behaviours in all type of transitioning media.

 Bandura also identified the four necessary conditions of Internal or Intrinsic Reinforcement needed for effective modelling for the method of observational learning. These components include: attention; retention; motor reproduction; and motivation (Bandura, 1977: pp.24-28). In order for an individual to fully learn a new observational knowledge one must be dedicated his full Attention to the exposure of that knowledge. Any distraction would produce a negative effect and misunderstanding of that knowledge. The children must attend to what the aggressor is doing and saying in order to reproduce the model’s behaviour (Allen & Santrock, 1993: p.139)

The individual would then have to have the ability to store this information properly for it’s a vital step in the observational learning process. This step is called Retention and can be affected by a number of factors but this step is crucial for the individual in order for him to later on recall those information earlier and act upon it. The Reproduction step of this method of learning is fully depended on the effectiveness of information absorption (attention) and the quality of the information that is retained. In order for a more successful result for an observational learning, Motivation should be given towards the particular knowledge of that individual that has been modelled. The reinforcement and punishment towards that particular knowledge and behaviour can be a highly effective motivation, so can observing other experience some type of reinforcement or punishment. These reinforcements can formulate into reduction of tension, gaining financial rewards, or gaining the praise of others, or building self-esteem (Siegel, 1992: p.171).

Another external reinforcement that Albert Bandura has reported to be an influence on Observational Learning is the Environmental Experience.  A child would learn a new behaviour by observing his surroundings and duplicating the norm of that society. It can be clearly seen in traditions and culture of the world and how the child of a certain tribe learns quickly the ethos of that league in order to be accepted by the tribe. The pressure to be acknowledged as the norm would be the biggest influence and motivation for the child to capture new behaviours of that certain group even though it is not considered as a decent or logical behaviour.  A tribe once believe that women who speak their mind and ask for their equal rights are witches and burning them is alright because A Man in the Sky said so. In our modern times, it would be considered as delusional genocide but they do so because their ancestors do so.  (Abraham, 2012)

From the studies on the theory of Observational Learning, Albert Bandura was concerned with mass communication and its effects; he warned “children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses, and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modelling.” He believes that since aggression is a prominent feature of many media, children who have a high degree of exposure to the media may exhibit a relatively high incidence of hostility themselves in imitation of the aggression they have witnessed (Berkowitz, 1962: pp. 247). These alarming predictions of future generation attitude and behaviour is based on the facts of the Theory of Observational Learning cannot be disproved as easily as we wish it could be and can only be judge once we examine deeper onto the media and its affects onto the children.

This theory is although can be widely accepted as a factual science with the vast amount of evidence from the results of various research but we cannot assume and predict that all children would be easily influence by the media and conclude the source of crime and violence to the media. The social learning theory advocates that individuals, especially children, imitate or copy modelled behaviour from personally observing others, the environment, and the mass media. Biological theorists argue that the social learning theory completely ignores individual’s biological state. Also, they state that the social learning theory rejects the differences of individuals due to genetic, brain, and learning differences (Jeffery, 1985: p.238). This explains that different individuals have different range of tolerance towards violence and gore graphic depicted on the media some would faint on the sight of blood while others are desensitized to bear into a deeper depth of explicit materials depending on the chemistry of their biological compositions in their body. 

This biological statement doesn’t eliminate the fact that those who can withstand the visual context of the media would be still be able to perform and imitate those violent behaviours. For this we take a closer look at the media. If violence in television causes people to be more aggressive, than shouldn’t the good-hearted qualities in television cause its audience to be kinder to others (Cooke, 1993, p.L19). There is a variety of genre in the media and we cannot focus only on the negative side, the media can be served as deterrence if individuals focus on the positive qualities. This shows that though violence is shown on the media, it’s all up to the individual choice to either imitate the behaviours or not. Bandura contradicts his own predictions when he state: While anyone can learn behaviours through imitation and observation, operant conditioning can still have effect whether those behaviour become frequent or not (Bandura, 1977).  

The theory of Observational Learning is important in understanding the methods of knowledge and culture transmission into the youth but it is no place to make predictions that future generations would be more prone towards violent behaviours. Though the Medias are a prime endorsement of criminal behaviours, it is all up to personal choices to either duplicate those actions. Therefore, this theory should not be the main scheme for the studies of aggressions and criminal behaviours without taking consideration of other crucial components such as individual personalities, educational maturity, and of course personal choices. 

In order to control aggression, Bandura believed family members and the mass media should provide positive role models for their children and the general public (Bandura, 1976). Moreover, with the knowledge from the theory of Observational Learning, we could use it to benefit our society by improving the methodology of the teachers in schools to convey their wisdom to the students in an enhanced and more progressive manner in order to build brighter generations of civilized human beings. Subsequently, a more conscientious and matured thinking that will enjoy and relate with the characters involved in the violent act, in doing so, the viewer is able to release all aggressive thoughts and feelings through relation, causing them to be less aggressive (Feshback & Singer, 1971: p.247) without the naivety to recreate the scenarios. 
In conclusion, Bandura’s theory has help us to understand better the intricate process of learning and the effects of influences of any sort of fictions in our daily life. The observational learning reveals that the individual may learn new information without demonstrating new behaviours if the individual chooses to.  It also taught us the importance of knowledge against corrupted information on the media. Only with proper educations from the proper style of educators can resolve the impending induction of violence and criminal behaviour and most importantly, the theory has help us understand how we truly learn and help improve the educational methods.


-          Abraham, N. (2012, March 3). Religion of Art. Black Palate Studio: Minut In It Galleria.  42.
-          Allen, L., & Santrock, J. (1993). The Contexts of Behavior Psychology. (p. 139). Madison, WI. : Brown & Benchmark Press.
-          Bandura, A., Ribes-Inesta, & Emilio (1976). Analysis of Delinquency and Aggression. INC: New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
-          Berowitz, L. (1962). Aggression: A Social Psychological Analysis. (p. 247). San Francisco: McGraw-Hill.
-          Cooke, P. (1993). TV Causes Violence? Says Who? The New York Times,
-          Feshbach, S., & Singer, R. D. (1971). Television and Aggression, (p. 247). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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-          Jeffery, C. R. (1990). Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Approach. . (p. 239). NJ : Prentice Hall.
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-          Miller, N. E., & Dollard, J. (1941). Social Learning and Imitation. (pp. 26-42). California, United State of America: Yale Univ. Press, 1962.
-          Observational Learning As A Function of Symbolization and Incentive Set. (1966, September). Retrieved from http://
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