In 1961, against the backdrop of the prevalent Behaviourism perspective in Psychology, Albert Bandura conducted his famous Bobo doll experiments at Stanford University. The principles of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory hold true even over half a century later. Psychologists of the Behaviour school focused on rewards and reinforcements shaping human behaviour. Bandura retained this idea but went further in stressing the importance of observational learning. Human behaviour, according to him, is not just directed by rewards and reinforcements but by continuous interaction of cognition, behaviour and environment.
Bandura showed a video of an aggressive adult to a group of school children aged 3-6 years. When the children who viewed the video were left in a room with a Bobo doll they imitated the actions of the adult in the video towards the Bobo doll. This was less so with the group not shown the video. No reinforcements were provided for the children’s behaviour.
Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment highlighted the role of observation, modelling and imitation in acquiring human behaviour. The implications of this study were immediately perceptible. However, one of the drawbacks of this study was it was conducted in a controlled environment. Human behaviour is formed in complex, unpredictable situations. Nevertheless, there are important lessons to be gleaned from studies on observational learning. The Social Learning Theory is a widely recognised theory and Bandura is still one of the most popular living psychologists.
The Bobo doll experiment only stresses the importance of mindful adult behaviour, especially in the presence of children. It is often said children are a reflection of their environment. In the context of observational learning this is all the more true. Children commonly imitate and model adult behaviour patterns with regard to social skills, facial expressions, empathy, eating habits, dressing, body language, regulation of emotion, problem solving…the list is endless! So, the next time you are in the presence of children and you choose to yell your head off at the guy who cuts the queue in front of you or slam the door shut in frustration, think of the kids in Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment!
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McLeod, S. A. (2011). Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html
Plumridge, Nicole. (2014). Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved from http://psychminds.com/banduras-bobo-doll-experiment/
Cherry, K. (2016). Alber Bandura’s Biography (1925-). Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/profilesofmajorthinkers/p/bio_bandura.htm
Image Credit: Lee, D.E. (2013). Bobo Doll. Retrieved from http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/2013/06/bobo-doll.html