Observational (Social) Learning: An Overview

Citation: Huitt, W. (2004). Observational (social) learning: An overview. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/soccog/soclrn.html

Return to: | Social Cognition | EdPsyc Interactive: Courses |

Observational or social learning is based primarily on the work of Albert Bandura (1977). He and his colleagues were able to demonstrate through a variety of experiments that the application of consequences was not necessary for learning to take place. Rather learning could occur through the simple processes of observing someone else's activity. This work provided the foundation for Bandura's (986) later work in social cognition.

Bandura formulated his findings in a four-step pattern which combines a cognitive view and an operant view of learning.

1. Attention -- the individual notices something in the environment.
2. Retention -- the individual remembers what was noticed.
3. Reproduction -- the individual produces an action that is a copy of what was noticed.
4. Motivation -- the environment delivers a consequence that changes the probability the behavior will be emitted again (reinforcement and punishment)

Bandura's work draws from both behavioral and cognitive views of learning. He believes that mind, behavior and the environment all play an important role in the learning process.

In a set of well known experiments, called the "Bobo doll" studies, Bandura showed that children (ages 3 to 6) would change their behavior by simply watching others.

Three groups of children watched a film in which a child in a playroom behaved aggressively (e.g., hit, kick, yell) towards a "bobo doll." The film had three different endings. One group of children saw the child praised for his behavior; a second group saw the child told to go sit down in a corner and was not allowed to play with the toys; a third group (the control) group saw a film with the child simply walking out of the room. Children were then allowed into the playroom and actions of aggression were noted. The results are shown below.

What do we learn from these data in terms of the differences and similarities between boys and girls? Among different experimental conditions? Was the "model rewarded" really an example of the use of positive reinforcement?

Bandura and his colleagues also demonstrated that viewing aggression by cartoon characters produces more aggressive behavior than viewing live or filmed aggressive behavior by adults. Additionally, they demonstrated that having children view prosocial behavior can reduce displays of aggressive behavior.

In more recent years, Bandura turned his attention to self-efficacy and self-regulation. He now classifies his theoretical orientation as social cognition.


Return to:

All materials on this website [http://www.edpsycinteractive.org] are, unless otherwise stated, the property of William G. Huitt. Copyright and other intellectual property laws protect these materials. Reproduction or retransmission of the materials, in whole or in part, in any manner, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, is a violation of copyright law.