Modeling as Observational Learning: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Observational Learning
  • 1:12 Albert Bandura & the Bobo Doll
  • 2:19 Modeling Process Steps
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the modeling process in observational learning. We'll describe the conditions that must be met for observational learning to occur and explore examples of observational learning in action.

Observational Learning

There are many different ways that we learn new behaviors. We often learn through direct experiences, such as when a child is rewarded with stickers during potty training. This type of learning is called associative learning. A lot of learning also happens indirectly through a process of watching others and then imitating their behavior, in which the imitation is known as modeling. This type of learning is called observational learning.

Modeling is not quite as simple as ''monkey see, monkey do.'' It's actually a complex process that involves observing a behavior performed by another person (for example a ''model''), retaining what you've observed, and then reproducing the behavior on your own.

Observational learning is particularly common during childhood. Children often learn new behaviors by modeling the behaviors of authority figures and their peers. However, adults often learn through modeling too. Think of the first time you visited your favorite coffee shop. How did you learn where to find the cream and sugar? If you learned this by watching other customers locate the cream and sugar, then you learned through modeling. We learn new behaviors through modeling all the time.

Albert Bandura & the Bobo Doll

Albert Bandura was the psychologist who first demonstrated observational learning in a 1961 research experiment. In his now-famous Bobo doll experiment, Bandura studied the responses of school-aged children after watching a short film in which an adult ''model'' hits an inflatable doll.

One group of children saw a version of the film that showed the model behaving aggressively towards the doll without any consequence to his actions; another group saw a version in which a second adult scolds the model for their behavior; and a third group saw a version in which a second adult rewards the model for their behavior with candy.

After viewing the film, each child was left alone in a room with the same inflatable doll and props used by the model in the film. Children who saw the no-consequence modeling scenario and those who saw the model being rewarded were more likely to imitate the aggressive behavior compared to children who saw the model being punished.

The Bobo doll experiment and Bandura's subsequent research on modeling have greatly contributed to social learning theories. However, some researchers have criticized his work for being too theoretical in nature.

Modeling Process Steps

Bandura's research identifies four conditions, or steps, in the modeling process that must be followed for successful observational learning to occur.

First, observers must pay attention to what's happening around them. They must be focused on what the model is doing. If the children in the Bobo doll experiment had not been paying attention to the film, observational learning could not have occurred.

Next, observers must be able to remember what they have observed. This second step is known as retention. For retention to occur, the observer needs to be able to mentally code the information about what they've observed in a way that allows them to easily remember it later. For example, imagine a young boy, Bradley, who watches his parents play checkers and learns how to play the game without being formally taught the rules. Bradley retains what he's observed by creating a mental image of the game board and rehearsing his parents' moves in his mind.

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