Social Learning: Albert Bandura's Bobo Doll Study

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  • 0:07 Albert Bandura
  • 0:50 Bobo Doll Study
  • 1:51 Social Learning Theory
  • 2:35 Impact on Psychology
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Albert Bandura is a famous social psychologist whose Bobo doll study illustrates the social learning theory of psychology. In this lesson, we'll look at the Bobo doll study, its impact on the field of psychology, and what it can tell us about the effects of watching violent television.

Albert Bandura

Following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, many people began to question the effects of violent television and video games on children. Both of the shooters at Columbine watched violent movies and played violent video games, and many blamed this type of media for what happened. But what exactly is the impact of violent media on the behavior of children and youth?

Nearly forty years before Columbine, Albert Bandura was asking the same question. Bandura is a famous psychologist who set out to find out what effects watching violence on television would have on children. His results shocked many people and spawned a new way to look at how we learn behavior.

Bobo Doll Study

Bandura's study focused on children between the ages of three and six. Each child was shown a video of an adult hitting and yelling at an inflatable clown doll, called a 'Bobo doll.' The children were divided into three groups: One group saw the adult punished after showing aggression towards the Bobo doll, one group saw the adult rewarded after showing aggression, and one group saw the aggression but did not see the adult either punished or rewarded for the aggression.

After watching the video, the child was left alone with a Bobo doll in the room, though Bandura was secretly watching from another room. He counted how many aggressive acts - such as hitting, yelling, cursing, and punching - that each child engaged in. He found that the children who watched the adult get rewarded for showing aggression were more likely to show aggression themselves. He also found that, no matter which version of the video they saw, boys were more likely than girls to imitate the aggressive behavior of the adults in the video.

Social Learning Theory

From this experiment, Bandura concluded that children learn behavior by watching the people around them. This is known as social learning theory. This makes sense to anyone who has ever been in the same room as a toddler: They imitate the speech and actions of the adults around them all the time.

Before Bandura's Bobo doll experiment, scientists had studied how rewards and punishment affect learning, but they had not studied how observing others getting rewards and punishment teaches us how to behave. In other words, before Bandura, psychologists knew that getting in trouble for hitting someone would teach a child not to hit, but they hadn't yet shown that kids can learn the same lesson by seeing another kid get in trouble for hitting someone.

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