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Observational (Social) Learning Theory

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Observational (Social) Learning Theory Wendy C. Fujita Definition Observational Learning Pronunciation: ?äb-s?r-?v?-sh?n, -z?r- ?l?rn - ing Observational learning, also known as social learning theory, occurs when an observer’s behavior changes…
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  1. Observational (Social) Learning Theory Wendy C. Fujita
  2. Definition
    • Observational Learning
    • Pronunciation: ?äb-s?r-?v?-sh?n, -z?r- ?l?rn - ing
    Observational learning, also known as social learning theory, occurs when an observer’s behavior changes after viewing the behavior of a model. An observer’s behavior can be affected by the positive or negative consequences – called vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment – of a model’s behavior. (Bandura 1986)
  3. Overview
    • The social learning theory of Bandura emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Bandura (1977) states: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.”
    • Most behavior is learned through observation of other individuals where an idea is formed and new behaviors are demonstrated. This information is then recalled and serves as a guide in our actions.
    • Because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation, social learning theory spans both cognitive and behavioral frameworks.(Bandura 1973)
  4. Guiding Principles
    • There are several guiding principles behind observational learning:
      • The observer will imitate the model’s behavior if the model possess characteristics that the observer finds attractive or desirable.
      • When the model is rewarded the observer will mimic. When the model is punished the observer is less likely to display the behavior.
      • The observer may learn a behavior without performing it immediately. The behavior may be recalled later and then displayed.
      • The four-step processes (attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation).
      • Human development reflects the complex interaction of the person, the person’s behavior, and the environment. (Bandura 1986)
  5. Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement
    • Positive Reinforcement
      • Observer is likely to repeat a behavior a model demonstrates.
      • Behavior doesn’t matter, reinforcement received matters.
    • Negative Reinforcement
      • Observer is less likely to repeat a behavior a model demonstrates.
      • Behavior doesn’t matter, reinforcement received matters.
  6. Four-step Pattern
    • Bandura formulated his findings in a four-step pattern which combines a cognitive view and an operant view of learning.
    • Step 1 – Attention
      • Something is noticed in the environment.
      • Observers must pay attention to learn.
      • Process influenced by characteristics of the model.
  7. Four-step Pattern
    • Step 2 – Retention
      • Observer must recognize and remember the behavior.
      • Process depends on observers ability to code information.
  8. Four-step Pattern
    • Step 3 – Reproduction
      • What observer noticed is duplicated by an action.
      • Observer must be physically and intellectually capable of producing action.
  9. Four-step Pattern
    • Step 4 – Motivation
      • Observer performs act.
      • Presence of reinforcement or punishment.
  10. Bobo Doll Experiment
    • Albert Bandura is most famous for the Bobo Doll Experiments. Bandura believes aggression must explain three aspects:
      • How aggressive patterns of behavior are developed.
      • What provokes people to behave aggressively.
      • What determines whether they are going to continue to resort to an aggressive behavior pattern on future occasions. (Evans, 1989: p.22)
    • Bandura showed that children will alter their behavior by simply watching others. In one set of the bobo doll experiments Bandura used three groups of children.
  11. Bobo Doll Experiment
    • Each group watched a film of a model behaving aggressively towards a “bobo doll.” But, each of the three films had a different ending:
      • Group 1 Film Ending - The model in the film was praised for his aggressive behavior.
      • Group 2 Film Ending - The model was sent to the corner and not allowed to play with toys.
      • Group 3 Film Ending - The model simply walked out of the room.
  12. Bobo Doll Experiment
    • When each group finished watching their film the children were allowed into a playroom which included a bobo doll. Acts of aggression were noted. The results showed the group of children who saw the model punished for his aggressive behavior had the lowest percent of aggression. The other two groups had comparably higher aggression percentages.
  13. Television – Observational Model
    • It is believed that television plays a part in behavior modeling. Today, there is so much graphic violence depicted in what we watch (i.e. movies, television shows, video games, etc.). Violence is often expressed as an acceptable behavior, especially for heroes who have never been punished. Children who are exposed to such acts for long periods of time may demonstrate high incidence of violence themselves.
    • Statistics have shown that there have been violent acts performed by children who admitted to seeing these acts in a movie they watched.
    Example – 1974, a incident happened to girl in California. The individuals accused of the violent act testified in court that they had witnessed the same act in the movie “Born Innocent.”
  14. Television – Observational Model
    • Commercials are an example of social learning. Commercials we see everyday try influence us to buy or try certain products making promises such as you will loose weight, your hair will be shiny and full, etc. They use celebrities to promote the product hoping to make it more appealing and believable.
    • Click the video to view an example.
  15. Summary
    • Social learning theory has played a huge part in understanding aggression and psychological disorders for behavior modification. It is also the foundation used in training programs. Bandura believed aggression reinforced by family members was the most prominent source of behavior modeling. He reports children use the same aggressive tactics that their parents illustrate when dealing with others (Bandura, 1976: p206).
  16. Summary (Continued)
    • Children will mimic aggressive behavior they witnessed from adults, especially if the adult is a family member. A prime example is spousal abuse, a child will witness one parent striking another and will more likely grow up to be an abuser also.
    • Environmental experiences is a second influence of the social learning of violence in children. Bandura reported that individuals that live in high crime areas are most likely to act violently than those who dwell in low-crime areas. (Bandura, 1976: p.207)
  17. Citation
    • Bandura, A (1986). Social foundations of thought and actions: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
    • Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
    • Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
    • Evans, RI (1989). Albert Bandura: The Man and His Ideas – A dialoge. Hew York Praeger.
  18. References
    • Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura) -
    • Educational Psychology Interactive: Observational Learning –
    • Observational Learning Theory – Interview with Dr. Bandura -
    • Theorist Albert Bandura - Margaret Delores Isom –

Observational (Social) Learning Theory



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