[Home]   PSY 101    [Psychology Images]   Class 12:  Learning III: Observational Learning [Outline]

Albert BanduraObservational Learning (Albert Bandura)
  • Social Learning or Social Cognitive Theory: learning by observation
  • A living organism's respoinds to the world by observing or watching other living organisms behave (whom we call "models")
    • Links behavior with its consequences. Thus, the witness learns about how the behavior and its results are connected.
  • Hence, experience that shapes behavior can be vicarious (that is, via watching what happens) as well as through direct experience
  • Albert Bandura (see photo on right)
Four basic elements that go into how we learn by social observation:

Factors in Social Learning
1. Attention

2. Retention/Memory

3. Imitation Ability

4. Motivation

Examples below show the types of situations in which one person observes another and may learn from it.


Parent & Child

Mother reads to her child

Husband beats his wife

Father responds with concern for child's illness
Car Buy
Buyer & Salesperson

Assertive buyer bargains and receives a good price for a product
Co-Workers & Boss

Co-worker complains to boss by screaming and is fired

Supervisor treats other employees respectfully and is promoted

Guy in group speaks easily with girls at a junior high school dance while other guys watch what he says and does

Observational Learning and Media Violence


Bandura's "Bobo Doll" Experiments

Bobo Doll & Film Excerpt
  • 3-6 year olds: 3 groups: (1) observe aggressive adult models, (2) observe non-aggressive adult models, or (3) control group not observing anyone
  • Seeing aggressive model ==> become more aggressive themselves
National Television Violence Study (1994-1997)
        • 61% of TV shows violence
        • 44% of violent actors were the "good guys"
        • 75% of violent actions come without punishment or condemnation
        • 51% of violent actions were shown without resulting pain (i.e., they were sanitized)
Does TV violence promote violence among viewers? Many psychologists in 1970s to 1990s said "yes"
  • Correlational studies (comparing violence witnessed on TV with violence acted in real life), and
  • Longitudinal studies: children who saw more violence in the 1960s & 1970s were more violent as teenagers & young adults (though not necessarily vice versa)
  • Each night about 350 characters appear on prime time TV and 7 are murdered. At this rate (a death rate of 2% per day), the world's population would be reduced to zero within the course of about 3 years. So? This suggests that the violent world of TV is utterly different than reality.
HOWEVER, national trends are changing. Take a look at these line charts of the murder and violence rates (per 100,000 people) in the United States from 1960 to 2016:

US Murder Rate 1960-2016

US Violent Crime Rate 1960-2016

Violence that younger children model trends to be rather mild
No real link established between violent video games and actual violence in real life.
It is possible that exposure to violent video games decreases violence in real life.

Violent Video Games & Youth Violence Rates

This page originally posted on 10/14/09 and updated on Sept 26, 2020