- You learn a new response. After watching your coworker get chewed out by your boss for coming in late, you start leaving home 10 minutes earlier so that you won’t be late.
- You choose whether or not to imitate the model depending on what you saw happen to the model. Remember Naomi and their parent, Yao? When learning to surf, Naomi might watch how Yao pops up successfully on their surfboard and then attempt to do the same thing. On the other hand, Naomi might learn not to touch a hot stove after watching Yao get burned on a stove.
- You learn a general rule that you can apply to other situations.
Bandura identified three kinds of models: live, verbal, and symbolic. A live model demonstrates a behaviour in person, as when Yao stood up on their surfboard so that Naomi could see how they did it. A verbal instructional model does not perform the behaviour, but instead explains or describes the behaviour, as when a soccer coach tells their young players to kick the ball with the side of the foot, not with the toe. A symbolic model can be fictional characters or real people who demonstrate behaviours in books, movies, television shows, video games, or Internet sources (Figure L.17).
Of course, we don’t learn a behaviour simply by observing a model. Bandura described specific steps in the process of modelling that must be followed if learning is to be successful: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. First, you must be focused on what the model is doing—you have to pay attention. Next, you must be able to retain, or remember, what you observed; this is retention. Then, you must be able to perform the behaviour that you observed and committed to memory; this is reproduction. Finally, you must have motivation. You need to want to copy the behaviour, and whether or not you are motivated depends on what happened to the model. If you saw that the model was reinforced for their behaviour, you will be more motivated to copy them. This is known as vicarious reinforcement. On the other hand, if you observed the model being punished, you would be less motivated to copy them. This is called vicarious punishment. For example, imagine that four-year-old Lake watched their older sibling Opal playing with their parent’s makeup, and then saw Opal get a time out when their parent came in. After their parent left the room, Lake was tempted to play in the make-up, but did not want to get a time-out from their parent. What do you think Lake did? Once you actually demonstrate the new behaviour, the reinforcement you receive plays a part in whether or not you will repeat the behaviour.
Bandura researched modelling behaviour, particularly children’s modelling of adults’ aggressive and violent behaviours (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961). He conducted an experiment with a five-foot inflatable doll that he called a Bobo doll. In the experiment, children’s aggressive behaviour was influenced by whether the teacher was punished for their behaviour. In one scenario, a teacher acted aggressively with the doll, hitting, throwing, and even punching the doll, while a child watched. There were two types of responses by the children to the teacher’s behaviour. When the teacher was punished for their bad behaviour, the children decreased their tendency to act as the teacher had. When the teacher was praised or ignored (and not punished for her behaviour), the children imitated what the teacher did, and even what the teacher said. They punched, kicked, and yelled at the doll.
What are the implications of this study? Bandura concluded that we watch and learn, and that this learning can have both prosocial and antisocial effects. Prosocial (positive) models can be used to encourage socially acceptable behaviour. Parents in particular should take note of this finding. If you want your children to read, then read to them. Let them see you reading. Keep books in your home. Talk about your favourite books. If you want your children to be healthy, then let them see you eat right and exercise, and spend time engaging in physical fitness activities together. The same holds true for qualities like kindness, courtesy, and honesty. The main idea is that children observe and learn from their parents, even their parents’ morals, so be consistent and toss out the old adage “Do as I say, not as I do,” because children tend to copy what you do instead of what you say. Besides parents, many public figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, are viewed as prosocial models who are able to inspire global social change. Can you think of someone who has been a prosocial model in your life?
The antisocial effects of observational learning are also worth mentioning. Research suggests that this learning may help to explain why abused children often grow up to be abusers themselves (Murrell, Christoff, & Henning, 2007). In fact, about 30% of abused children become abusive parents (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2013). We tend to do what we know. Abused children, who grow up witnessing their parents deal with anger and frustration through violent and aggressive acts, often learn to behave in that manner themselves. Sadly, it’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break.
Some studies suggest that violent television shows, movies, and video games may also have antisocial effects (Figure L.18) although further research needs to be done to understand the correlational and causational aspects of media violence and behaviour. Some studies have found a link between viewing violence and aggression seen in children (Anderson & Gentile, 2008; Kirsch, 2010; Miller, Grabell, Thomas, Bermann, & Graham-Bermann, 2012). These findings may not be surprising, given that a child graduating from high school has been exposed to around 200,000 violent acts including murder, robbery, torture, bombings, beatings, and rape through various forms of media (Huston et al., 1992). Not only might viewing media violence affect aggressive behaviour by teaching people to act that way in real life situations, but it has also been suggested that repeated exposure to violent acts also desensitizes people to it. Psychologists are working to understand this dynamic.