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Theorist -Albert Bandura

The Social Learning Theory

Margaret Delores Isom

November 30, 1998


The social learning theory is the behavior theory most relevant to

criminology. Albert Bandura believed that aggression is learned
through a process called behavior modeling. He believed that
individuals do not actually inherit violent tendencies, but they
modeled them after three principles (Bandura, 1976: p.204). Albert
Bandura argued that individuals, especially children learn aggressive
reponses from observing others, either personally or through the
media and environment. He stated that many individuals believed
that aggression will produce reinforcements. These reinforcements
can formulate into reduction of tension, gaining financial rewards, or
gaining the praise of others, or building self-esteem (Siegel, 1992:
p.171). In the Bobo doll experiment, the children imitated the
aggression of the adults because of the rewarded gained. Albert
Bandura was interested in child development. If aggression was
diagnosed early in children, Bandura believe that children would
reframe from being adult criminals. "Albert Bandura argued that
aggression in children is influenced by the reinforcement of family
members, the media, and the environment"(Bandura, 1976: pp. 206-

Biographical Information

Albert Bandura was born in Mundare, Canada in 1925. He was raised

in a small farming community in Canada. Bandura received his B.A.
degree from the University of the British Columbia in 1949. In 1952,
he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. During his
studying at the University Iowa, he developed the social learning
theory. While studying at the University of Iowa, Bandura believed
that psychologists should "conceptualize clinical phenomena in ways
that would make them amenable to experimental tests"(Evans, 1976:
p.243). Bandura believed that psychological research should be
conducted in a laboratory to control factors that determined behavior.
In 1953, Albert Bandura accepted a position as a psychology
professor at the University of Stanford and he is currently employed
there today.

Albert Bandura has achieved many honors and awards from fellow
psychologists. In 1972, he received a distinguished achievement
award from the American Psychological Association and a Scientist
Award from the California State Psychological Association. In 1974,
Bandura was elected the president of the American Psychological
Association. In 1977, he was known as the Father of the Cognitive
Theory. In 1980, he was also elected the president of the Western
Psychological Association. In 1989, he was also employed to the
Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (Hilgard,
1989: pp.11).

During his lifetime, he has written several books and articles that
have been widely used in psychological research. In 1959, Bandura
wrote his first book in collaboration with Richard Walters called
"Adolescent Aggression." In 1973, he wrote Aggression: A Social
Learning Analysis. Four years later, he published one his most
prominent books called the "Social Learning Theory." These books
and articles are the most relevant psychological research in
determining aggression and deviance. In 1941, Dollard and Miller
published the book "Social Learning and Imitation. Albert Bandura
stated that this book was one of the contributions to development of
his modeling theory (Evans, 1989: p4). " I was attracted to Miller and
Dollard’s work on the assumption that human development requires a
much more powerful mode of transmitting competencies than does
trail and error (Evans, 1989: p4). The Social Learning and Imitation
theory suggested that people obtain competencies and new modes of
behavior through response consequences. (Miller & Dollard, 1941:

Albert Bandura believed aggression reinforced by family members

was the most prominent source of behavior modeling. He reports that
children use the same aggressive tactics that their parents illustrate
when dealing with others (Bandura, 1976: p.206). While studying at
Iowa, Bandura became strongly interested in aggression in children
(Bandura, 1977). In order to control aggression, Bandura stated that
the problem should be diagnosed and treated during one’s childhood.
"We should not be subjecting people to treatments and then, some
years later, trying to figure out what effects they have. We should
test treatments before we embark on widespread applications
(Evans,1989: p3.)." Children learn to act aggressive when they model
their behavior after violent acts of adults, especially family members.
For example, the boy who witness his father repeatedly strike his
mother will more than likely become an abusive parent and husband
(Siegel, 1992: p. 170)

Albert Bandura is most famous for the Bobo doll experiment. Albert
Bandura believed that aggression must explain three aspects: First,
how aggressive patterns of behavior are developed; second, what
provokes people to behave aggressively, and third, what determines
whether they are going to continue to resort to an aggressive
behavior pattern on future occasions (Evans, 1989: p.22). In this
experiment, he had children witness a model aggressively attacking a
plastic clown called the Bobo doll. There children would watch a video
where a model would aggressively hit a doll and " ‘...the model
pummels it on the head with a mallet, hurls it down, sits on it and
punches it on the nose repeatedly, kick it across the room, flings it in
the air, and bombards it with balls...’(Bandura, 1973: p.72). After the
video, the children were placed in a room with attractive toys, but
they could not touch them. The process of retention had occurred.
Therefore, the children became angry and frustrated. Then the
children were led to another room where there were identical toys
used in the Bobo video. The motivation phase was in occurrence.
Bandura and many other researchers founded that 88% of the
children imitated the aggressive behavior. Eight months later, 40% of
the same children reproduce the violent behavior observed in the
Bobo doll experiment http://www.mhcollegeco/socscienc/comm/bandur-

Observational learning is also known as imitation or modeling. In this

process, learning occurs when individuals observes and imitate
others’ behavior. There are four component processes influenced by
the observer’s behavior following exposure to models. These
components include: attention; retention; motor reproduction; and
motivation (Bandura, 1977: pp.24-28).

Attention is the first component of observational learning. Individuals

cannot learn much by observation unless they perceive and attend to
the significant features of the modeled behavior. For example,
children must attend to what the aggressor is doing and saying in
order to reproduce the model’s behavior (Allen & Santrock,1993:
p.139) In the Bobo doll experiment, the children witnessed the Bobo
doll being verbally and/or physically abused by live models and filmed

Retention is the next component. In order to reproduce the modeled

behavior, the individuals must code the information into long-term
memory. Therefore, the information will be retrieval. For example, a
simple verbal description of what the model performed would be a
known as retention (Allen & Santrock, 1993: p139). Memory is an
important cognitive process that helps the observer code and retrieve
information. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children imitated the
aggression they witnessed in the video. They aggressively hit the
Bobo doll because it was coded and store in their memory.

Motor reproduction is another process in observational learning. The

observer must be able to reproduce the model’s behavior. The
observer must learn and posses the physical capabilities of the
modeled behavior. An example of motor reproduction would to be
able to learn how to ski or ride a bike. Once a behavior is learned
through attention and retention, the observer must posses the
physically capabilities to produce the aggressive act. The children had
the physically capabilities of hitting and pummeling the doll to the

The final process in observational learning is motivation or

reinforcements. In this process, the observer expects to receive
positive reinforcements for the modeled behavior. In the Bobo doll
experiment, the children witnessed the adults being rewarded for
their aggression. Therefore, they performed the same act to achieve
the rewards. For example, most children witnessed violence on
television being rewarded by the media. Historically, bank robbers
were heroes. Many people were highly upset about the death of
Bonnie and Clyde. When individuals, especially children witness this
type of media, they attend, code, retrieve, posses the motor
capabilities and perform the modeled behavior because of the positive
reinforcement determined by the media (Bootzin, Bowers, Crocker,
1991: 201-202). The Bobo doll experiment helped Bandura to
theorized that "As children continue to age, the experience still
effected their personality, turning them into violent adults

Environmental experiences is a second influence of the social learning

of violence in children. Albert Bandura reported that individuals that
live in high crime rates areas are more likely to act violently than
those who dwell in low-crime areas (Bandura, 1976: p.207). This
assumption is similar to Shaw and McKay’s theory of social
disorganization. They believed that a neighborhood surrounded by
culture conflict, decay and insufficient social organizations was a
major cause of criminality (Bartollas, 1990: pp.145).

Albert Bandura believed television was a source of behavior modeling.

Today, films and television shows illustrate violence graphically.
Violence is often expressed as an acceptable behavior, especially for
heroes who have never be punished. Since aggression is a prominent
feature of many shows, children who have a high degree of exposure
to the media may exhibit a relatively high incidence of hostility
themselves in imitation of the aggression they have witnessed
(Berkowitz, 1962: pp. 247). For example, David Phillips reported
homicide rates increase tremendously after a heavy weight
championship fight (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960). There have been a
number of deaths linked to violence on television. For example, John
Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagen after he
watched the movie "Taxi Driver" fifteen times. In the movie "Born
Innocent," a girl was raped with a bottle by four other girls. In 1974,
a similar incident happened to a California’s girl. The girls who raped
her testified in court that they had witness the same scene in "Born
Innocent." In addition, Ronald Zamora brutally killed an elderly
woman and pleaded the insanity defense. His attorney argued that
Zamora’s was addicted to the violence on television. As a result, he
could not differentiate between reality and fantasy. However, Zamora
was founded guilty because the jury did not believe his defense
(Siegel, 1992: p.172).
Contemporary Views

Today, many social learning theorists have indicated that crime is a

product of learning the values and aggressive behaviors linked with
criminality. Sutherland developed the differential association theory
that suggests that individuals learn criminal behavior while in their
adolescence from family members and peers (Sutherland, 1939,
pp25). In "Deviant Behavior: A Social Learning Approach," Akers
believed individuals learned aggressive acts through operant
condition (Akers, 1977). In this process, the aggression was acquired
after through direct conditioning and modeling others’ actions. He
believed that positive rewards and the avoidance of punishment
reinforced aggression (Akers, 1977). William Benson found that
adolescents that watched excessive amounts of television during their
childhood became adult criminals. They committed crimes, such as
rape and assault, "at a rate 49% higher than teenage boys who had
watched below average quantities of television violence (Centerwall,
1993: pp.70-71) Also, Bandura’s theory has made the public and
political affairs realize that violence does cause aggression in
children. He has spoken at a number of political conferences
concerning the Bobo doll experiment and the effects television has on
children. Several political candidates have indicated that violence on
television does cause aggression. President Clinton has implemented
policies that would deter violence on television.


The social learning theory advocates that individuals, especially

children, imitate or copy modeled behavior from personally observing
others, the environment, and the mass media. Biological theorists
argue that the social learning theory completely ignores individuals
biological state. Also, they state that the social learning theory rejects
the differences of individuals due to genetic, brain, and learning
differences (Jeffery, 1985: p.238). For example, if a person witnessed
a hanging or a violent murder, he or she might respond in many
different ways. "Biological theorists believed that the responses would
be normal and come from the autonomic nervous system. In the
autonomic nervous system, the heart rate, increase blood pressure,
nausea, and fainting would be normal symptoms of the responses
that individuals might expressed in this particular situation.
Therefore, the symptoms and behavior are not learned, but partially
inherited. In addition, the social learning theory rejects the classical
and operant conditioning processes. The biological preparedness of
the individual to learn as well as the role of the brain in processing
information from the social environment, are critical to learning
theory, but they are ignored by the social learning theory. Social
reinforcement is conditioned reinforcement based on the relationship
of the conditioned stimulus to an unconditioned stimulus" (Jeffery,
1985: p.239).

In the Bobo doll experiment, critics have argued that the children
were manipulated into responded to the aggressive movie. The
children were teased and became frustrated because they could not
touch the toys. Many critics believed the experiment conducted was
unethical and morally wrong because the children were trained to be
aggressive. "How many more of the experiments finding a link
between violence on television and aggressive behavior have ethical
problems? It is not surprising that the children had long-term
implications because of the methods imposed in this
experiment"(Worthman and Loftus, p.45)

There have been many debates over whether or not violence on

television causes aggressive behavior in children. Many studies have
indicated that television does not lead to aggressive behavior. For
instances, psychologists have found that some cartoons are very
violent and cause children to illustrate aggressive behavior. However,
the general public believes that children view cartoons such as Elmer
Fudd shooting the rabbit as funny and humorous. It is the parents’
responsibility to inform their children that the cartoons are not real.

Feshbach and R.D. Singer believed that television actually decreases

the amount of aggression in children (Feshbach: 1971). They
conducted a study within a six-week study on juvenile boys who
regularly watched television violence compared to juvenile boys who
were exposed to non-violent shows. After the six-week period,
Feshback and R.D. Singer found out that the juvenile boys that
viewed the non-violent shows were more likely to exhibit aggressive
behavior than the juvenile boys that witnessed the violent shows.
"The study show that the violence on television allows the viewer to
relate with the characters involved in the violent act (Feshback &
Singer, 1971: p.247). In doing so, the viewer is able to release all
aggressive thoughts and feelings through relation, causing them to
be less aggressive than they would have been without watching the
violent television. This theory that viewing violence on television
leads to a decrease in aggression is called the Catharsis effect
(Gerbner,G., Gross,L., Melody,W.H., pg.40).

Cooke believed that individuals tend to support the theory that

television violence causes aggression because the public needs to
justify the aggression they see in others. He also believed television
was a form of education and positive role models. "If violence in
television causes people to be more aggressive, than shouldn’t the
good-hearted qualities in television cause its audience to be kinder to
others (Cooke,1993, p.L19)? Therefore, television can serve as
deterrence if individuals focus on the positive qualities. Despite these
criticisms, Albert Bandura’ s Social Learning Theory has maintained
an important place in the study of aggression and criminal behavior.
In order to control aggression, he believed family members and the
mass media should provide positive role models for their children and
the general public (Bandura, 1976).
Social Learning Theory (Bandura)
Summary: Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another,
via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge
between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention,
memory, and motivation.

Originator: Albert Bandura

Key Terms: Modeling, reciprocal determinism

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those
behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from
observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later
occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social
learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction
between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.

Necessary conditions for effective modeling:

1. Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid.

Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional
value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set,
past reinforcement) affect attention.
2. Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic
coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor
3. Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and
self-observation of reproduction.
4. Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past
(i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious
(seeing and recalling the reinforced model)

Bandura believed in “reciprocal determinism”, that is, the world and a person’s
behavior cause each other, while behaviorism essentially states that one’s environment
causes one’s behavior, Bandura, who was studying adolescent aggression, found this
too simplistic, and so in addition he suggested that behavior causes environment as well.
Later, Bandura soon considered personality as an interaction between three components:
the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to entertain
images in minds and language).

Social learning theory has sometimes been called a bridge between behaviorist and
cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.
The theory is related to Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory and Lave’s Situated
Learning, which also emphasize the importance of social learning.
Social Learning Theory

Of the many cues that influence behavior, at any point in time, none is more common
than the actions of others. (Bandura, 1986, p.206)

Based on a belief that important psychological processes and issues had not been
completely dealt with by earlier theorists, Bandura & Walters (1963) began to present
another view, originally referred to as observational learning. This theory discussed the
human learning that takes place as individuals abstract information from observing the
behavior of others, abstracting information from these observations, make decisions
about which of these behaviors to adopt, and later perform the selected behaviors. The
theory lists several social cognitive factors that influence learning such as the capacity
to use symbols and engage in firm and intentional actions. Through the use of symbols,
an individual can translate observations into internal models that can guide future
actions and can be used to test out possible courses of action before actual performance.

As Bandura began to build his theory of social learning, he identified three areas of
weakness in Behaviorism. These were (1) the limited range of the behaviors possible for
research in a laboratory type setting (2) the fact that these theories were unable to
account for the acquisition of new responses to situations and (3) that it dealt with only
one type of learning, direct learning, where the learner performs a response and
experiences the consequences. Bandura referred to this type learning as instantaneous
matching Bandura went on to discuss indirect learning, referred to as delayed matching
where the learner observes reinforced behavior and then later enacts the same type

Bandura bases his theory on the acquisition of complex behaviors on a triangular

diagram illustrating the interactive effect of various factors. These three factors are
behavior (B), the environment (E), and the internal events that influences perceptions
and actions (P). The relationship between these three factors is known as reciprocal

A major difference between Bandura's social-cognitive theory of learning and earlier

theories is his definition of learning. He noted that persons acquire internal codes of
behavior that they may or may not act upon later. Therefore, he divided learning and
performance as two separate events. Learning was the acquisition on the internal
symbolic representations in the form of fverbal or visual codes, which could serve as
guidelines for future behavior. These memory codes of observed behaviors are referred
to as representational systems and divided into two types of systems, visual (imarginal)
and verbal-conceptual. The first is concerned with abstractions of distinctive features of
events instead of just mental copies, the second would be the verbal form of details for a
particular procedure.

The modeled behavior serves to convey information to the observer in one of three
different ways. One is by serving as a social prompt to initiate similar behavior in
others. The second is by acting to strengthen or weaken the exiting restraints of the
learner against performance of particular behaviors. The third influence is to transmit
new patterns of behavior.
Bandura describes three types of modeling stimuli, which are live models, symbolic
models, and verbal descriptions or instructions. Of these three, in American society , the
greatest range of exposure is in the form of symbolic models through mass media.

The characteristics of models is an important factor in determining the degree to which

the attention is paid to the model by the learner. The response of the learner to the
modeling behavior is largely determined by three sets of factors. These are the
particular attributes of the model, such as relevance and credibility for the observer; the
prestige of the model, and the satisfaction already present in the situation where the
behavior is being modeled. A second determinant of the models success is the nature of
the observer. Those who lack self esteem and self confidence are more prone to adopt
the behavior of models.

Bandura identified three types of reinforcers of behavior. These were direct

reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement, and self reinforcement. Direct reinforcement
would be directly experienced by the learner. Vicarious reinforcement would be
observed to be consequences of the behavior of the model. Self reinforcement would be
feelings of satisfaction or displeasure for behavior gauged by personal performance

An important point in the social cognitive theory is that the learners behavior is guided
by cognitive processes rather than formed or shaped by reinforced practice. Four
component parts are responsible for the learning and performance acquisition. These

I. Attentional processes

• Observer characteristics
o perceptual /cognitive capacities
o arousal level
o past performance

• Event characteristics
o relevance
o affective valence
o complexity
o functional value
o model's characteristics
o intrinsic rewards

II. Retentional processes

• Observer characteristics
o cognitive skills

• Event characteristics
o cognitive organization
o cognitive rehearsal

III. Motor reproduction processes

• Observer characteristics
o physical capabilities
o subskill mastery
• Event characteristics
o selection & organization of responses
o feedback

IV. Motivational processes

• Observer characteristics
o incentive preference
o social bias
o internal standards

• Event characteristics
o external reinforcement
o self-reinforcement
o vivacious reinforcement

In Bandura's later work he introduces two other aspects to his Social Learning Theory.
These are his work on the self regulatory system and self efficacy. In the area of self
regulatory system/self evaluative behaviors he said that this system is based upon
cognitive subprocesses that:
• perceive,
• evaluate and
• regulate behavior.

These processes are based upon the standards for one's behavior and capabilities of
cognitive structures that provide referents for behavior and its outcomes. These
standards are based upon one's:

• self observation,
• self judgment
• self response
• self evaluations

The third area of Dr. Bandura's work deals with the area of ones perception of one's self
efficacy in dealing with a situation. Perceived self efficacy is the belief that one can
execute behavior to produce outcome. It influences behavior in three ways:

• choice of behavior
• quality of individual performance
• persistence

Dr. Bandura's definition of aptitude, itself, illustrates the importance he places on self-
efficacy in his learning theory. He says that the concept of ability is not a fixed attribute
in our repertoire, rather it is a generative capability which cognitive, motivational,
emotional and behavioral skills must be organized and effectively orchestrated to serve
diverse purposes

Self efficacy-activated processes are based on four areas:

• cognitive
• motivtional
• emotional
• selective

People with weak belief in their self efficacy

• shy away from difficult tasks (personal threats)

• have low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose
• maintain a self diagnostic focus (rather than how to perform)
• dwell on personal deficiencies, obstacles & adverse outcomes
• attribute failures to deficient capabilities
• slacken their efforts or give up quickly in face of difficulty
• slow to recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks
• prone to stress & depression

People with strong belief in their efficacy

• set challenging goals & sustain strong commitments to their goals

• approach difficult tasks as challenges rather than as threats
• maintain a task diagnostic focus
• attribute failures to insufficient effort
• heighten effort in face of difficulties
• quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failure or setback
• display low vulnerability to stress & depression

Perceived self efficacy is visible in schools as it sets up a cue in the intellectual process:

• student beliefs in their own self efficacy

• individual teachers perceived self efficacy in their ability to perform effectively
with their difficult students
• staffs perceived efficacy that their schools can perform

The sources of perceived self efficacy are:

• performance / accomplishments
• vicarious experience
• social persuasion
• physiological state

The 3 types of cognitive motivators around which theories have been built:

• cognized goals
• outcome expectancies
• retrospective reasoning about perceived causes of success & failure
Albert Bandura was born in the province of Alberta, Canada, and received his B.A.
from the University of British Columbia. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical
psychology at the University of Iowa, focusing on social learning theories in his studies
with Kenneth Spence and Robert Sears. Graduating in 1952, Bandura completed a one-
year internship at the Wichita Guidance Center before accepting an appointment to the
department of psychology at Stanford University, where he has remained throughout his
career. In opposition to more radical behaviorists, Bandura considers cognitive factors
as causal agents in human behavior. His area of research, social cognitive theory, is
concerned with the interaction between cognition, behavior, and the environment.

Much of Bandura's work has focused on the acquisition and modification of personality
traits in children, particularly as they are affected by observational learning, or
modeling, which, he argues, plays a highly significant role in the determination of
subsequent behavior. While it is common knowledge that children learn by imitating
others, little formal research was done on this subject before Neal Miller and John
Dollard published Social Learning and Imitation in 1941. Bandura has been the single
figure most responsible for building a solid empirical foundation for the concept of
learning through modeling, or imitation. His work, focusing particularly on the nature
of aggression, suggests that modeling plays a highly significant role in determining
thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Bandura claims that practically anything that can be
learned by direct experience can also be learned by modeling. Moreover, learning by
modeling will occur although neither the observer nor the model is rewarded for
performing a particular action, in contrast to the behaviorist learning methods of Ivan
Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, with their focus on learning through conditioning and
reinforcement. However, it has been demonstrated that punishment and reward can
have an effect on the modeling situation. A child will more readily imitate a model who
is being rewarded for an act than one who is being punished. Thus, the child can learn
without actually being rewarded or punished himself—a concept known as vicarious
learning. Similarly, Bandura has shown that when a model is exposed to stimuli
intended to have a conditioning effect, a person who simply observes this process, even
without participating in it directly, will tend to become conditioned by the stimuli as

Based on his research, Bandura has developed modeling as a therapeutic device. The
patient is encouraged to modify his or her behavior by identifying with and imitating the
behavior of the therapist. Although modeling was first studied in relation to children, it
has been found to be effective in treating phobias in adults as well. The patient watches
a model in contact with a feared object, at first under relatively non-threatening
conditions. The patient is encouraged to perform the same actions as the model, and the
situation is gradually made more threatening until the patient is able to confront the
feared object or experience on his or her own.

Bandura has also focused on the human capacity for symbolization, which can be
considered a type of inverse modeling. Using their symbolic capacities, people construct
internal models of the world which provide an arena for planning, problem-solving, and
reflection and can even facilitate communication with others. Another area of social
cognition theory explored by Bandura is self-regulatory activity, or the ways in which
internal standards affect motivation and actions. He has studied the effects of beliefs
people have about themselves on their thoughts, choices, motivation levels,
perseverance, and susceptibility to stress and depression. Bandura is the author of
many books, including Adolescent Aggression (1959), Social Learning and Personality
(1963), Principles of Behavior Modification (1969), Aggression (1973), Social
Learning Theory (1977), and Social Foundations of Thought and Action (1985).