Chapter 12: Bandura –  Social Learning Theory

Part 2: Albert Bandura and Social Learning Theory

Bandura is the most widely recognized individual in the field of social learning theory, despite the fact that Dollard and Miller established the field and Rotter was beginning to examine cognitive social learning a few years before Bandura.  Nonetheless, Bandura’s research has had the most significant impact, and the effects of modeling on aggressive behavior continues to be studied today.  Therefore, we will begin this section by examining the basics of Bandura’s social learning perspective.

Reciprocal Determinism

One of the most important aspects of Bandura’s view on how personality is learned is that each one of us is an agent of change, fully participating in our surroundings and influencing the environmental contingencies that behaviorists believe affect our behavior.  These interactions can be viewed three different ways. The first is to consider behavior as a function of the person and the environment. In this view, personal dispositions (or traits) and the consequences of our actions (reinforcement or punishment) combine to cause our behavior.  This perspective is closest to the radical behaviorism of Skinner. The second view considers that personal dispositions and the environment interact, and the result of the interaction causes our behavior, a view somewhat closer to that of Dollard and Miller. In each of these perspectives, behavior is caused, or determined, by dispositional and environmental factors, the behavior itself is not a factor in how that behavior comes about.  However, according to Bandura, social learning theory emphasizes that behavior, personal factors, and environmental factors are all equal, interlocking determinants of each other. This concept is referred to as reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 1973, 1977).

Reciprocal determinism can be seen in everyday observations, such as those made by Bandura and others during their studies of aggression.  For example, approximately 75 percent of the time, hostile behavior results in unfriendly responses, whereas friendly acts seldom result in such consequences.  With little effort, it becomes easy to recognize individuals who create negative social climates (Bandura, 1973). Thus, while it may still be true that changing environmental contingencies changes behavior, it is also true that changing behavior alters the environmental contingencies.  This results in a unique perspective on freedom vs. determinism. Usually we think of determinism as something that eliminates or restricts our freedom. However, Bandura believed that individuals can intentionally act as agents of change within their environment, thus altering the factors that determine their behavior.  In other words, we have the freedom to influence that which determines our behavior.

According to the theory of reciprocal determinism, our behavior interacts with our environment and our personality variables to influence our life.  Can you think of situations in which your actions caused a noticeable change in the people or situations around you? Remember that these changes can be either good or bad.

Observational Learning and Aggression

Social learning is also commonly referred to as observational learning because it comes about as a result of observing models.  Bandura became interested in social aspects of learning at the beginning of his career.  Trained as a clinical psychologist, he began working with juvenile delinquents, a somewhat outdated term that is essentially a socio-legal description of adolescents who engage in antisocial behavior.  In the 1950s, there was already research on the relationships between aggressive boys and their parents, as well as some theoretical perspectives regarding the effects of different child-rearing practices on the behavior and attitudes of adolescent boys (Bandura & Walters, 1959).  Much of the research focused, however, on sociological issues involved in the environment of delinquent boys. Choosing a different approach, Bandura decided to study boys who had no obvious sociological disadvantages (such as poverty, language difficulties due to recent immigration, low IQ, etc.).  Bandura and Walters restricted their sample to boys of average or above average intelligence, from intact homes, with steadily employed parents, whose families had been settled in America for at least three generations. No children from minority groups were included either. In other words, the boys were from apparently typical, White, middle-class American families.  And yet, half of the boys studied were identified through the county probation service or their school guidance center as demonstrating serious, repetitive, antisocial, aggressive behavior (Bandura & Walters, 1959).

Citing the work of Dollard and Miller, as well as others who paved the way for social learning theory, Bandura and Walters began their study on adolescent aggression by examining how the parents of delinquents train their children to be socialized.  Working from a general learning perspective, emphasizing cues and consequences, they found significant problems in the development of socialization among the delinquent boys. These boys developed dependency, a necessary step toward socialization, but they were not taught to conform their behavior to the expectations of society.  Consequently, they began to demand immediate and unconditional gratification from their surroundings, something that seldom happens. Of course, this failure to learn proper socialization does not necessarily lead to aggression, since it can also lead to lifestyles such as the hobo, the bohemian, or the “beatnik” (Bandura & Walters, 1959).  Why then do some boys become so aggressive? To briefly summarize their study, Bandura and Walters found that parents of delinquent boys were more likely to model aggressive behavior and to use coercive punishment (as opposed to reasoning with their children to help them conform to social norms). Although parental modeling of aggressive behavior teaches such behavior to children, these parents tend to be effective at suppressing their children’s aggressive behavior at home.  In contrast, however, they provide subtle encouragement for aggression outside the home. As a result, these poorly socialized boys are likely to displace the aggressive impulses that develop in the home, and they are well trained in doing so. If they happen to associate with a delinquent group (such as a gang), they are provided with an opportunity to learn new and more effective ways to engage in antisocial behavior, and they are directly rewarded for engaging in such behaviors (Bandura & Walters, 1959; also see Bandura, 1973).

This is a color image of a boy kneeling on the ground while resting his left arm on a baseball bat.
Image Source: AnnaKovalchuk. Retrieved from Pixabay at Licensed under CCO.

Having found evidence that parents of aggressive, delinquent boys had modeled aggressive behavior, Bandura and his colleagues embarked on a series of studies on the modeling of aggression (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961, 1963a,b).  Initially, children were given the opportunity to play in a room containing a variety of toys, including the 5-foot tall, inflated Bobo doll (a toy clown). As part of the experiment, an adult (the model) was also invited into the room to join in the game.  When the model exhibited clear aggressive behavior toward the Bobo doll, and then the children were allowed to play on their own, the children demonstrated aggressive behavior as well. The children who observed a model who was not aggressive seldom demonstrated aggressive behavior, thus confirming that the aggression in the experimental group resulted from observational learning.  In the second study, children who observed the behavior of aggressive models on film also demonstrated a significant increase in aggressive behavior, suggesting that the physical presence of the model is not necessary (providing an important implication for violent aggression on TV and in movies). In addition to confirming the role of observation or social learning in the development of aggressive behavior, these studies also provided a starting point for examining what it is that makes a model influential.

One of the significant findings in this line of research on aggression is the influence of models on behavioral restraint.  When children are exposed to models who are not aggressive and who inhibit their own behavior, the children also tend to inhibit their own aggressive responses and to restrict their range of behavior in general (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961).  Thus, children can learn from others, in particular their parents, how to regulate their behavior in socially appropriate ways. When the inappropriate behavior of others is punished, the children observing are also vicariously punished, and likely to experience anxiety, if not outright fear, when they consider engaging in similar inappropriate behavior.  However, when models behave aggressively and their behavior is rewarded, or even just tolerated, the child’s own tendency to restrict aggressive impulses may be weakened. This weakening of restraint, which can then lead to acting out aggressive impulses, is known as disinhibition.

The concept of disinhibition is based on the belief that we all have aggressive tendencies, and our self-control is diminished when we see models rewarded for aggressive behavior.  Have you ever found yourself in situations where someone was rewarded for acting aggressively? Did you then adopt an aggressive attitude, or act out on your aggression?

Characteristics of the Modeling Situation

When one person matches the behavior of another, there are several perspectives on why that matching behavior occurs.  Theorists who suggest that matching behavior results from simple imitation don’t allow for any significant psychological changes.  Dollard and Miller discussed imitation in their attempts to combine traditional learning theory with a psychodynamic perspective, but they did not advance the theory very far.  A more traditional psychodynamic approach describes matching behavior as the result of identification, the concept that an observer connects with a model in some psychological way.  However, identification means different things to different theorists, and the term remains somewhat vague.  In social learning, as it has been advanced by Bandura, modeling is the term that best describes and, therefore, is used to characterize the psychological processes that underlie matching behavior (Bandura, 1986).

Observational learning through modeling is not merely an alternative to Pavlovian or operant conditioning:

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.  Fortunately, 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. (pg. 22; Bandura, 1977)

Individuals differ in the degree to which they can be influenced by models, and not all models are equally effective.  According to Bandura, three factors are most influential in terms of the effectiveness of modeling situations: the characteristics of the model, the attributes of the observers, and the consequences of the model’s actions.  The most relevant characteristics of an influential model are high status, competence, and power. When observers are unsure about a situation, they rely on cues to indicate what they perceive as evidence of past success by the model.  Such cues include general appearance, symbols of socioeconomic success (e.g., a fancy sports car), and signs of expertise (e.g., a doctor’s lab coat). Since those models appear to have been successful themselves, it seems logical that observers might want to imitate their behavior.  Individuals who are low in self-esteem, dependent, and who lack confidence are not necessarily more likely to be influenced by models. Bandura proposed that when modeling is used to explicitly develop new competencies, the ones who will benefit most from the situation are those who are more talented and more venturesome (Bandura, 1977).

Despite the potential influence of models, the entire process of observational learning in a social learning environment would probably not be successful if not for four important component processes:  attentional processes, retention processes, production (or reproduction) processes, and motivational processes (Bandura, 1977, 1986).  The fact that an observer must pay attention to a model might seem obvious, but some models are more likely to attract attention.  Individuals are more likely to pay attention to models with whom they associate, even if the association is more cognitive than personal.  It is also well-known that people who are admired, such as those who are physically attractive or popular athletes, make for attention-getting models.  There are also certain types of media that are very good at getting people’s attention, such as television advertisements (Bandura, 1977, 1986). It is a curious cultural phenomenon that the television advertisements presented during the National Football League’s Super Bowl have become almost as much of the excitement as the game itself (and even more exciting for those who are not football fans).

The retention processes involve primarily an observer’s memory for the modeled behavior.  The most important memory processes, according to Bandura, are visual imagery and verbal coding, with visual imagery being particularly important early in development when verbal skills are limited.  Once modeled behavior has been transformed into visual and/or verbal codes, these memories can serve to guide the performance of the behavior at appropriate times. When the modeled behavior is produced by the observer, the so-called production process, or the re-enactment, can be broken down into the cognitive organization of the responses, their initiation, subsequent monitoring, and finally the refinement of the behavior based on informative feedback.  Producing complex modeled behaviors is not always an easy task:

…A common problem in learning complex skills, such as golf or swimming, is that performers cannot fully observe their responses, and must therefore rely upon vague kinesthetic cues or verbal reports of onlookers.  It is difficult to guide actions that are only partially observable or to identify the corrections needed to achieve a close match between representation and performance. (pg. 28; Bandura, 1977)

Finally, motivational processes determine whether the observer is inclined to match the modeled behavior in the first place.  Individuals are most likely to model behaviors that result in an outcome they value, and if the behavior seems to be effective for the models who demonstrated the behavior.  Given the complexity of the relationships between models, observers, the perceived effectiveness of modeled behavior, and the subjective value of rewards, even using prominent models does not guarantee that they will be able to create similar behavior in observers (Bandura, 1977, 1986).

A common misconception regarding modeling is that it only leads to learning the behaviors that have been modeled.  However, modeling can lead to innovative behavior patterns. Observers typically see a given behavior performed by multiple models; even in early childhood one often gets to see both parents model a given behavior.  When the behavior is then matched, the observer will typically select elements from the different models, relying on only certain aspects of the behavior performed by each, and then create a unique pattern that accomplishes the final behavior.  Thus, partial departures from the originally modeled behavior can be a source of new directions, especially in creative endeavors (such as composing music or creating a sculpture). In contrast, however, when simple routines prove useful, modeling can actually stifle innovation.  So, the most innovative individuals appear to be those who have been exposed to innovative models, provided that the models are not so innovative as to create an unreasonably difficult challenge in modeling their creativity and innovation (Bandura, 1977, 1986; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963b).

Two of the components necessary for modeling to be effective, according to Bandura, are attention and retention.  What aspects of commercial advertisements are most likely to catch your attention? What do you tend to remember about advertisements?  Can you think of situations in which the way an advertiser gets your attention also helps you to remember the product?

Connections Across Cultures:  Global Marketing and Advertising

Although we are constantly surrounded by modeling situations, the most obvious and intentional use of models and modeling is in advertising.  As our world becomes increasingly global, the use of advertisements that work well in one place may be entirely inappropriate in a different culture.  Marieke de Mooij, the President of a cross-cultural communications consulting firm in the Netherlands, and a visiting professor at universities in the Netherlands, Spain, Finland, and Germany, has undertaken the challenging task of studying how culture affects consumer behavior and the consequences of those effects for marketing and advertising in different societies around the world (de Mooij, 2000, 2004a,b, 2005).

To some, increasing globalization suggests that markets around the world will become more similar to one another.  De Mooij (2000), however, contends that as different cultures become more similar in economic terms, their more personal cultural differences will actually become more significant.  Thus, it is essential for global businesses to understand those cultural differences so that marketing and advertising can be appropriately adjusted. The challenge is in recognizing and dealing with the “global-local paradox.”  People in business are taught to think globally but act locally. This is because most people throughout the world tend to prefer things that are familiar. They may adopt and enjoy global products, but they remain true to their own culture (de Mooij, 2005).  Thus, it is important to understand local culture and consumer behavior in general before beginning an advertising campaign in a foreign country.

In her studies on culture and consumer behavior, de Mooij (2004b, 2005) addresses a wide variety of topics, including several that are covered in this chapter.  In terms of the characteristics of models, many countries do not emphasize physical attractiveness and/or fashionable clothes the way we do in America. However, the overall aesthetic appeal of advertising can be more important in many Asian markets, focusing on preferences for values such as nature and harmony.  Given that America is generally an individualistic culture and most Asian cultures are collectivistic, it should be no surprise that Americans tend to focus on the appeal of the model whereas Asians tend to focus on the appeal of the overall scene and relationships amongst the various aspects depicted within it. In a similar way, cultures differ in terms of their general perspective on locus of control.  In cultures that tend to believe that their lives are determined by external forces, the moral authorities (such as the church and the press) are typically trusted. People in such cultures might not be responsiveness to advertisements that call for individual restraint, such as efforts to reduce cigarette smoking for better health, since they rely on their doctors (external agents) to take care of their health.

There are also significant differences in how people in different cultures think and process information, and cognitive processes underlie all aspects of social learning.  Involvement theory suggests differences in how individuals and cultures differ in their approach to purchasing, and how advertising must take those differences into account.  For example, amongst American consumers, considering a “high involvement” product (such as a car), those who are likely to buy something respond to advertising in which they learn something, develop a favorable attitude toward the product, and then buy it (learn-feel-do).  For everyday products, which are considered “low involvement,” consumers respond to advertising in which they learn something, then buy the product, and perhaps afterward they tend to prefer that brand (learn-do-feel). There is now evidence that in typically more collectivist cultures such as Japan, China, and Korea, it is important to first establish a relationship between the company and the consumer.  Only then does the consumer purchase the particular product, and then they become more familiar with it (feel-do-learn). Thus, the very purpose of advertising changes from culture to culture (de Mooij, 2004b). Naturally, a number of other approaches to advertising exist, based on concepts such as persuasion, awareness, emotions, and likeability (de Mooij, 2005). Each of these techniques relies on a different psychological approach, taking into account the observers that the advertiser hopes to influence (the so-called target demographic).

Self-Regulation and Self-Efficacy

Self-regulation and self-efficacy are two elements of Bandura’s theory that rely heavily on cognitive processes.  They represent an individual’s ability to control their behavior through internal reward or punishment, in the case of self-regulation, and their beliefs in their ability to achieve desired goals as a result of their own actions, in the case of self-efficacy.  Bandura never rejects the influence of external rewards or punishments, but he proposes that including internal, self-reinforcement and self-punishment expands the potential for learning:

…Theories that explain human behavior as solely the product of external rewards and punishments present a truncated image of people because they possess self-reactive capacities that enable them to exercise some control over their own feelings, thoughts, and actions.  Behavior is therefore regulated by the interplay of self-generated and external sources of influence… (pg. 129; Bandura, 1977)

Self-regulation is a general term that includes both self-reinforcement and self-punishment.  Self-reinforcement works primarily through its motivational effects. When an individual sets a standard of performance for themselves, they judge their behavior and determine whether or not it meets the self-determined criteria for reward.  Since many activities do not have absolute measures of success, the individual often sets their standards in relative ways. For example, a weight-lifter might keep track of how much total weight they lift in each training session, and then monitor their improvement over time or as each competition arrives.  Although competitions offer the potential for external reward, the individual might still set a personal standard for success, such as being satisfied only if they win at least one of the individual lifts. The standards that an individual sets for themselves can be learned through modeling. This can create problems when models are highly competent, much more so than the observer is capable of performing (such as learning the standards of a world-class athlete).  Children, however, seem to be more inclined to model the standards of low-achieving or moderately competent models, setting standards that are reasonably within their own reach (Bandura, 1977). According to Bandura, the cumulative effect of setting standards and regulating one’s own performance in terms of those standards can lead to judgments about one’s self. Within a social learning context, negative self-concepts arise when one is prone to devalue oneself, whereas positive self-concepts arise from a tendency to judge oneself favorably (Bandura, 1977).  Overall, the complexity of this process makes predicting the behavior of an individual rather difficult, and behavior often deviates from social norms in ways that would not ordinarily be expected. However, this appears to be the case in a variety of cultures, suggesting that it is indeed a natural process for people (Bandura & Walters, 1963).

As noted above, “perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997).  The desire to control our circumstances in life seems to have been with us throughout history.  In ancient times, when people knew little about the world, they prayed in the hope that benevolent gods would help them and/or protect them from evil gods.  Elaborate rituals were developed in the hope or belief that the gods would respond to their efforts and dedication. As we learned more about our world and how it works, we also learned that we can have a significant impact on it.  Most importantly, we can have a direct effect on our immediate personal environment, especially with regard to personal relationships. What motivates us to try influencing our environment in specific ways is the belief that we can, indeed, make a difference in a direction we want.  Thus, research has focused largely on what people think about their efficacy, rather than on their actual ability to achieve their goals (Bandura, 1997).

Self-efficacy has been a popular topic for research, and Bandura’s book Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997) is some 600 pages long.  We will address two key issues on this fascinating topic: the relationships between (1) efficacy beliefs and outcome expectancies and (2) self-efficacy and self-esteem.  In any situation, one has beliefs about one’s ability to influence the situation, and yet those beliefs are typically balanced against realistic expectations that change can occur.  Each side of the equation can have both negative and positive qualities. Suppose, as a student, you are concerned about the rising cost of a college education, and you would like to challenge those rising costs.  You may believe that there is nothing you can do (negative) and tuition and fees will inevitably increase (negative). This dual negative perspective leads to resignation and apathy, certainly not a favorable situation.  But what if you believe you can change the college’s direction (positive), and that the college can cut certain costs in order to offset the need for higher tuition (positive). Now you are likely to engage the college community in productive discussions, and this may lead to personal satisfaction (Bandura, 1997).  In the first scenario, you are not likely to do anything, while in the second scenario you will most likely be highly motivated to act, even energized, as you work towards productive changes. Of course, there are two other possible scenarios. You may believe there is nothing you can do (negative), but that change is possible (positive).  In this case, you are likely to devalue yourself, perhaps feeling depressed about your own inability to accomplish good. Conversely, you may believe there is something you can do (positive), but that external forces will make change difficult or impossible (negative). This may lead some people to challenge the system in spite of their lack of expected change, resulting in protests and other forms of social activism (Bandura, 1997).  Since all of these scenarios are based on beliefs and expectations, not on the unknown eventual outcome that will occur, it becomes clear that what we think about our ability to perform in various situations, as well as our actual expectations of the consequences of those actions, has both complex and profound effects on our motivation to engage in a particular behavior or course of action.

As for self-efficacy and self-esteem, these terms are often used interchangeably, and on the surface that might seem appropriate.  Wouldn’t we feel good about ourselves if we believed in our abilities to achieve our goals? In fact, self-efficacy and self-esteem are entirely different.

For example, my family was active in the Korean martial art Taekwondo.  Taekwondo emphasizes powerful kicks. Because I suffer from degenerative joint disease in both hips, there are certain kicks I simply can’t do, and I don’t do any of the kicks particularly well.  But I accept that, and focus my attention on areas where I am successful, such as forms and helping to teach the white belt class. Likewise, Bandura notes that his complete inefficacy in ballroom dancing does not lead him into bouts of self-devaluation (Bandura, 1997).  So, though it may improve our self-esteem to have realistic feelings of self-efficacy in challenging situations, there is not necessarily any corresponding loss of self-esteem when we acknowledge our weaknesses. And even positive self-efficacy might not lead to higher self-esteem when a task is simple or unpleasant.  To cite Bandura’s example, someone might be very good at evicting people from their homes when they can’t pay their rent or mortgage, but that skill might not lead to positive feelings of self-esteem. This concept was the basis for the classic story A Christmas Carol, featuring the character Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens, 1843/1994).

The Development of Self-Efficacy

Young children have little understanding of what they can and cannot do, so the development of realistic self-efficacy is a very important process:

…Very young children lack knowledge of their own capabilities and the demands and potential hazards of different courses of action.  They would repeatedly get themselves into dangerous predicaments were it not for the guidance of others. They can climb to high places, wander into rivers or deep pools, and wield sharp knives before they develop the necessary skills for managing such situations safely…Adult watchfulness and guidance see young children through this early formative period until they gain sufficient knowledge of what they can do and what different situations require in the way of skills. (pg. 414; Bandura, 1986)

During infancy, the development of perceived causal efficacy, in other words, the perception that one has affected the world by one’s own actions, appears to be an important aspect of developing a sense of self.  As the infant interacts with its environment, the infant is able to cause predictable events, such as the sound that accompanies shaking a rattle. The understanding that one’s own actions can influence the environment is something Bandura refers to as personal agency, the ability to act as an agent of change in one’s own world.  The infant also begins to experience that certain events affect models differently than the child.  For example, if a model touches a hot stove it does not hurt the infant, so the infant begins to recognize their uniqueness, their actual existence as an individual.  During this period, interactions with the physical environment may be more important than social interactions, since the physical environment is more predictable, and therefore easier to learn about (Bandura, 1986, 1997).  Quickly, however, social interaction becomes highly influential.

Not only does the child learn a great deal from the family, but as they grow, peers become increasingly important.  As the child’s world expands, peers bring with them a broadening of self-efficacy experiences. This can have both positive and negative consequences.  Peers who are most experienced and competent can become important models of behavior. However, if a child perceives themselves as socially inefficacious, but does develop self-efficacy in coercive, aggressive behavior, then that child is likely to become a bully.  In the midst of this effort to learn socially acceptable behavior, most children also begin attending school, where the primary focus is on the development of cognitive efficacy. For many children, unfortunately, the academic environment of school is a challenge. Children quickly learn to rank themselves (grades help, both good and bad), and children who do poorly can lose the sense of self-efficacy that is necessary for continued effort at school.  According to Bandura, it is important that educational practices focus not only on the content they provide, but also on what they do to children’s beliefs about their abilities (Bandura, 1986, 1997).

As children continue through adolescence toward adulthood, they need to assume responsibility for themselves in all aspects of life.  They must master many new skills, and a sense of confidence in working toward the future is dependent on a developing sense of self-efficacy supported by past experiences of mastery.  In adulthood, a healthy and realistic sense of self-efficacy provides the motivation necessary to pursue success in one’s life. Poorly equipped adults, wracked with self-doubt, often find life stressful and depressing.  Even psychologically healthy adults must eventually face the realities of aging and the inevitable decline in physical status. There is little evidence, however, for significant declines in mental states until very advanced old age.  In cultures that admire youth, there may well be a tendency for the aged to lose their sense of self-efficacy and begin an inexorable decline toward death. But in societies that promote self-growth throughout life, and who admire elders for their wisdom and experience, there is potential for aged individuals to continue living productive and self-fulfilling lives (Bandura, 1986, 1997).

Behavior Modification

In Principles of Behavior Modification (Bandura, 1969), Bandura suggests that behavioral approaches to psychological change, whether in clinical settings or elsewhere, have a distinct advantage over many of the other theories that have arisen in psychology.  Whereas psychological theories often arise first, become popular as approaches to psychotherapy, but then fail to withstand proper scientific validation, behavioral approaches have a long history of rigorous laboratory testing.  Thus, behavioral techniques are often validated first, and then prove to be applicable in clinical settings. Indeed, behavioral and cognitive approaches to psychotherapy are typically well respected amongst psychotherapists (though some might consider their range somewhat limited).

Bandura made several points regarding the application of social learning theory to behaviorally-oriented psychotherapy.  For example, Bandura notes that the labeling of psychological disorders, indeed the definition of what constitutes abnormal behavior, is made within a social context.  While it has been demonstrated that common categories of mental illness are seen throughout a wide variety of cultures (Murphy, 1976), we still view those with psychological disorders based on sociocultural norms and, in the case of too many observers, with unreasonable prejudice.  Bandura also opposed the medical model of categorizing and treating psychopathology, believing that the desire to identify and utilize medications has hindered the advancement of applying appropriate psychotherapies. The application of an appropriate therapy involves issues of ethical concern and goal-setting.  Therapy cannot be successful, according to Bandura, if it does not have clear goals characterized in terms of observable behaviors. Choosing goals means that one must make value judgments. In making these decisions it is important that the client and the therapist share similar values (or at least that the therapist work with values appropriate for their client), and that the therapist does not try to impose their own values on the client (Bandura, 1969).

Overall, Bandura presents behavioral approaches to psychotherapy as non-judgmental applications of learning principles to problematic behavior, behavior that is not to be viewed as psychological “illness:”

Supplemental Materials

Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment

This video [3:47] features Albert Bandura describing his Bobo Doll experiment and incorporates actual footage from the experiment.



The Bobo Beatdown: Crash Course Psychology #12

This video [9:34] explains Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment.



Personality: Albert Bandura, Social Learning, and Self-Efficacy

This video [14:37] describes Bandura’s theory of social learning and self-efficacy.



If You Know Nothing About Personality:  10 Bandura

This video [2:26] describes Bandura’s theory of personality and observational learning.



Text:  Kelland, M. (2017). Personality Theory. OER Commons. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from  Licensed under CC-BY-4.0.

Everywhere Psychology.  (2012, August 28). Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment. [Video File].  Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

CrashCourse.  (2014, April 28).  The Bobo beatdown: Crash course psychology #12.  [Video File]. Retrieved from  Standard YouTube License.

East Tennessee State University.  (2014, September 9). Personality: Albert Bandura, social learning, and self-efficacy.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.

Ken Tangen.  (2010, May 22).  If you know nothing about personality: 10 Bandura.  [Video File]. Retrieved from  Standard YouTube License.


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PSY321 Course Text: Theories of Personality Copyright © by The American Women's College Psychology Department and Michelle McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.