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Observational Learning
Learning occurs not only by conditioning
but by observing others
• Observational learning→ learning by
observing others and imitating their behavior
• Modeling→ the process of observing and
imitating a specific behavior
– “Monkey see, monkey do”
– Humans have a strong tendency to imitate
– Memes→ transmitted cultural elements such as
ideas, fashions, and habits that travel by imitation
• Mirror Neurons→ provide a neural
basis for observational learning→
frontal lobe neurons that fire when
performing certain actions or when
observing another doing so
– The brains mirroring of another’s actions
may enable imitation, language learning and
• Ex.- We find it harder to frown when viewing a
smile than when viewing a frown.
Bandura’s experiment
• Preschool children observed adults beating a Bobo
doll- Adults were pounding, kicking, and throwing a
large inflated Bobo doll around the room, while
yelling such remarks as, “Sock him in the nose… Hit
him down… Kick him.”
• Children were later given the opportunity to play
with the Bobo doll. Compared with children NOT
exposed to the adult model, those who observed
the adult model’s aggressive outburst were much
more likely to lash out at the doll. Children
imitated the very acts they had observed and used
the words they heard.
• What determines whether we will
imitate a model?
– Reinforcements and punishments→ We
learn to anticipate a behavior’s
consequences in situations like those we are
– We are especially likely to imitate those we
perceive as similar to ourselves
– We imitate those that are successful.
– We imitate people we admire.
Applications of Observational Learning
• Antisocial models- in one’s family or neighborhood, or on
TV- may have antisocial effects.
– “Copycat” threats or incidents in every state after
Columbine High School massacre
– Abusive parents might have aggressive children
– Many men who beat their wives had wife-battering
• Intergenerational transmission of abuse or violence
• Positive behavior can also be learned
through observational learning.
– Prosocial (positive, helpful, constructive)
models can have prosocial behavior.
– People who exemplify nonviolent, helpful
behavior can prompt similar behavior in
• Martin Luther King, Jr. made non-violent action
a powerful force of social change through
*** Models are most effective when their
actions and words are consistent.***