Social Learning Theory and Its Development in The Observational Learning of Children

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In order to learn how to behave, one needs to sometimes learn through observational learning. This is emphasized Albert Bandura' social learning theory where humans learn new behaviors by observing and imitating others and by being rewarded or punished for it. The social learning theory is demonstrated in Bandura's 1961 study on how children may use observational learning, in Joy et al.'s 1986 study on how introducing television can increase aggression, and in Charlton et al.'s 2002 study on how the introduction of television affected the behaviors of a remote community.

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The social learning theory is a type of learning dependent on the observation of models and is also determine by factors affecting the will to learn, the retention of, the ability to learn, and the ability to replicate the behavior. The social learning theory is essentially learning behaviors through observation and imitation and by being rewarded or punished for the learned behavior. Through observational learning, we acquire new behaviors by observing and imitating models that tend to have a direct effect on how we behave. Examples of role models can be one's teacher, parents or older sibling. Even though, the models have a direct effect on how we behave, the models are indirectly influencing their observers and are not intentionally influencing our behavior. Furthermore, according to Albert Bandura, the four factors involved in one's social learning would be attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation. Learners need attention in order to give the model enough focus to learn the new behavior.

Then, the learner requires retention in order to remember what he or she learned. Subsequently, the learner uses motor reproduction to practice and replicate the learned behavior. But, most importantly, the learner must have the motivation or desire to learn the behavior in order to first commit to observing the model. Some of the factors that determine whether we choose to observe the model would be how much we admire and respect the model, how similar we are to the model, whether the model is being rewarded or punished for the behavior, the consistency of the models behaviors, and if the model's performs a behavior that one has high self efficacy for. The social learning theory is good because, it demonstrates how behaviors are passed down culturally and through family because one's most familiar environment constantly featuring models to learn from. Moreover, it proves the fact that children do not have to go through trial and error in order to learn a behavior because, children can simply learn through observation. Lastly, the social learning theory shows how normative standards are made and how behaviors become internalized especially after models diffuse their behavior through people's observations. However, the social learning theory cannot always be the definite cause of why a behavior is learned because, there is a gap between when one observes the model and when one performs the behavior leaving some unsure how a behavior is acquired.

In Albert Bandura's (1961) study, the experimenters aimed to determine whether imitated aggression in children would occur when exposed to adults being aggressive and another aim to determine if children would favor imitating behavior from a same-sex model. The study collected a sample of children from 3 to 6 years old, and they had acquired 36 boys and 36 girls. The children were distributed evenly between three groups, one group where children were required to watch a video where an adult physically and verbally abuses a Bobo doll, another group where children observed a video of an adult assembling a toy for 10 minutes, and a control group where the children observed nothing. In order to evenly spread the aggression of children throughout each group so not all the aggressive children were in one group, they interviewed their teachers and parents to determine the group of children's aggression. At first, the children were placed in a room where they played with toys. Soon after, the children were told that the toys were meant for other children and was taken to a room with a Bobo doll. The experimented yielded results demonstrating that those exposed to video of the aggressive adults usually treated the Bobo dolls with similar physical and verbal abuse as opposed to those who watched the adult assembling the toys. This substantiates Bandura's social learning theory that mentions that children learn behaviors through observation and imitation and by being rewarded or punished for the learned behavior. Moreover, the results also showed the boys denouncing the aggressive actions towards Bobo dolls when women were performing the violent behavior.

Thus, demonstrating how children tend to only imitate same-sex models and that there are certain sociocultural norms that are followed due to the children's own experience. The impressive and good parts of the study were the great manipulation of variables to ensure control over the study. For example, the even distribution of aggressive children to control the factor of aggressive personality and to guarantee the discoveries of the affect of same-sex adults by ensuring gender diversity. Furthermore, the control groups helped reveal the effects of the manipulative variables from the two adult videos because the experimental groups can compare it's results to it. Although, despite the fact that the study supports the social learning theory, it has some limitations to address such as the low ecological validity shown by the unnatural laboratory setting and the fact that the children had to interact with Bobo Dolls rather than a real person. As a result, the conclusions can definitely be sure that the situation can actually predict the behavioral effects on children when exposed to violent television, and we are left confused on whether the results tie into leaned aggression in general or this specific situation.

Other methodological considerations can be limiting like, the fact that parent's and teacher's opinions may not have been completely accurate regarding the child's typical behavior which possibly invalidates the aggression balance among all the groups. Also, the adult violence towards the Bobo dolls may not have been completely standardized; therefore, the children may have observed slight differences of the aggression display. Another limitation can be the demand characteristics of the experimenters because, the child may have acted aggressively in order to please the researcher. Lastly, there are ethical issues in regards to teaching children violent behavior and how strangers acting violent may be frightening to children. It's worrying because, there is no guarantee that teaching violent behavior will not be a permanent feature or will be generalized in other situations.

In Joy et al.'s (1986) study of the introduction of television in a Canadian Town, he compared the growth of aggressive behavior of children in a town that started with television exposure to a remote town that was recently exposed to television in order to see if the if the . In 1973, the Canadian town of Notel acquired television access for the first time. This was not because of television antipathy, but because of lack of sufficient reception. Joy et al. decided to take advantage of this event by conducting a 2 year longitudinal double blind test on a cohort of 45 first and second grade children. In addition, he had two control groups of children from two different cities where television is regularly viewed. After the two years, Joy et al. measured the growth in aggression and found that rate of noxious behavior (e.g. shoving, biting, and hitting) has not increased substantially for the two control groups, but has severely increased the rates of noxious behaviors by 160 % (P<.001). Consequently, the results provided support for the social learning theory through the positive correlational relationship of exposure to television and rates of physical aggression found in the town of Notel.

This especially shows the impact of the novel exposure to television because, it provides children another model to observe and imitate which further reinforces the behavior by having those on television rewarded for their aggressive acts. The positive aspects of the stud y is the high ecological validity due to the method of a natural experiment where the experimenter did not interfere in the children's lives to hinder the authenticity of their behaviors. Furthermore, the choice to conduct a double blind test eliminates the chance for demand characteristics from those being tested and the inadvertent intervening of the experimenter into the child's life. Lastly, the use of control groups gives the conductors something to compare the experimental group to and really demonstrate how the growth of the rate of aggression of the control groups pale in comparison to the growth experience in Notel. Although, in the study, since there was no manipulation of variables there is no control over potential environmental factors that could influence the behaviors of the children. Ultimately, since this is not a controlled experiment, you cannot assume that the exposure to television in Notel caused the upsurge of rate of aggressive behavior.

In Charlton et al.'s (2002) study on the Observation of the introduction of television in the remote island of St. Helena, the conductors measure the effects of the recent exposure to television by seeing and asking about the growth of aggressive or antisocial behavior as a result of observational learning and imitation from television violence. The study was a natural experiment where children between the ages 3 and 8 were observed before and after the installment of television through the perspective of cameras on the playgrounds of two primary school. Moreover, the amount of aggression shown on television equaled the amount shown in the United Kingdom. In addition, the researchers use triangulation methods to seek more information on whether there was an increase in antisocial or aggressive behavior due to observations and imitations of television through interviews, with teachers, parents, and older children. The results revealed that despite the establishment of television with even the same exposure to the same violence found in the United Kingdom that the there was no change in antisocial or aggressive behaviors.

This was the case even after five years. There was no doubt in that the children learned aggressive behavior from the same television violence that the United Kingdom's children were observing and imitating, but the children chose not exhibit the aggressive behavior anyways. Unlike the children in Notel, Canada during Joy et al.'s study, the children of St. Helena were simply not motivated to replicate the violent behavior. This does not question the Social Learning Theory, but proves a point that some models are more powerful than others. Sociocultural influence of social family habits and cultural factors on the island seemed to have strictly defined what is acceptable and what are the normative standards. The study has a high level of ecological validity because, there was no manipulative variables offering any control over the environment and what can potentially influence a child's behavior. It also proved that people must be motivated to imitate behavior. However, some of the limitations could be the lack of control thus, there is no causation. Furthermore, since the study was done in a remote island it lacks generalizability and cannot be easily replicated. Lastly, the behaviors were only observed at school rather throughout the children's rest of the day leaving a large portion of their time available to exhibit anti-social and aggressive behaviors.

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Overall, the social learning theory in which people learn behavior s through observing and imitating others and by being rewarded or punished, had gained support due to the three unique studies that measured growth in aggressive behavior, proved that people prefer to imitate the behavior from the same-sex models, and that people need to be motivated to observe and imitate the model if they want to acquire a certain behavior. Bandura's study demonstrated how children tend to learn new behaviors when they give their attention to observe and imitate behaviors, especially when the model is the similar to the observer (such as their gender). In Joy et al.'s study of the Canadian town, it supported the social learning theory's fact that people can quickly learn new behaviors through the introduction of an entertaining and attractive new model to observe and imitate. Lastly, in Charlton's study, we learned that another important factor according to the social learning theory which is that those who observe the new models have to be motivated to learn and that even if people learned the new behavior they may not exhibit the behaviors for sociocultural influences.

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Social Learning Theory and Its Development in the Observational Learning of Children. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“Social Learning Theory and Its Development in the Observational Learning of Children.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
Social Learning Theory and Its Development in the Observational Learning of Children. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2023].
Social Learning Theory and Its Development in the Observational Learning of Children [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 26 [cited 2023 Sept 29]. Available from:
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