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The Bobo doll experiment was conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and studied patterns of behavior associated with aggression. Additional studies of this type were conducted by Bandura in 1963 and 1965. A Bobo doll is an inflatable toy that is approximately the same size as a prepubescent child.


Bandura carried out this study to look at social learning, where people learn through imitation. He used children, because they generally have no social conditioning. Bandura wanted to expose children to adult models exhibiting either aggressive or nonaggressive behaviors. Then, in a new environment without the adult model, he wanted to observe whether or not the children imitate these adult model aggressive (or nonaggressive) behaviors. Bandura made four predictions going into this experiment. First, he believed the subjects that witnessed the aggressive adult model behavior would attempt to imitate or act in similar aggressive ways even when the model is not present. Additionally, he believed that these children's behavior would differ greatly from that of the children who witnessed nonaggressive models or no models at all (the control group). Second, he believed that, when the model was not present, the children who witnessed the nonaggressive adult behavior would not only show less aggression than those who witnessed the aggressive behavior but also less aggression than those who saw no model at all. Third, he predicted that the children would be more likely to imitate the model's behavior if the model is of the same sex. This is because children usually identify better with adults and parents of the same sex. Fourth, he hypothesized that because aggression tends to be a more male-oriented trait, the boys would be more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior especially for the boys with aggressive male models. This experiment is important to psychology because it was a precedent that sparked many more of the studies about the effects of viewing violence (whether in person or on the media) on children.


The subjects studied in this experiment involved 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University Nursery School ranging in age between 3 and 6 (with the average age being 4 years and 4 months). The control group was composed of 24 children. The first experimental group was comprised of 24 children exposed to aggressive model behavior. The second experimental group was comprised of 24 children exposed to nonaggressive model behavior. The first and second experimental group were divided again based on sex. Finally, the experimental groups were divided into groups exposed to same-sex models and opposite-sex models. In this test, there were a total of eight experimental groups and one control group. To avoid skewed results due to the fact that some children were already predisposed to being more aggressive, the experimenter and the teacher (both knew the children well) rated each child based on physical aggression, verbal aggression, and object aggression prior to the experiment. This allowed Bandura to group the children based on average aggression level.

It is important to note that each child was exposed to the experiment individually so as not to be influenced or distracted by their classmates. The first part of the experiment involved bringing a child and the adult model into a playroom. In the playroom, the child was seated in one corner filled with highly appealing activities such as potato prints and stickers and the adult model was seated in another corner containing a tinker toy set, a mallet, and an inflatable Bobo doll (which is about 5 feet tall). Before leaving the room, the experimenter explained that these particular toys were only for the model to play with.

After a minute of playing with the tinker toy set, the aggressive model would attack the Bobo doll by hitting it. For each subject, the aggressive model reacted identically with a sequence of physical violence and verbal violence. The mallet was also used to continually hit the Bobo doll on the head. After a period of about 10 minutes, the experimenter came back into the room, dismissed the adult model, and took the child into another playroom. The nonaggressive model simply played with the tinker toys for the entire 10 minute-period. In this situation, the Bobo doll was completely ignored by the model.

Following the 10 minute-period with the models, each child was taken into another playroom filled with highly entertaining toys including a fire engine, a jet, a complete doll set with clothes and carriage, and so on. In order to spark anger or frustration in the child, he or she was only allowed to play with the toys for a very short period of time before being told that these toys were reserved for other children. The children were also told that there were toys in the next room they could play with.

The final stage of the experiment took place in the last room in which the child was left alone for 20 minutes with a series of aggressive and nonaggressive toys to play with. The Bobo doll, a mallet, two dart guns, and tether ball with a face painted on it were among the aggressive toys to choose from. The nonaggressive toys the children could choose from were a tea set, paper and crayons, a ball, two dolls, cars and trucks, and plastic farm animals. Judges watched each child behind a one-way mirror and evaluated the subject based on various measures of aggressive behavior.

Although the experimenters judged the children based on eight different measures of aggression, this article only focuses on four of them. The first measure recorded was based on physical aggression. This included punching or kicking the Bobo doll, sitting on the Bobo doll, hitting it with a mallet, and tossing it around the room. Verbal aggression was the second measure. The judges counted each time the children imitated one of the phrases the aggressive adult model said and recorded their results. The third measure of aggression was based on how many times the child used the mallet in other forms of aggression besides hitting the Bobo doll. The fourth measurement calculated all nonimitative forms of aggression exhibited by the children that was not demonstrated by the adult model.


Bandura found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in physically aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. For those children exposed to the aggressive model, the number of imitative physical aggressions exhibited by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7 for the girls. The same pattern applied to the instances of imitative verbal aggression exhibited by the child exposed to the aggressive model as opposed to those exposed to the nonaggressive model or no model at all. The number of imitative verbal aggressions exhibited by the boys was 17 times and 15.7 times by the girls. Both the imitative physical and verbal aggression were rarely, if ever, exhibited by the children exposed to the nonaggressive model or no model at all.

Bandura also predicted that the nonaggressive models would have an aggressive-inhibiting effect on the children. However, the results supporting this hypothesis were ambiguous. In certain instances, such as mallet aggression, the male subjects exposed to nonaggressive male models exhibited far less aggressive mallet behavior than the control male subjects but the male subjects exposed to nonaggressive female models exhibited more aggressive mallet behavior than the control male subjects. Because of this inconsistency, Bandura determined the results for this prediction inconclusive.

The results concerning gender differences strongly supported Bandura's prediction that children are more influenced by same-sex models. Boys exhibited more aggression when exposed to aggressive male models than boys exposed to aggressive female models. When exposed to aggressive male models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by boys averaged 104 compared to 48.4 aggressive instances exhibited by boys exposed to aggressive female models. While the results for the girls shows similar findings, the results were less drastic. When exposed to aggressive female models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by girls averaged 57.7 compared to 36.3 aggressive instances exhibited by girls exposed to aggressive male models.

Lastly, the evidence strongly supports that males have a tendency to be more aggressive than females. When all instances of aggression are tallied, males exhibited 270 aggressive instances compared to 128 aggressive instances exhibited by females.


Scholars such as Ferguson (2010) [1] suggest the bo-bo doll studies are not studies of aggression at all, but rather that the children were motivated to imitate the adult in the belief the videos were instructions. In other words children were motivated by the desire to please adults rather than genuine aggression. Furthermore Ferguson has criticized the external validity of the study noting that bo-bo dolls are designed to be hit.

Hogben and Byrne stressed on the importance of onfoundations of social learning in place of tangibly measureable rewards. Reward is eminent to the Social Learning theory of aggression as innately we would repeat an action or behavior after receiving a desirable reinforcement. Unless the children were rewarded for their emulation of attacking the ‘bobo doll’ or the clown would become a personal habit to exert aggression? The experiment was also biased in several areas which weakened the internal validity[2]

1. Selection bias

Bandura’s subjects were all from the nursery of Stanford University. During the 1960s, the opportunity of studying in a university, especially one as prestigious as Stanford was a privilege that only the upper-middle class whites had. Besides, the racial bias and economic status of the whites and blacks were still very vast at that time. Generally only the upper-middle class and rich whites were able to afford putting their children in a nursery. Thus, the subjects would turn out to be mostly white and of similar backgrounds.

2. Unclear history of subjects

The ethnicities of the subjects were never documented but Bandura and his colleagues made sweeping statements on their findings when explaining the aggression and violence trait among subgroups and lower socioeconomic communities.

3. Ambiguous temporal sequence

As the data of the “real life aggression and control group conditions came from their 1961 study”,[2] parallel ongoing events including the mental maturation of the subjects could have been confused with the observations and results of the 1963 study.

Bar-on, Broughton, Buttross, Corrigan, et al. (2001) explained that the underdeveloped frontal lobe of children below the age of 8 causes them to be unable to separate reality from fantasy. As an example, children up to the age of 12 believe that there are monsters in their closet or under the bed. They are also sometimes unable to distinguish dreams from reality.[3]

Furthermore, biological theorists argue that the social learning theory completely ignores individual’s biological state by ignoring the uniqueness of an individual’s DNA, brain development, and learning differences.[4]

According to Worthman and Loftus (1992), Bandura’s study was unethical and morally wrong as the subjects were manipulated to respond in an aggressive manner. They also find it to be no surprise that long-term implications are apparent due to the methods imposed in this experiment as the subjects were taunted and were not allowed to play with the toys and thus incited agitation and dissatisfaction. Hence, they were trained to be aggressive.[5]

Although there have been other research which examine the effects of violent movies and video games such as Plagens et al.’s 1991 study on violent movies, “Feshbach and R.D. Singer believed that television actually decreases the amount of aggression in children” (Islom, 1998) – Catharsis effect. A study was made on juvenile boys for six weeks. Half were made to view violent movies throughout the period of six weeks while another half viewed non-violent movies for six weeks. The boy’s behavior was then observed and the result was boys who viewed violent movies were less aggressive than those who viewed non-violent movies. The conclusion drawn by Feshback and Singer was that those who viewed violent movies were less aggressive as they were able to transmit all their feelings and thoughts of aggression into the movie.

Variations of the 'Bobo doll' experiment[]

Due to numerous criticisms, Bandura replaced the ‘Bobo doll’ with a live clown. The young woman beat up a live clown in the video shown to preschool children and in turn when the children were lead into another room where they found a live clown, they imitated the action in the video they had just watched.[6]

Variation 1:

In Friedrich and Stein (1972)’s ‘The Mister Rogers’ study:
Procedures: A group of preschoolers watched Mister Rogers every weekday for four consecutive weeks.
Result: Children from lower socioeconomic communities were easier to handle and more open about their feelings.[7]

Variation 2:

Loye, Gorney & Steele (1977) conducted variation of the ‘Bobo Doll’ Experiment using 183 married males aged between 20 to 70 years old.
Procedure: The participants were to watch one of five TV programs for 20 hours over a period of one week while their wives secretly observed and recorded their behavior; helpful vs. hurtful behaviors when not watching the program.
Result: Participants of violent programs showed significant increase in aggressive moods and “hurtful behavior” while participants who viewed pro-social programs were more passive and demonstrated a significant increase of “emotional arousal”.

Variation 3:

Black and Bevan’s research (1992) had movie-goers fill out an aggression questionnaire either before they entered the cinema and after the film; a violent film and a romantic film.
Procedure: Subjects were randomly selected as they went to view violent and romantic film. They were asked to fill out pretest and posttest questionnaires on their emotional state.
Result: Those who watched violent films were already aggressive before viewing the film but it was aggravated after the viewing while there was no change in those who viewed romantic films.

Variation 4:

Anderson & Dill (2000) randomly assigned college students to play two games; Wolfenstein, a science fiction first-person shooter game and Tetris. Results of this study were inconsistent, and this study has sometimes been criticized for using poorly validated aggression measures, and exaggerating the consistency of its findings (Ferguson, 2009).


From this experiment, Bandura established that there are 4 processes that are apparent in the modeling process[6]

1. Attention

One has to be paying attention and not distracted to be able to absorb knowledge. Physical factors such as being tired, having a hangover, being sick, nervous, extremely excited or distracted by a competing stimuli[6] would mar one’s focus on a subject. For example, when a student is in love, he or she would only be thinking of his/her loved one. All else is a blur; hear but not listening, see but not looking, eat but not tasting, breathing but not smelling and so on.

2. Retention

The proof that one has been paying attention is when one is able to remember the intended stimuli. Imagery and language play a great part here. Memory is stored in “the form of mental images or verbal descriptions.” Once it is stored, the memory can be recalled later and be replicated in one’s actions and behavior.

3. Reproduction

This stage of modeling another requires one to have the ability to duplicate the action or/and behavior. A wheelchair bound person would not be able to duplicate a person doing cartwheels but one who is able to use all their limbs might be able to improve their cartwheel techniques after watching the video of a gymnast doing cartwheels. Similarly, after acquiring the ability to draw, one can improve their skills by watching an expert drawing or by emulating the instructions in a drawing book.
However, this does not mean that day-dreaming is useless. It in fact plays a part in refining our skills. “Our abilities improve even when we just imagine ourselves performing! Many athletes, for example, imagine their performance in their mind’s eye prior to actually performing” [6]

4. Motivation

a. Nonetheless, the most important part of the modeling process is motivation! If one is not motivated to emulate an action or behavior, attention would not be there to start with. According to Bandura, there are two categories of motives[8] -positive [Past reinforcements, Promised reinforcements and Vicarious reinforcements] and negative [Past punishment, Promised punishment and vicarious punishment] both of which are based on traditional behaviorism such as BF Skinner’s Operant Conditioning and Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning.
However, there are as many experiments conducted which support as well as nullify Bandura’s hypothesis. So far, all the variations of Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment have only focused on a maximum of three important factors; a combination of background, personal temperament, environment, interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. Yet, a pretest of phobias and daily mood assessment were not assessed before the experiment. Thus, we can safely say that until an experiment takes all the factors into consideration and conducts a longitudinal assessment, Bandura’s hypothesis is still on the fence.

See also[]


  1. "Blazing Angels or Resident Evil? Can Violent Video Games Be a Force for Good?", Christopher J. Ferguson, Review of General Psychology, 14, 68-81
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hart, K.E. (2006). Critical Analysis of an Original Writing on Social Learning Theory: Imitation of Film-Mediated Aggressive Models By: Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross and Sheila A.Ross (1963). Retrieved October 6, 2010 from the world wide web:,%20Karen%20E,%20Imitation%20of%20Film-Mediated%20Aggressive%20Models.pdf
  3. Sharon & Woolley (2004). Do Monsters Dream? Young Children’s Understanding of the Fantasy/Reality Distinction. Journal of Developmental Psychology, 22, 293-310. Retrieved October 4, 2010 from the British Psychological Society database.
  4. Isom, M.D. (1998). Albert Bandura: The Social Learning Theory. Retrieved October 6, 2010 from the world wide web:
  5. Worthman, C., & Loftus, E. (1992), Psychology: McGraw-Hill: New York.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Boeree, C.G. (2006). Personality Theories: Albert Bandura. Retrieved October 6, 2010 from the world wide web:
  7. Yates, B.L. (1999). Modeling Strategies for Prosocial Television: A Review. Retrieved October 6, 2010 from the world wide web:
  8. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Bandura

Further reading[]

  • Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggressions through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582. Full text
  • Bandura, Albert, Ross, Dorothea, & Ross, Sheila A. (1961). Transmisssion of aggressions through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582. Full text
  • Drewes, A. A. (2008). Bobo revisited: What the research says: International Journal of Play Therapy Vol 17(1) Sum 2008, 52-65.
  • Drewes, A. A. (2008). "Bobo revisited: What the research says": Correction to Drewes (2008): International Journal of Play Therapy Vol 17(2) Fal 2008, 101.
  • Kosslyn, Stephen M. and Robin S. Rosenberg. Psychology: The Brain, The Person, The World. 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson, 2004. 246-248.

External links[]

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