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Observational learning or social learning is learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and replicating behavior observed in others. It is most associated with the work of psychologist Albert Bandura, who implemented some of the seminal studies in the area and initiated social learning theory.
Because of this, social learning theory has influenced debates on the effect of television violence and parental role models. Bandura's Bobo doll experiment is widely cited in psychology as a demonstration of observational learning and demonstrated that children are more likely to engage in violent play with a life size rebounding doll after watching an adult do the same.
Observational learning allows for learning without any change in behavior and has therefore been used as an argument against strict behaviorism which argued that behavior change must occur for new behaviors to be acquired.
Bandura called the process of social learning modelling and gave four conditions required for a person to successfully model the behaviour of someone else:
- Attention to the model
- A person must first pay attention to a person engaging in a certain behavior (the model).
- Retention of details
- Once attending to the observed behavior, the observer must be able to effectively remember what the model has done.
- Motor reproduction
- The observer must be able to replicate the behavior being observed. For example, juggling cannot be effectively learned by observing a model juggler if the observer does not already have the ability to perform the component actions (throwing and catching a ball).
- Motivation and Opportunity
- The observer must be motivated to carry out the action they have observed and remembered, and must have the opportunity to do so. For example, a suitably skilled person must want to replicate the behavior of a model juggler, and needs to have an appropriate number of items to juggle to hand.
Effect on behavior
Social learning may affect behavior in the following ways:
- Teaches new behaviors
- Increases or decreases the frequency with which previously learned behaviors are carried out
- Can encourage previously forbidden behaviors
- Can increase or decrease similar behaviors. For example, observing a model excelling in piano playing may encourage an observer to excel in playing the saxophone.
- Albert Bandura
- Bobo doll experiment
- social cognition
- machine learning
- Educational technology
References & Bibliography
- Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Hardback: ISBN 0138167443 - Paperback: ISBN 0138167516
- Bandura, Albert, Ross, Dorothea, & Ross, Sheila A. (1961). Transmission of aggressions through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582 Full text
- Bjorklund, D.F., & Pellegrini, A.D. (2002). The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. (pp. 194-202) ISBN 1557988781
- Byrne, R.W. & Russon, A.E. (1998). Learning by imitation: A hierarchical approach. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 667-721. Full text
- Caldwell, C.A. & Whiten, A. (2002). Evolutionary perspectives on imitation: is a comparative psychology of social learning possible? Animal Cognition, 5:193-208. Full text
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