Bandura (1961)


To investigate whether exposure to aggression would influence behaviour. Also to see whether boys are more likely to imitate aggressive behaviour than girls.


  • Children exposed to aggressive role models will imitate aggressive acts resembling those of the role model.
  • Children exposed to non-aggressive role models will reproduce less aggressive acts.
  • Children will imitate the behaviour of a same-sex model to a greater degree than a model of the opposite sex.
  • Boys will be more predisposed than girls towards imitating aggression.
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  • 36 boys and 36 girls aged between 3-5 years (mean age was 52 months)
  • 8 experimental groups of 6 subjects and a control group with 24 subjects
  • Half were exposed to aggressive models, half exposed to non-aggressive and subdued model.
  • These groups were further divided into male and female subjects. Half the subjects in the aggressive and non-aggressive conditions observed same-sex models, while the remainding subjects observed opposite-sex models.
  • Subjects in the experimental and control groups were matched individually on the basis of ratings of their aggressive behaviour in social interactions in the nursery school.
  • The study is, therfore, a matched pairs design.
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In stage one of the experiment, children were brought to the experimental room by the experimenter. The room was set out for play and the activities had been chosen because they had been noted to have high interest for nursery school children. One corner was arranged as the child's play area, where there was a small table and chair, potato prints and pictire stickers. After setting the child in its corner, the adult model was escorted to the opposite side of the room where there was a small tabe, chair, tinker-toy set, a mallet and a five foot inflatable Bobo doll. After the model was seated, the experimenter left the experimental room.

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Each Condition

Non-aggressive Condition:

The model sat in the corner of the room playing quietly with the tinker-toys and ignored the Bobo doll.

Aggressive Condition:

The model sat on the Bobo doll and punched it on the nose. Hit the doll on the head with the mallet. Threw the doll in the air and kicked it around the room. Said things like 'sock him in the nose', 'pow', 'hit him down', and 'he keeps coming back for more'.

After 10 minutes, the experimenter entered the room and took the child to a new room which the child was told was another games room.

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Aggression Arousal

In stage two, the child was subjected to 'mild aggression arousal':

The child was given a selection of toys to play with. After 2 minutes, the child was told that the toys were not for them, but the other children and that the child could play with any toys that would be found in an adjoining room.

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Test Delayed for Imitation

In stage 3, the child was taken to the next room where they were told they could play with any of the toys in there. In this room there was a variety of both aggressive and non-aggressive toys. The aggressive toys included a 3 foot Bobo doll, a mallet and peg board, two dart guns, and a tether ball with a face painted on it. The non-aggressive toys included a tea set, crayons and colouring paper, a ball, two dolls, three bears, cars and rucks, and plastic farm animals.

The child was kept in this room for 20 minutes during which time their behaviour was observed by judges through a one-way mirror. Observations were made at 5-second intervals therefore, giving 240 resonse units for each child.

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Response Measures

3 measures of imitation were obtained:

  • Imitation of physical aggression (e.g punching the doll in the nose)
  • Imitative verbal aggression (e.g repeating the phrases 'pow' or 'sock him in the nose')
  • Imitative non-aggressive verbal responses (e.g repeating 'he keeps coming back for more')

Observers also recorded other types of physical and verbal aggressive behaviours that were not complete imitations of the adult model.

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  • The children in the aggressive model condition made more aggressive responses that children in the non-aggressive condition
  • Boys made more aggressive responses than girls
  • The boys in the aggressive model condition showed more aggressive responses if the model was male than if the model was female
  • The girls in the aggressive model conditions also showed more physical aggressive responses if the model was male but more verbal aggression if the model was female
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Some behaviour is learnt by observation. Aggression by male models is more likely to be imitated by boys. Boys were more likely to imitate physical aggression but both boys and girls imitated verbal aggression. 

If a child was exposed to an aggressive role model, then it is likely that they would imitate their behaviour. Boys were more likely to imitate the same-sex model than girls.

This is possibly linked to culture - physical aggression is culturally less excepted in girls.

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On one hand, the generalisability of the study was good becaus it looked at both boys and girls. However, all participants were aged between 3-5 years old. This makes it difficult to generalise the findings to people of different ages. In conclusion, more research needs to be carried out to study triggers and role models for aggression in older children and in adults.

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The study has a highly standardised procedure as it was a lab experiminet. This gives the study good internal reliability. As well as this, they were very clear on what aggression was which makes the study easy to replicate (they fully operationalised aggression). The study also has good external reliability as Bandura 1963 also found that children could learn aggresion by observation.

However, becausee the setting was very contrived, the study may lack ecological validity - aggression displayed was not 'typical aggression'. There is also the possibility of demand characteristics - the children may have imitated the adult model because they thought that was what they were supposed to do. The study also has poor experimental validity as the behaviour observed may better be described as 'play' than aggression.

In conclusion, the good reliability compromises the validity. More research needs to be carried out in a more everyday setting. 

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Could be applied to aggression in childrenYou can teach children to not act aggressively by not acting aggressively around them (education and parenting).

There are a few ethical issues with the study. Firstly, 3-5 year olds cannot give informed consent. However, all of their parents would have given consent for the to particiate in the study. There is also an issue with protection of participants and the children were put in a situation that was expected to cause aggression. 

In conclusion, the ethical cost of the study is justified because risk of long-term harm seems low but implications for childcare have been important as it has changed attitudes towards smacking children and coporal punishment.

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Bandura (1963)

Aim: to investigate if aggression in a film would be imitated. Also, to see whether viewing relevant violence had more effects than less relevant violence.

Participants: 48 girls and 48 boys from 3-5 years (mean age was 52 months) were recruited from Stanford University nursery school.

  • Group 1: Real-life human model used (data from 1961 study used)
  • Group 2: Filmed human model
  • Group 3: Cartoon model (film of female model dressed as a cat - no male model cat)
  • Group 4: Control group
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Following the exposure to the models, all four groups of children were then individually place in a room with an experimenter where they were exposed to a mildly frustrating situation to elicit aggression. Next, the children were allowed to play freely in an adjoining room which was full of toys, including the Bobo doll and the 'weapons' that were used by the models. The researchers observed the children and noted any interaction with the Bobo doll. 

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Results showed that children who had been exposed to the aggressive behaviour, whether real-life/film/cartoon, exhibited nearly twice as much aggression as the control group.

Boys exhibited more aggression than girls.

Boys exposed to male model male model showed significantly more aggressive gun play than boys exposed to female model. In addition, girls exposed to a female model showed significantly less gun play than males exposed to a male model.

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Observing filmed aggression may lead to imitative aggressive behaviour in children. The idea that watching aggression is cathartic (psychodynamic view) and reduces aggression is rejected. It also suggests that social behaviour will be influenced by TV and other media.

Similarities between 1961 and 1963 studies:

  • Equal number of boys and girls in each condition
  • One male, one female model used
  • Participants were matched for aggression
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For Generalisability, Reliability, Validity and Ethics, see 1961 study.


Could be used in education and parenting - if children see aggressive behaviour in films and TV, they may imitate it. Therefore, limit the amount of aggressive media children are exposed to.

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