Bandura et al.'s study of children's imitation of adult aggression


Aims & Hypotheses


  • Investigate observational learning of aggression.
  • To investigate whetehr children would reproduce aggressive behaviour when the model was no longer present, and to look for gender differences in learning of aggression.


  • Participants exposed to an aggressive model would be more likely to reproduce similar aggressive behaviour than those exposed to a non-aggressive model, or no model at all.
  • Participants expsed to a non-aggressive model would be less aggressive than than those exposed to no model at all.
  • Participants would more likely imitate agressive behaviour shown by a same sex model.
  • Boys would be more inclinded t imitate aggression than boys. 
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Participants & Design


  • A total of 72 participants.
  • All from Stanford university nursery school.
  • Ages ranged from 37 months to 69 months.


  • This was a lab experiment, using independent measures design. 
  • Three IV's were tested:                                                                                                 The behaviour of the model.                                                                                          The sex of the model.                                                                                                  The sex of the children
  • There were 8 conditions and children were all matched based on pre-decided levels of aggression.
  • 12 boys and girls saw aggression from a same sex model, 12 boys and girls saw aggression from an opposite sex model.
  • 12 boys and girls saw an opposite sex non-aggressive model, 12 boys and girls saw a same sex non-aggressive model. 
  • A control group of 24 boys and girls did not see a model at all. 
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  • Each child was individually bought into a room for 10 minutes, in the aggressive condition an adult demonstrated aggression towards a bobo doll. in the non-aggressive condition an adult did not interact with the doll and in the control there was no adult in the room. 
  • In order to annoy the children, they were taken to another room to play with attractive toys, where after 2 mins were told they could no longer play with them. 
  • Children were then observed playing for 20 minutes in a room that contained a bobo doll and a range of other toys. 
  • Three types of aggression were recorded:                                                                              Imitative aggression - agression identical to the model in stage 1.                                          Partial imitative - similar behaveiour to that carried out by the model.                                      Non-Imitative - new aggressive acts not demonstrated by the model. 
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Results & Conclusions


  • Quantitative data was recorded.
  • Children who had witnessed an aggressive model were significantly more aggressive themselves.
  • Overall, there was very little difference between aggression in the control group and the non-aggressive group.
  • Boys were significantly more likely to imitate aggressive models, the difference for girls was much smaller.
  • Boys were significantly more physically aggressive than girls. Girls were more verbally aggressive than boys after observing a female model.


  • Witnessing aggression in a model can be enough to produce aggression by the observer.
  • Children selectively imitate gender-specific behaviour.
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