Social Learning Theory


The theory and Bobo Doll experiment


Bandura argues that we learn much of our behaviour - including aggressive behaviour - by imitating other people.

We do not copy just anybody's behaviour - we are more likely to imitate the model's behaviour if they are of a higher statys than us. If we see the model behing rewarded for their behaviour, we are more likely to imitate it than if we see them being punished for it.


Bandura et al. conducted a series of experiments with 4-5 year olds. They divided the children into 3 groups. All three were then shown a film of a adult model being aggressive towards an inflatable Bobo doll. Group 1 = saw a version of the film where the model was rewarded with praise Group 2 = saw a version in which the model was punished (told off) Group 3 = was a control group. In the version they saw, the behaviour was neither rewarded nor punished

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Experiment Results and Application

After seeing the film, the children were left to play with the dolls themselves.

Group 1 – imitated the aggressive behaviours they had seen being rewarded

Group 2- who had observed the model being punished, were the least likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour

Group 3 – the control group, also imitated the model, though less so than group 1

This applies to crime because if an individual observes a model (e.g. a peer) getting rewarded for their criminality, the theory predicts that the behaviour is more likely to be imitated. This could happen if family members are criminal and go unpunished or if friends do criminal activities and are praised by others, are rewarded in the form of attention or go unpunished by family because 'that's just what they do'.

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- The children were protected from harm and debriefed after the study was complete.

- Quantitative data was gathered (which is higher in validity).


- Bandura takes into account the fact that humans are social beings.

- It shows that children can learn aggressive behaviour just from observing adults, particularly ones that are rewarded.

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- It is unknown if the children gave consent.

- The study is low in generalisability - the children were all of parents from the same university and were all a similar age which means that teenagers may not learn in the same way.

- Low ecological validity, the study was done in a lab.


- Ignores the freedom of choice - humans have free will and can make decisions for themselves.

- Not all behaviours are easily imitated, often criminal behaviours need more in depth teaching to be recreated.

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