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Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Psychology (Year 12) - Developmental Psychology

Jessica Pratt

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura proposed that social behaviour is learned by observing behaviour in relation to the consequences that result from them. It identifies the behaviours of others around us as sources of information.

There are three main components of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory:

  • observational learning - learning by observing the actions of others.

  • modelling - the process of observing and imitating a particular behaviour.

  • vicarious reinforcement - engaging in behaviour due to seeing someone else being rewarded for performing that behaviour.

Requirements for Observational Learning

Bandura identified four requirements that were needed for observational learning to occur:

  • motivation - the learner must feel motivated to demonstrate the behaviour.

  • attention - the learner must attend the behaviour.

  • retention - the learner must remember the behaviour at a later time.

  • reproduction - the learner must be physically and intellectually capable of producing the act.

Factors Influencing Observational Learning

There are four general factors that influence the occurrence of observational learning:

  • consistency - the model performs in the same way throughout different circumstances.

  • identification - the learner can recognise the model.

  • rewards and punishment - learning from the consequences of the model’s behaviour.

  • liking - the learner is more likely to imitate the model’s behaviour if they like them.

Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment

Bandura conducted an experiment where a “model” repeatedly knocked over a doll in an aggressive manner. In opposition to this, the control group observed pro-social behaviour displayed by a “model”. The children played with the doll, where it was found that they behaved in the same way that they observed, noting that they modelled this behaviour despite receiving no punishments or reinforcements.

This demonstrated that children would alter behavioural patterns by observing others.

Application of Theory

  • the behaviour of the child is reciprocal - e.g. observing prosocial behaviour = acting pro-socially

  • the child’s role models and teachers must utilise consistent words and behaviours

  • latent and accidental learning readily occurs - knowledge is present until reinforcements occur


The theory has empirical support, and is easily applied in the institutionalised settings of education and therapy. It is also an interactionist theory that emphasises dispositional, situational and socio-cultural factors surrounding learning. However, it portrays the environment as the primary influence on behaviour, and therefore, underestimates the complexity of human behaviour. It also cannot adequately account for the development of thoughts surrounding behaviour.

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