Why Children Behave the Way They Do: Article 2A By Kerby T. Alvy Ph.D.

Article 2A: Dr. Bandura’s Work Regarding Modeling By Kerby T. Alvy Ph.D.

The research and theory of Dr. Albert Bandura of Stanford University is most instructive. His conception of psychological modeling or observational learning is powerful and multi-dimensional. Drawing on his own research with children, Dr. Bandura has come to conclude that

“most human behavior is learned by observation through modeling. By observing others, one forms rules of behavior, and on future occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. Because people can learn approximately what to do through modeling before they perform any behavior, they are spared the costs of faulty effort. The capacity to learn by observation enables people to expand their knowledge and skills on the basis of information exhibited and authored by others. Much social learning is fostered by observing the actual performances of others and the consequences for them.”


Bandura has noted that for observational learning to occur, the individual must attend to the behavior of a model, be able to retain the information that is observed, and both be able to reproduce the observed behavior and be motivated to do so.


In his classic modeling studies with children, Bandura and his co-workers demonstrated that children whose attention was riveted on adult models who engaged in very aggressive behavior, which the children themselves were quite capable of doing (hitting a large doll with a mallet, for example), clearly learned or retained the aggressive behavior simply by observing it.


Difference between Learning and Performing

However, and this is very important, how much of the aggressive behavior they actually engaged in themselves at a later time depended on what subsequently happened to the model and on what was in it for the children if they engaged in the behavior. If they observed that the model seemed to enjoy or get some reward for engaging in the behavior, and/or if the child received some personal reward from engaging in the model behavior, the child was much more likely to repeat or copy the behavior at a later time.

Learning vs Performance

By showing that different factors were involved in acquiring and engaging in modeled behavior, Bandura was able to demonstrate the difference between learning and performing modeled behavior. This important distinction should serve to alert parents to the likelihood that their children will repeat the behaviors they model if the parents themselves seem to get something out of it (enjoyment, relief, satisfaction, etc.) and that the behavior may be repeated far in the future. This type of knowledge can help parents realize the power of the examples they set, as well as the power of other models in their children’s environment (siblings, peers, teachers, etc.) to influence children’s behavior and functioning.

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