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Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura, was born in December, 1925 in Canada. He is well-known for his social learning theory. Recently, he renamed the theory social cognitive theory. Bandura is generally known as a cognitive psychologist. It is mainly because of his focus on motivational factors and other mechanisms related to a person’s social behaviour. The social learning theory holds that people acquire behaviour by observing others. Bandura’s focus has mainly remained on how people acquire behaviour.  According to his theory, people acquire it by observing others. One cannot rely upon himself only to learn behavior. In fact if we were to learn everything by ourselves, we would have been in a difficult situation. Human beings are gifted with learning ability. We can observe and remember things. We can also imitate what we see.

Bandura maintains that if people had to rely entirely upon their own actions and their effects, learning behavior would have been complex. Many research studies that followed have supported his observation. Several studies on television violence and commercials, support his theory of modelling. Human beings have the capacity to learn by observing others. Bandura holds that humans produce or learn behaviour by observing others. It would be a tedious task otherwise to learn only through trial and errors. Kids start learning by observing people around them.

Bandura wrote several books in psychology and published several articles. He published his ‘Social foundations of Thought and Action’  in 1986. He has received several rewards and honorary degrees. Now, he is above ninety. However, he has conducted several studies on observational learning and modelling. The principle steps in the process of modelling include attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. For any individual to learn a particular behavior, he should attend to the features of the behavior being modelled. However, how much attention one pays depends on several factors.  It includes the characteristics of the observer and the observed. Apart from it any competing stimuli also affects the amount of attention paid. Retention is the process of remembering the modelled behavior.

Language and imagery aid the process of retention. These behaviors are stored in the human memory in the form of mental images or as verbal descriptions. People generally use these images or descriptions to recall the behaviour and to reproduce it. The process of reproduction involves the conversion of the mental images or interpretation into action. People organize their own responses as per the modelled behaviour. Practice can improve the ability to reproduce modeled behavior. The last important factor related to modelling is motivation. Any person should have a motivating factor to imitate a behavior. Any kind of incentives act as reinforcers. Negative motivation on the other hand results in discontinuation of the activity. In simple terms one can understand it as a four stepped process. Anyone first observes a behavior, then remembers it. Then, he imitates it and feels good or bad about it.

Bandura’s theory of modelling or observational learning is based on both behavioral and cognitive philosophies. According to him, humans can control their behavior through self-regulation. The process of self-regulation involves three steps. They are self-observation, judgment and self-response. Self-observation is the process by which the humans track their own behavior and actions. Judgment is the process of comparing observations with the set standards. These standards might be the social rules or norms. After judgment, the person gives himself a self-response. This self-response can be rewarding or punishing. It depends upon how the person does in comparison to the set standards. Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment demonstrated how children observe and imitate behavior. In the experiment, he showed some children the video of a man beating a BoBo doll.  He showed different groups of children, different endings of the same video. In the first group, the children were shown the person being rewarded. In the second, he was being punished. The third group was shown no consequence.  The group of children who saw the person being rewarded felt more inclined to imitate the behavior.

We can see the applications of Social learning theory in our daily lives. Right from childhood, we keep learning by watching things and people around us. However, as we grow, the standards against which we judge our behavior might change. Especially, SLT can help a lot with understanding how the children learn behavior. It can also help at understanding how teachers and parents can model behavior to help kids learn.