Social learning theory
The third type of learning theory is known as social learning theory. Pavlov (classical learning theory) and Skinner (operant conditioning theory) rested on the onus that the individual must present a behavior before there would be a reward, or punishment, or some kind of consequence dished out by people or situations in the environment.
In social learning theory it is recognized that people learn from other people. They are also influenced to some degree by other people. However, some people, of course, will be more easily influenced than others and children are the most vulnerable to influence on the whole.
Alfred Bandura is the psychologist who developed social learning theory. He could not accept that humans are responsible for all their own actions; they do become influenced by the actions of others as well.
Bobo doll experiment
Alfred Bandura conducted the famous Bobo Doll experiment where young children were exposed to adults punching bean bag dolls; something they had not learned to do prior to the experiment. No instruction was giving to the children to punch these dolls, they just watched adults doing it.
Bandura hypothesized that children would mimic the behavior once they saw it displayed. His experiment proved that children did imitate what they saw other people do.
Alfred Bandura’s work spurred on research in role modeling which we know today is so vital; especially when it comes to children. Bandura called his theory observational or modeling theory and he did not really considered himself a behaviorist.
How does observational theory work?
There are actually three ways of modeling behavior according to Alfred Bandura’s theory.
What are the sources we have available for modeling the behavior of others?
Watching a behavior in progress
The first way to imitate behavior is by seeing someone do an action such as was presented in the Bobo doll experiment. Children do not only mimic the behaviors of others, adults do as well. I remember one Spring morning I was washing my windows, and lo and behold two of the neighbors started washing their windows after me. As you can surmise since I started my windows first, the other two may well have been influenced to do theirs at that particular time.
The fact that not all the neighbors washed their windows that day, also shows that not everyone is influenced by any particular behavior, but everyone will be influenced by some kind of behavior they see others do, even if they are not aware of it at the time. We are all social animals and there is no individual who is so isolated by society that they do not act like other people in their environment in some way.
Mimicking behavior found in cartoons, symbols and the media
The second way to mimic behavior is by acting out what is seen in symbols, characters on TV, cartoon characters, actors, things seen in movies or read in books, or read in the newspaper, and so on.
The third way to act out behavior is by verbal instruction. This is why it is very important to watch what is said to a child; even if the discussion is not directed towards the child. In the early days of video stores, my friend was telling me over coffee in her apartment, how easily it would be to take out movies or video games and just not return them. She said she had heard of people doing that and then selling the copies. Her 12-year-old son was watching TV in the same room with us. Three weeks later she found out from the video store owner that her son had taken her video card and took out 3 videos which he never returned. He sold them to his friend for $15.00.
Unlike the other behaviorists before him, Bandura did acknowledge that it wasn’t only the outside environment which influenced human behavior; people do have some intrinsic reasons for acting the way they do. In other words, people also have internal or personal reasons for carrying out the behavior. The neighbors who started washing their windows within 15 minutes of the time I started washing my windows is an example of being influenced by the actions of others. It is also an example of being influenced because of personal or intrinsic reasons. No doubt the neighbors would have washed their windows; just maybe not at the exact time I did. Other reasons could be a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of satisfaction, praise for having a clean house and so on.
History has classified Alfred Bandura among the behaviorist however he classified his theory as “social cognitive theory.”
Observational theory does not always result in a behavior change. For example, a young wife can learn how to clean a house from watching and listening to her mother, but keeps a dirty or cluttered house herself.
It is also important to note that not all modeling behavior is copied and there are several reasons for that which are:
In order for modeling to be successful, full attention is required. For example, if a mechanic is demonstrating how to change the motor in a car and the students are distracted by passing notes back and forth, they will not successfully complete the behavior. They will be missing important information when it is their turn to change the motor.
Some people have poor memory and though they may want to repeat the behavior shown to them, they have just forgotten how.
Reproducing the behavior
Sometimes it takes many tries before you get mom’s fudge recipe just right.
The desire to repeat the behavior
Motivation is an important part of observing and modeling. If the young housewife in the above mentioned example, is not interested in keeping a clean house observing her mother’s behaviors are not going to change her own. However, if her husband or mother praise her for the times the house is clean, that might be reward enough to change her ways. Or, if her husband or mother complain every time the house is dirty, she might get tired of the criticism (negative reinforcement) and decide to keep her house clean and tidy.