Observational Social Learning Theory

Written by michelle elizabeth
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Email

Albert Bandura's Observational Social Learning Theory came from the prior knowledge and work of Gabriel Tarde. Tarde supposed that social learning had certain limitations, without which the process couldn't happen. These limitations were close contact, model imitation, understanding concepts and behaviour of role models. Bandura's learning theory has since been used to study aggression, psychological disorders, behaviour modification, prejudice, criminology and today's TV advertising strategies.


Observational Social Learning Theory suggests that people learn by watching a model's behaviour and then imitating the model. For example, people imitate others every day. Often, the imitator copies someone they view highly. Parents will ask their kids to watch them do something they'd like the child to learn. Or, when unsure of what to wear to a certain occasion, people copy others around them. Bandura's theory suggests that observational learning is more likely when the end result is valued and when the model is admired and similar to the observer.

Doll Study on Aggression

In Bandura's doll study, a group of children were shown a film with aggressive content: an adult aggressively hitting and kicking an inflated doll. Another group of children was shown a film without any hitting or kicking. Afterward, each groups' playing behaviour was recorded. The children who had seen the adult hitting and kicking the doll were more often aggressive afterward. The group of children that did not see any aggression played as they normally would.

Eye Blink study

A 1976 Bernal and Berger study exemplified Bandura's observational learning theory. In the study Bernal and Berger had some study participants watch a film where other participants learnt to blink their eyes in response to a puff of air. In addition, a tone sounded. The participants in the film learnt to blink their eyes in response to the tone alone. The participants watching the film also learnt the eye blink response for the tone alone.


Observational Social Learning Theory also has been used to explain how children learn to be prejudiced. According to the theory, children watch their family members and neighbours use stereotypical judgments and racial slurs while discriminating. These judgments and vocabulary become ingrained in the child, who starts to exhibit similar behaviour. When this happens, prejudice is passed down from one generation to the other.

TV Commercials

Every day, TV commercials try to convince consumers what to eat, wear, buy and do. Old cigarette ads, commercials and movie product placements conveyed that by smoking, people become attractive and cool. Lots of different products still use this technique today, hair care products, for example. Alcohol and beer commercials also try to do something similar.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the eHow.co.uk site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.