Bandura Social Learning Theory

According to Albert Bandura, observational learning is a learning process of identifying a model and reproducing their behaviour. Reproduction of the observed behaviour can result on the basis of whether the behaviour of the model carries with it positive or negative consequences. This can also be referred to as vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment of the model’s behaviour. An observer will more likely reproduce the actions of a model whose characteristics they find attractive or desirable. An observer can acquire a behaviour while not performing it, preferring to utilize the learnt behaviour at an appropriate time.

Observational learning can be processed as modelling particular patterns of behaviours and learning emotional responses such as fear, anxiety or pleasure. Observational learning occurs through four processes attention, retention, production and motivation. Attention The initial condition required for effective modeling in Bandura’s Social Learning Theory is attention. According to Baron & Byrne, (2004) attention refers to information that we notice. The level of this attention is determined by various factors which may increase or decrease the extent of which attention is paid.

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These factors are characterized by a learner’s abilities which are determined by one’s sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set and past reinforcement. The sensory capacities; visual acuity, colour discrimination, pure tone hearing, speech recognition and sound localization. The depth, presence or absence of these capacities determines the measure of attention that can be and would be displayed. A simple example of this; a teacher may attempt to teach the art of dance encompassing the symbolic model of film. However, for the students to encode what is being taught, that is to pay attention, they must utilize their sensory capacities.

Arousal level also influences quality of attention paid and its features can vary from fear and aggression to excitement and sexual experiences. Researchers Baron and Byrne (2004) have identified two levels of arousal; heightened arousal and sexual arousal. In their studies, they have noted that heightened arousal “can increase aggression if it persists beyond the situation in which it was induced and is falsely interpreted as anger”. With regards to mild levels of sexual arousal, it was indicated that these levels “reduce aggression, while higher levels increase such behaviours”.

These factors, through the Excitation Transfer Theory and the Fight or Flight Theory too can determine the level of attention exhibited. Saul McLeod (2007) defines perceptual set as “a perceptual bias or predisposition or readiness to perceive particular features of a stimulus”. He noted that is has the tendency to “perceive or notice” certain features of sensory information and disregard others, which relates directly to the definition of attention – what we notice, as well as one’s sensory capacities. He indicated two methods in which perceptual set functions through the ‘Selector’ and the ‘Interpreter’.

Firstly, “the perceiver has certain expectations and focuses attention on particular aspects of the sensory data: this he calls a Selector’” and secondly, “the perceiver knows how to classify, understand and name selected data and what inferences to draw from it. This he calls an ‘Interpreter’. Retention Retention is a variable that affects social learning theory. According to Ormrod, (2004) retention is learning from a model to remember behaviour that has been observed. In fact, Ormrod, (2004) stated that one simple way to remember what has been seen is to rehearse.

To rehearse in its simplest form is to repeat something over and over until it can be performed unconsciously and effortlessly. According to Hergenhahn and Olson, (2001) information gained from observation must be retained if it is to be useful. To retain said information symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organisation, symbolic rehearsal and motor rehearsal can be used to aid the retention process. What these processes do is allow information to be retrieved and acted on long after the observational learning has taken place.

Decker, (1984) noted symbolic coding is the process by which individuals organize and reduce the diverse elements of a modelled performance into a pattern of verbal symbols to guide later performance. What this does is enhance behaviour modelling and training. An example of mental images would be holding and processing imaginal mental representations of something that would have been previously seen. Cognitive organisation is the process of mixing old information with new information to represent newer information. Motor rehearsal would be to carry out any observation that has been retained in memory.

Therefore, to retrieve and enact behaviour that has been observed the information must be stored where it can be recalled. Thus the retention process involves memory. To recall the visual information that has been observed the sensory memory and short term memory as well as the long term memory plays a part. Memory is the process by which knowledge is encoded, stored, and later retrieved. Ormrod, (2004) noted that memory is used to refer to a particular “location” where learned information is kept and also stated that rehearsal provided a means of maintaining information in working memory indefinitely.

Reproduction According to Bandura, the reproduction process determines the extent to which has been learnt is translated into performance. He also stated that once the information is stored cognitively, it can be retrieved covertly, rehearsed and strengthened long after the observational learning has taken place. (Olsen 2005). Following observation, a human’s ability to form symbols and abstract things enable them to learn much of the behavior observed. That is after paying attention and later retaining the information, the individual is able to make symbols or patterns of behavior that were seen and retained.

For example, in a classroom a child may be taught a dance by his teacher, the child watches the teacher performs the dance, he will then form verbal or imaginary symbols of what the teacher is portraying, and is then able to reproduce it after the retention process. After rehearsing what he has seen, the child will now be able to dance long after it was taught. Bandura recognized that though an individual may have the cognitive ability to reproduce what was has been learnt, the individual has to have the motor apparatus necessary to reproduce the behaviours.

For example, cognitively, the child may have paid attention to the teacher and retained the information; however, he may lack the maturity and physical capability to reproduce the dance. In addition to cognitive and physical ability to perform the observed behaviour, Bandura believes that a period of cognitive rehearsal is necessary before the observer can match the behavior of the model. In the rehearsal process, the individual observes their own behavior and compares it to their cognitive representation of the odeled experience. For example, the child will try to match the dance in the way it was taught by the teacher and if he observes any discrepancies between his version and the way it was taught by the teacher, he will quickly correct himself. This process will continue until there is a match between his version of the dance and the teacher’s. Critiquing the work of his colleagues Miller and Skinner, Bandura does not believe that an individual has to be reinforced for learning to take place.

He stated that reinforcement was a performance variable in which persons are either actively or passively encouraged to perform a particular task or to have a desired behavior. However, in observational learning, the individual will model the behavior without any form of manipulation. In the BoBo doll experiment, two groups of children noticed others either being punished or rewarded for beating the doll. The children that saw the positive reinforcement repeated the behavior, the children that saw punishment, did not repeat the behavior. However, the children that saw neither punishment nor rewards continued to model what they saw.

If the children’s capability for observational learning has developed, they cannot stop from learning what they have seen. Therefore, the experiment suggests that an individual will model what has been seen without the threat of punishment or rewards. In addition, unlike reinforcement, the learner exhibits learning that has occurred from observations from a much earlier time which is classified as delayed modeling. In further disagreement, Skinner and Miller believe that reinforcement serves automatically to strengthen or weaken a behavior and will facilitate learning.

In contrast, Bandura believes that learning by response is a cognitive process, and because learning has taken place that does not mean that there will be a change in behaviour. Motivation The final process involved in Bandura’s observational learning is motivation. Motivation is a state of mind that arouses the desire to want to act in a particular way (Ormrod, 2008). In other words, it is innate reasons that direct behaviour. Motivation determines what people learn and what they will continue to learn.

In Bandura’s bobo doll experience, the various groups were motivated towards specific actions based on the consequences they saw inflicted on the model. Those who did not observe the consequences were motivated to replicate the behaviour based and the promised rewards (Schacter, Gilbert and Wegner, 2009). There are two types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is rooted in external stimulus and anticipated rewards such as money, recognition and pleasure; whereas intrinsic motivation exists when the activity in itself is rewarding, interesting and satisfying (Schacter et al. , 2009).

Motivation promotes initiative and encourages individuals to pay attention to the model, retain the behaviour portrayed and reproduce the behaviour demonstrated. Individuals are motivated according to their level of self-efficacy, which is their personal belief that he or she is capable of successfully completing a given task (Robbins & Judge, 2011). Persons with high self-efficacy will elicit greater levels of confidence in replicating learnt behaviour, while persons with low self-efficacy will reduce their efforts or give up if they perceive the behaviour to be too difficult to replicate (Ormrod, 2008).

For example, in a classroom where children are being taught a dance, a particular child may be more enthused than the others because he or she may already be familiar with the dance. Another child may be reluctant because they consider them self a poor dancer. According to Bandura and other cognitive theorist, factors that affect self-efficacy and by extension motivation include the individual’s previous experiences, encouragement from others and by the experiences of others (Ormrod, 2008).

An individual will display high levels of competencies when they have already attempted particular activities successfully over a period of time. After much trial and error, they are very confident in their abilities to perform. At this point, small failures will act as stepping stones towards greater success. Encouragement and praise from others will also increase motivation, especially when the task performed was successful.

Persons are also motivated to specific actions by observing the accomplishments and failures of others, especially when they view them as possessing similar competencies as themselves. If the model is successful after several attempts at a difficult task, the learner will believe that they too can accomplish that task (Ormrod, 2008). According to Bandura, individuals will model behaviour is different ways; however, in order for modelling to be successful all four factors must be utilised – attention, retention, reproduction and motivation, must be practiced (Ormrod, 2008).

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Bandura Social Learning Theory. (2017, Jan 30). Retrieved from