Albert Bandura’s social learning theory stressed the importance of observational learning, imitation and modeling. “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do,” Bandura explained (Bandura, 1977). His theory integrates a continuous interaction between behaviors, cognitions and the environment. Bandura was particularly interested in ways that people influence the behavior, thoughts, and learning of others.
Social learning theory has been applied extensively to the understanding of aggression (Bandura, 1973) and psychological disorders, particularly in the context of behavior modification (Bandura, 1969). It is also the theoretical foundation for the technique of behavior modeling which is widely used in training programs. His early work focused on modeling, learning through the observation of others. Bandura’s most famous experiment was the 1961 Bobo doll study. In the experiment, he made a film in which a woman was shown beating up a Bobo doll and shouting aggressive words.
Afterwards, the children were allowed to play in a room that held a Bobo doll. The children immediately began to beat the doll, imitating the actions and words of the woman in the film. The study was significant because it departed from the behaviorism’s insistence that all behavior is directed by reinforcement or rewards. The children received no encouragement or incentives to beat up the doll. They were simply imitating the behavior they had observed. In developing his social learning theory, Bandura identified for component processes that influence an observer when learning a modeled behavior (Bandura, 1977).
These components include attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Attention is the first component of observational learning. In order for an individual to learn anything, he or she must pay attention to the features of the modeled behavior. The second component is retention. If an individual is to be influenced by observing behaviors he or she needs to remember the activities that were modeled. Imagery and language aid in the process of retaining information. Reproduction is the next process in observational learning.
This is accomplished by organizing one’s own responses in accordance with the modeled pattern. The final process is motivation. To imitate behavior, the person must be motivated by something, such as incentives that a person envisions. These imagined incentives act as reinforcers (Bandura, 1977). These components were introduced in Bandura’s book, Social Learning Theory, which was published in 1977. The book drastically altered the direction psychology was to take in the 1980s. The theoretical analyses described within this book sparked extraordinary growth of interest in social learning and psychological modeling.
After reintroducing the emphasis on mental processes, Bandura conducted considerable research on self-efficacy. He described self-efficacy as the sense of self-esteem and competence in dealing with life’s problems (Bandura, 1982). His work has shown that people who have a great deal of self-efficacy believe they are capable of coping with the diverse events in their lives. They feel they have the ability to overcome obstacles. People with low self-efficacy fell helpless about coping and feel that there is nothing they can do to change the situations they confront.
When they encounter problems, they are likely to give up if their initial attempt fails (Schultz & Schultz, 2004). Through Bandura’s research of self-efficacy, his theory has been applied to the fields of life-course development, education, health, psychopathology, athletics, business, and international affairs. Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy has also generated a great deal of research demonstrating that people’s beliefs are related to their ability to enact a wide variety of performance, including quitting smoking and academic performance.
Saul Shiffman and his colleagues (2000) studied the effects of daily fluctuations in self-efficacy on smoking lapses and relapses among ex-smokers who had quit on their own for at least 24 hours. They found that when these participants smoked even a single cigarette, their daily self-efficacy became more variable, leading to future lapses and, with some ex-smokers, a complete relapse. Ex-smokers who believed in their ability to quit smoking were able to maintain high self-efficacy and to avoid lapses and relapse.
Bandura and a group of Italian researchers (1996) studied levels of self-efficacy and their relation to academic performance in middle-school children living near Rome. They found that children who believed that their parents had confidence in their academic ability were likely to have high academic aspirations, high academic self-efficacy, and high self-regulatory efficacy. Each of these factors related either directly or indirectly to high academic performance. Bandura’s work is considered part of the cognitive revolution in psychology hat began in the late 1960s. His theories have had tremendous impact on personality psychology, cognitive psychology, education, and psychotherapy. He has had an enormous impact on personality theory and therapy. His action-oriented, problem solving approach appeals to those who want to make changes, rather than simply philosophize.
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