Have you ever had a hero? Someone you tried to be like, imitated and copied? Even if you never called them your hero, you are probably observing and sometimes copying the behaviour of many of the people around you. Friends, parents, celebrities, even (if there really isn’t anyone else to look at) teachers! Albert Bandura showed how important imitation could be as a way of learning new behaviours. Social Learning Theory is the critical context of this study. Read about it here.

Research Methods

This was a laboratory study using observation.


Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models – Bandura, A., Ross, D. and Ross, S.A. (1961)

Study conditions

Stage 1: Modelling

In the experimental conditions children were individually shown into a room containing toys and played with some potato prints and pictures in a corner for 10 minutes while either:

  1. 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) watched a male or female model behaving aggressively towards a toy called a ‘Bobo doll’. The adults attacked the Bobo doll in a distinctive manner – they used a hammer in some cases, and in others threw the doll in the air and shouted “Pow, Boom”.
  2. Another 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) were exposed to a non-aggressive model who played in a quiet and subdued manner for 10 minutes (playing with a tinker toy set and ignoring the bobo-doll).
  3. The final 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) were used as a control group and not exposed to any model at all.

Stage 2: Aggression Arousal

All the children (including the control group) were subjected to ‘mild aggression arousal’. Each child was (separately) taken to a room with relatively attractive toys. As soon as the child started to play with the toys the experimenter told the child that these were the experimenter’s very best toys and she had decided to reserve them for the other children.

Stage 3: Test for Delayed Imitation

• The next room contained some aggressive toys and some non-aggressive toys. The non-aggressive toys included a tea set, crayons, three bears and plastic farm animals. The aggressive toys included a mallet and peg board, dart guns, and a 3 foot Bobo doll.

• The child was in the room for 20 minutes and their behavior was observed and rated though a one-way mirror. Observations were made at 5-second intervals therefore giving 240 response units for each child.

• Other behaviors that didn’t imitate that of the model were also recorded e.g. punching the Bobo doll on the nose.

Alternative Studies

Bandura collected his results using observers. An alternative method might have been to give all the children in his experiment a questionnaire to assess their views of the model’s behaviour.

1. Describe the use of questionnaires in Psychology. (5)
2. How could he have conducted an experiment with a similar aim, but using a self-report questionnaire? Write a description of the study, including the who, what, where, when and how. (10)
3. What would the advantages and disadvantages of such a design be, compared to the original?
Evaluate this new study in methodological and ethical terms.(10)

Other alternatives may be a naturalistic observation, a field study, a longitudinal study or a case study. Here are some likely possibilities:

Naturalistic Observation

Field Study

Big Issue/s: The BehaviouralApproach

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