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Albert Bandura

Personal Life

Having lived a life that has influenced many by revolutionising how behaviour is viewed and understood, Albert Bandura’s greatest joy today comes from playing with his twin grandsons Andy and Tim. Not that Bandura has slowed down in his golden years for he still makes the occasional contribution to Psychological journals and is presently the David Starr Jordan professor of Social Sciences in psychology at Stanford University, but that he continues to be a easy going “jovial” man, which playing with his grandsons reaffirms (Biography Sketch, par. 32)  

This modern icon of psychology was born in Mundare Alberta Canada on the 4th of December 1925. He was the ‘baby’, an only boy in a house of six children. Bandura went to school in a town that had meagre resources. This disadvantage affected) the educational system as well, as the elementary and high school, housed in the same building, were the only schools in town. Furthermore there were only two teachers and students were essentially left to ensure their own education. This would be come the underlying event for his future theories.

Bandura went to the University of British Columbia and had only embarked on a course of psychology by chance.  He travelled to school with persons who all had early classes and he noticed that a psychology course would fill his early gap, so he took it and eventually decided to focus on the area. In 1949 he graduated with the school’s psychology award. He went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where on the golf course –by chance—he met Virginia Varns. The two would later marry and have two daughters Carol and Mary.


Theory & Work

Bandura graduated from the University of Iowa with a PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1952 and in the following year took a faculty position at Stanford University. He found the school’s environment much to his liking and has remained there to this day.  Shortly after his arrival, along with one of his PhD candidates, he began field research into social learning and aggression. At that time it was already established that broken homes were a major contributor to aggressive behaviour but an explanation of why boys who appear to be subjected to sociological or constitutional disadvantage exhibit antisocial behaviour had eluded researchers (Bandura, 1959).

            Their research entitled the “Role of Modelling in Human Behaviour” allowed Bandura and his student to observe that the antisocial aggressive boys had parents who exhibited hostile attitudes. From this study they concluded that aggressive behaviours were fostered through parental observation (Bandura 1959; Albert Bandura, 2002; Biographical Sketch).

            This study fuelled Bandura’s thirst to understand how behaviours developed and he went on to head the “Bobo Doll” experiment. Children were allowed to watch a short film in wherein someone –the model—interacted aggressively with a plastic doll. The study consisted of 3 conditions: one wherein the model was rewarded for her aggressive behaviour, another in which she was punished and the third where the she receive neither punishment nor reward. (Albert Bandura 2002; Liebert & Liebert, 1998; Biographical Sketch). The children received treats followed by the promise of more if they could reproduce the model’s behaviour (Libert & Liebert, 1998). The results were astounding, 88% accurately imitated the aggressive behaviour and even eight months later 40% were still able to replicate what they had seen. (Isom, 1998).

            This reinforced Bandura’s hypothesis that aggression and by extension most, if not all, behaviours are learnt through observation. He continued by saying not only do we learn how to act by observation but we also learn when and where to act and the consequences of those actions. In the Bobo Doll study children who saw the model punished for her behaviours were far more reluctant to reproduce the images than those who saw the model rewarded. This he called vicarious consequences because the subject saw what could happen to him or her if he repeated the behaviour.

            Some psychologists have stated that the Bobo Doll experiment lacked validity since the children had to be bribed to mimic the models actions (Isom, 1998). Nevertheless the fact that they were able to so “precisely” duplicate the model’s actions illustrate that the children had actually learned the behaviour (Liebert and Liebert, 1998, p. 339), devoid of reinforcement and conditioning.

Bandura used these two experiments as evidence and base for his expounding on social learning theory. Until Bandura’s contribution, Social Learning entailed only Classical Conditioning: wherein individuals learn via stimulus and response, and Operant conditioning that asserts individuals learn through a process of trial and error. As Santrock (1999) points out neither of these would indicate how most individuals learn to drive. As a result, Bandura proposed that individuals learn by watching and listening to others then imitating that which they have seen and heard. This theory is known as Observational Learning or Modelling. Modelling requires that the individual pays attention to the behaviour, retains the act and then reproduce it (Albert Bandura, 2002). However, he noted that for the behaviour to be imitated the individual must be motivated.

Preceding Bandura’s contribution to Social Learning, the theory gave a one-way picture in that, only the environment impacted on behaviour. Bandura theorized that learning is a two-way street, and as such while the environment impacts on behaviour, behaviour also impacts on the environment. Bandura continued to develop his ideas, and in the mid 1980s he renamed the theory Social Cognitive Theory in order to incorporate the individual’s cognitive contribution to his learning process. This new variable he called the PERSON. Its addition created a three-part model—of the environment, behaviour and person—that facilitated reciprocal interrelationships between them (Kaplan, Sallis & Patterson, 1993; Albert Bandura, 2002).

The Person variable contains the key factor self-efficacy or self-belief. Self –efficacy is the individual’s belief in his ‘ability… and competence to perform the behaviour.’ In essence, Bandura argued that people would most likely part-take in activity they feel comfortable and confident enough to produce. So while the individual may observe an action, if he does not feel he can justly reproduce it then the chances that he will engaging in that activity is greatly reduced (Kaplan, Sallis & Patterson, p.51). Therefore for Bandura self-efficacy is a good determinant of behaviour.

Personality, as defined by Liebert and Liebert (1998), is ‘the unique, dynamic organisation of characteristics of a particular person, physical and psychological, which influence behaviour and responses to the social and physical environment’ (p. 5-6). With regards to personality and its development, Bandura believes human behaviour is shaped through social learning and that we are not ‘ simply pawns of the environment,’ but we are ‘able to think, manipulate or regulate their own behaviour.’ And ‘in fact, a theory of personality must take into account the social contexts in which behaviour is acquired and maintained” (Albert Bandura, 2002 par. 59).

Following this notion, Bandura’s work in the area of aggression was ground breaking, for he saw television as a source behaviour modelling and cautioned that it may generate a brutal reality that affect children’s personality as well as transforms them into aggressive adults. While some applauds his efforts, others criticise his generalisations. Biological theorists, especially, criticize him for absolutely disregarding that some persons biological make up predisposes them to violent behaviours. And while some may view violent behaviours—on television or otherwise—and replicate it, others regardless of incentives offered, will not (Albert Bandura, 2002).

            Despite criticisms Social Learning and particularly the Social Cognitive are the principal behavioural theories in criminology today. This demonstrate that Bandura’s theories not only carry weight but that they are dominant as well. But despite the many honours and accolades he has remained a humble man whose favour past time is playing with his grandsons.

 It is absolutely clear that his years in a town with scares resources, in which he was forced to take responsibility for his own learning echoed through his life—his coincidental stumble in to the field of psychology—and into his work—the modelling theory which is based on vicarious or chance observation. Like most theorist his life has much influenced the explanations he has generated.



“Albert Bandura” (2002, January 6). Top biography. [Online serial]. Retrieved October 19, 2002

from the World Wide Web: index1.asp.

Albert Bandura: Biographical sketch [33 paragraphs]. [Abstract]. Retrieved October 19, 2002

from the World Wide Web:

Bandura, A., & Walters, R. (1959). Adolescent aggression: A study of the influence of child-

training practices and family interrelationships. New York: Ronald Press.

Isom, M. (1998, November 30). Social learning theory [19 paragraphs]. [Abstract]. Retrieved

October 19, 2002 from the World Wide Web: ttp:// bandura.htm.       

Kaplan, R., Sallis, J., & Patterson, T. (1993). Health and human behaviour. United States of

America: McGraw-Hill, Inc

Liebert, R., & Liebert, L. (1998). Liebert & Spiegler’s personality: Strategies and issues. United

States of America: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

Santrock, J. W. (2000). Psychology. United States of America: Mcgraw-Hil.


On Education:

The content of most textbooks is perishable, but the tools of self-directedness serve one well over time.”


On Personality:

Coping with the demands of everyday life would be exceedingly trying if one could arrive at solutions to problems only by actually performing possible options and suffering the consequences” (operant conditioning)


On Learning:

"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. Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling : from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. Because people can learn from example what to do, at least in approximate form, before performing any behaviour, they are spared needless errors."











(Source: Albert Bandura, 2002)



  1. The social learn theory was comprised of what two learning theories in the pre-Bandura era.
  2. Name a turning point in Bandura’s life.
  3. Bandura’s theory added what element to the social learning theory and by extension behaviourism.
  4. Aggression, like most behaviour, is learnt through _________.
  5. What event in his life most influenced his theory?