Bandura et al - Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models

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Bandura et al (1961)

Transmission of Aggression Through Imitation of Aggressive Models

Background and Context

Behaviouists suggest all behaviours can be explained in terms of learning from the environment. Bandura developed the concept of Social Learning Theory based on behaviourist principles. Social Learning Theory is the name given to the claim that people can learn through observation and then subsequently imitated these observed behaviours.

Key Terms and Definitions

Imitation - Copying behaviour

Bobo Doll - A toy which bounces back when hit

Inter-rater reliability - 2 or more observers checking the results

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Bandura et al (1961)

Aims and Hypotheses

Aim - Whether children would imitate aggressive behaviour when given the oppurtunity, even if they saw these behaviours in a different environment and the original model they observed performing the aggressive act was no longer present.

Hypotheis 1 - Subjects exposed to aggressive models would produce aggressive acts resembeling those of their models. 

Hypothesis 2 - Observation of non-aggressive models would have a generalised inhibiting effect on the subjects' subsuquent behaviour.

Hypothesis 3 - Subjects would imitate the behaviour of a same-sex model to a greater degree than a model of the opposite sex.

Hypothesis 4 - Boys should be more pre-disposed than girls toward imitating aggression.

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Bandura et al (1961)

Research Methods

Experiment - Lab



Lab - A standardised procedure with IV's and DV's

Observation - Their behaviour was watched and analysed.


72 children aged 37-69 months (average age 52months) 

36 boys, 36 girls aged 3-5 years (average age 4 years 4 months)

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Sampling Methods



To control participant variables, before the experiment they were assessed individually assessed for their aggressiveness levels. They were rated by the experimenter and a nursery school teacher. They were measured by the extent of their

- Physical Aggression

- Verbal Aggression

- Aggression towards inanimate objects

- Holding back aggression (inhibition)

There was high level of inter-rater reliability between the two observers scores. Meaning they were consistent with eachothers scores.

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Bandura et al (1961)

Experimental Design

Matched - As they had been their aggression assessed and arranged into triplets based on these scores. This illiminated any individual differences.


- The behaviour of model (Aggressive or not)

- The gender of the model (Male or Female)

- The gender of the child

Model Conditions

- Aggressive female model       - Aggressive male model

- Non aggressive female model       - Non aggrestive male model

- No model

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Bandura et al (1961) - Experiment

Procedure - In each condition, the children went (individually) through three stages

1) Each child was taken into a room and shown toys on a table, the model had their own table and either behaved a- aggressivly, punching, kicking and shouting verbal aggression etc b- ignored bobo and played with different toys c- there was no model in the room. 10mins.

2) Children were then taken into a smaller room with some attractive toys and told these toys were for other children and they couldn't plat with them. This was done to equally annoy the children before stage 3 (mild aggressive arousal). 2 mins.

3) A room with a controlled set of toys including some aggressive toys (guns) and non aggressive toys (farm animals) and bobo. They were being observed the whole time through a one way mirror. 20 minutes.


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Bandura et al (1961) - Experiment


- Children matched for aggression level

- Same rooms used

- Same toys in the room

- Same timings in all the rooms

- Model behaves in the same way

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Bandura et al (1961) - Experiment

Observation Catagories

Through the one-way mirror a record was made every 5 seconds by the behaviour of each child. There were 3 response measures...

1) Imitative behaviour - Of phyical aggression, verbal aggression and non-aggressive behaviour

2) Partically imitative behaviour

- Mallet, hitting other toys with the mallet

- Sits on bobo, doesn't act directly aggressive towards bobo

3) Non imitative aggressive behaviour 

- Non imitative physical and verbal aggression, this includes other acts of aggression not shown by the model.

- Aggressive gun play, pretending to shoot a toy gun

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Bandura et al (1961) - Experiment



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Bandura et al (1961) - Experiment

Qualitative Findings

- Children are more likely to present aggressive behaviour if someone presents it to them.

- Boys are more likely to imitate physical aggression.

- Girls are more likely to imitate verbal aggression.


The children learn social behaviours (both aggressive and non-aggressive) through observation learning (Social Learning Theory).

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Bandura et al (1961) - Evaluation


All children attened Stanford University Nursery in the USA. Children were from middle class backgrounds so parenting styles may be similar.

Ethics Upheld

Consent - Gatekeeper of staff gave consent for the experiment, also the nursery was an experimental nursery where experiments were used often on the children.

Confidentuality - Childrens names/detils weren't published.

Ethics Broken

Informed Consent - No permission from the parents.

Harm - May make the children aggressive e.g. taking the toys away (aggressive arousal)

Deception / Debrief - No permission / explanation of the study to the parents

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Bandura et al (1961) - Evaluation

Reliability Internal

The procedure was standardised and and had controls. It was replicated by many children in different sub-catagories.

Reliability External

The sample was not big enough to establish a reliable effect, there was not enough children for each condition.

Internal Validity

Overall the results supported social learning theory, although there could be other influences e.g. aggressivness relating to biology.

External Validity

The experiment didn't relate to a real life situation because children usually do not, play on their own in nursery, have toys taken away from them and there were unfamiliar people.

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Bandura et al (1961) - Evaluation


Cultural views on gender roles and how children are brought up may change the overall results (so is ethnocentric). But children will imitate behaviour from others so should not matter.

Relation to developmental area

Shows how children learn and what they are likely to copy

Relation to external influences on children's behaviour

Models can be very influencial on children. Our social environment is a major influence on us.


Nature vs Nurture - Imitation is a natural reaction.

Usefulness - Recommend to not show children violence which they may imitate.

Freewill vs Determination - Imitation is a reaction which is determined and not freewill.

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