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Friday, June 5, 2015

REVIEW: Albert Bandura


His 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. The film was then shown to a group of children. 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 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. Bandura termed this phenomena observational learning and characterized the elements of effective observational learning as attention, retention, reciprocation and motivation.
Behaviorism, with its emphasis on experimental methods, focuses on variables we can observe, measure, and manipulate, and avoids whatever is subjective, internal, and unavailable -- i.e. mental.  In the experimental method, the standard procedure is to manipulate one variable, and then measure its effects on another.  All this boils down to a theory of personality that says that one’s environment causes one’s behavior.

Bandura found this a bit too simplistic for the phenomena he was observing -- aggression in adolescents -- and so decided to add a little something to the formula:  He suggested that environment causes behavior, true; but behavior causes environment as well.  He labeled this concept reciprocal determinism:  The world and a person’s behavior cause each other.

Later, he went a step further.  He began to look at personality as an interaction among three “things:”  the environment, behavior, and the person’s psychological processes.  
Observational learning, or modeling
Of the hundreds of studies Bandura was responsible for, one group stands out above the others -- the bobo doll studies

He called the phenomenon observational learning or modeling, and his theory is usually called social learning theory.

1.  Attention.  If you are going to learn anything, you have to be paying attention.

Some of the things that influence attention involve characteristics of the model.  If the model is colorful and dramatic, for example, we pay more attention.  If the model is attractive, or prestigious, or appears to be particularly competent, you will pay more attention.  And if the model seems more like yourself, you pay more attention.

2.  Retention.  Second, you must be able to retain -- remember -- what you have paid attention to. 

3.  Reproduction.  At this point, you’re just sitting there daydreaming.

4.  Motivation.  And yet, with all this, you’re still not going to do anything unless you are motivated to imitate, i.e. until you have some reason for doing it.  Bandura mentions a number of motives:
a.  past reinforcement, ala traditional behaviorism.
b.  promised reinforcements (incentives) that we can imagine.
c.  vicarious reinforcement -- seeing and recalling the model being reinforced.

Of course, the negative motivations are there as well, giving you reasons not to imitate someone:
d.  past punishment.
e.  promised punishment (threats).
d.  vicarious punishment.

Bandura says that punishment in whatever form does not work as well as reinforcement and, in fact, has a tendency to “backfire” on us.

Self-regulation -- controlling our own behavior -- is the other “workhorse” of human personality.

1.  Self-observation.  We look at ourselves, our behavior, and keep tabs on it.
2.  Judgment.  We compare what we see with a standard.  For example, we can compare our performance with traditional standards, such as “rules of etiquette.”  Or we can create arbitrary ones, like “I’ll read a book a week.”  Or we can compete with others, or with ourselves.
3.  Self-response.  If you did well in comparison with your standard, you give yourself rewarding self-responses.  If you did poorly, you give yourself punishing self-responses.  These self-responses can range from the obvious (treating yourself to a sundae or working late) to the more covert (feelings of pride or shame).

A very important concept in psychology that can be understood well with self-regulation is self-concept (better known as self-esteem).

behaviorists generally view reinforcement as effective, and punishment as fraught with problems.  The same goes for self-punishment.  Bandura sees three likely results of excessive self-punishment:
a.  compensation -- a superiority complex, for example, and delusions of grandeur.
b.  inactivity -- apathy, boredom, depression.
c.  escape -- drugs and alcohol, television fantasies, or even the ultimate escape, suicide.

Bandura’s recommendations to those who suffer from poor self-concepts come straight from the three steps of self-regulation:
1.  Regarding self-observation -- know thyself!  Make sure you have an accurate picture of your behavior.
2.  Regarding standards -- make sure your standards aren’t set too high.  Don’t set yourself up for failure!  Standards that are too low, on the other hand, are meaningless.
3. Regarding self-response -- use self-rewards, not self-punishments.  Celebrate your victories, don’t dwell on your failures.

Self-control therapy
The ideas behind self-regulation have been incorporated into a therapy technique called self-control therapy.  It has been quite successful with relatively simple problems of habit, such as smoking, overeating, and study habits.

Modeling therapy
The therapy Bandura is most famous for, however, is modeling therapy.  The theory is that, if you can get someone with a psychological disorder to observe someone dealing with the same issues in a more productive fashion, the first person will learn by modeling the second.

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