Albert Bandura’s social learning theory “states that behavior is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning” (Bandura, 1977). It is Bandura’s belief that “humans are active information processors and think about the relationship between their behavior and its consequences” (Bandura, 1977). Furthermore, unless cognitive processes are at work, observational learning cannot occur (Bandura, 1977). Therefore, the same way a child can learn aggression from observation, they can also learn prejudice and in a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse, it’s essential that the appropriate actions, such as parental influence, are taken to reduce this prejudice as much as possible.
The famous Bobo doll experiment conducted by Bandura demonstrated the way “children observe the people behaving around them in various ways” (Bandura, 1961). The children observe individuals who were referred to as models. According to McLeod, “children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents within the family, characters on children’s TV, friends within their peer group and teachers at school” (McLeod, 2011). Mcleod further states that the children observe the models and “encode their behavior” (McLeod, 2011). Later on, children may copy the behavior that was previously observed. Children “may do this regardless of whether the behavior is ‘gender appropriate’ or not but there are a number of processes that make it more likely that a child will reproduce the behavior that its society deems appropriate for its sex” (McLeod, 2011).
Children learn prejudice and practice discrimination “through living in and observing a society where prejudice exists” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). For example, children may learn it from watching television, or reading books or magazines. Prejudice is defined as “attitudes or opinions about a person or group simply because the person belongs to a specific religion, race, nationality, or other group” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). Discrimination on the other hand is “when people act on the basis of their prejudices or stereotypes, they are discriminating” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). Children’s thoughts and feelings are significantly influenced by the people around them. Therefore, they may observe that “some people won’t associate with members of certain groups or that members of some groups rarely, if ever, occupy influential positions in the school or community” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.).
Sadly, “if no one addresses these instances of exclusion, a child may grow up thinking that this is the way it is supposed to be, and that people who have been discriminated against deserve this treatment because they are inferior in some way” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). Therefore, it is crucial for the issues of prejudice and discrimination to be addressed when and where they happen to express injustices “and to let children know such ideas and actions are unacceptable in a democratic society” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). Some ways parents can help their children with regards to prejudice include: “help[ing] [there] children become sensitive to other people’s feelings, make sure [there] children understand that prejudice and discrimination are unfair, [or to] teach [there] children respect and appreciation for differences by providing opportunities for interaction with people of diverse groups” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.).
The social learning theory involves adopting someone else’s behavior. So this can mean that a child can adopt good behavior from a model such as holding the door open for someone or bad behavior, such as prejudice and discrimination. With the United States becoming so diverse, it’s even more important for children to “get along with people from varied backgrounds and abilities” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.). In order for this to occur, children must be prepared “to live and work harmoniously and productively alongside others who represent various and many racial cultural groups, backgrounds and abilities in our society” (What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination, n.d.).
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1961).Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-82.
McLeod, S. (2011, January 1). Bobo Doll Experiment | Simply Psychology. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html
What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice and Discrimination: Printable Version. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://archive.adl.org/what_to_tell/print.html