Standing on a small path surrounded by trees, where the only noise is the occasional excited conversations of strangers passing by, the thunder of wood and metal clashing and my family screaming. My heart pounded as I waited, terrified of what could have happened to my family and how long it would take them to return to me. I looked up again at the sign of which I had tried so hard to avert my gaze: two huge paws with long claws appeared to be tearing apart the words that read, “The Beast”. I looked back down and thought, “If they survive this roller coaster, we are never coming back again.”
Carousels, face painting and food: this was my idea of a good time as a child spending the day at an amusement park. Unfortunately, my parents and older brother could only stand it for so long. They took to the more thrilling rides, while I opted to sit by myself and wait for them to get done. Roller coasters were always something I had a phobia of as a child, or according to Bandura, an irrational fear (Bandura, 1986). On this day at the amusement park, I got over my phobia of roller coasters and until now, I had never realized that it was through Bandura’s way of observational learning.
According to Bandura, observational learning is “watching someone else perform a behavior and then the observer performs a similar behavior in a similar situation” (Bandura, 1986). In my example, I watched my family have a great time while riding a roller coaster called, “The Beast” and realized that it is something I can also do without being afraid. However, this process was not as simple as it sounds. There are several components to observational learning, which include attention, retention, motor production, and motivation or opportunity.
According to Bandura, the first step, or attention is “the ability of the learner to actually observe the behavior in action” (Bandura, 1986). For the first step of overcoming my phobia, I waited outside of “The Beast” and observed my family ridind the roller coaster. Although it was a little hard to see my family on the roller coaster because of the turns and loops, there were a few points where their train was in my view and I could see them laughing and having a great time. Once they got off the coaster, they immediately asked me if I was ready to try going on one. This brought me to the second step in the process of observational learning.
According the Bandura, the second step, or retention, is “the ability to actually remember what one is observing” (Bandura, 1986). As I stood in line to board the roller coaster with my family, I saw a few upset children preparing to board, as well. In order to regain my own confidence, I needed to recall how much fun my family appeared to be having while riding the roller coaster. I stood in line as we waited and thought about how I should be excited because I was about to have a lot of fun, not afraid. I told myself that riding the roller coaster would be easy and fun because all I had to do was strap myself in and enjoy the ride. This brought me to the third part of observational learning.
According to Bandura, the third step, or motor reproduction is “the actual physical ability to engage in the behavior” (Bandura, 1986). Fortunately, riding a roller coaster does not take much aside from a height requirement and the ability to sit. I easily met both of those requirements, so this part of the learning process was not a problem for me. The final step quickly arrived as the train of the roller coaster screeched to a hault in front of my space in line.
This was the moment I had been waiting for. In order to accomplish the last step of observational learning, I had to have the motivation and opportunity to overcome my phobia. According to Bandura, this means that I needed to have the “desire and chance to engage in the set of behaviors and hone in on the skill set” (Bandura, 1986). The empty train car in front of me represented the opportunity to ride the roller coaster. As I declared, “Let’s do it!” to my family, this represented my motivation to finally overcome my phobia of riding roller coasters.
Nowadays, our family trips to amusement parks are much more exciting because we can all ride the rides together and bond over having fun doing the same things. It is strange to think back on events such as this in my past and realize that I was taking the steps of observational learning to overcome a phobia. Overcoming my phobia of roller coasters has opened the door to more exciting opportunities in life such as my senior year trip to Cedar Point and some of the most fun dates I have had with my husband.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.