Careful Your Children Are Watching: Observational Learning

As adults, we’ve all slipped up and said a bad word in front of child. A car cuts us off during traffic, we forget something at home or we simply drop something and out comes the explicit language. Unfortunately for some, the next day the child also drops something and out comes the F- bomb! This is a basic example of observational learning. Children may not only repeat bad language, but can also learn other negative behaviors, such as aggression, from watching adults.

American psychologist, Albert Bandura, chose to focus on the how these aggressive behaviors are learned. During the 1960’s he completed several studies, collectively known as the Bobo Doll Experiments. (Bandura 1977) Bandura established 3 groups of children ages 3 to 6 years old. The groups were distinct in which model they were to be shown, aggressive, non-aggressive, or no model (control group). Each group was placed in a room that contained several toys including the BoBo doll. The aggressive model hit, kicked & shouted at the doll. The non-aggressive model did not engage with doll at all. The control group was not exposed to a model at all. Bandura’s experiment also measured aggression arousal and delayed imitation.

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As predicted, the children who had been shown the aggressive model also acted aggressively towards the Bobo doll when left alone to play. The experiment supported Bandura’s social learning theory. That is that children learn through watching the behaviors of others. (McLeod 2014)

So before you lose your cool in front of a child, remember you serve as a teacher. Children are constantly watching and learning behaviors, both positive and negative, from adults.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McLeod, S. A. (2014). Bobo doll experiment. Retrieved from


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