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Albert Bandura

American psychologist whose work is concentrated in the area of social learning theory.

Albert Bandura was born in the province of Alberta, Canada, and received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Iowa, focusing on social learning theories in his studies with Kenneth Spence and Robert Sears. Graduating in 1952, Bandura completed a one-year internship at the Wichita Guidance Center before accepting an appointment to the department of psychology at Stanford University, where he has remained throughout his career. In opposition to more radical behaviorists, Bandura considers cognitive factors as causal agents in human behavior. His area of research, social cognitive theory, is concerned with the interaction between cognition, behavior, and the environment.

Much of Bandura's work has focused on the acquisition and modification of personality traits in children, particularly as they are affected by observational learning, or modeling, which, he argues, plays a highly significant role in the determination of subsequent behavior. While it is common knowledge that children learn by imitating others, little formal research was done on this subject before Neal Miller and John Dollard published Social Learning and Imitation in 1941. Bandura has been the single figure most responsible for building a solid empirical foundation for the concept of learning through modeling, or imitation. His work, focusing particularly on the nature of aggression, suggests that modeling plays a highly significant role in determining thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Bandura claims that practically anything that can be learned by direct experience can also be learned by modeling. Moreover, learning by modeling will occur although neither the observer nor the model is rewarded for performing a particular action, in contrast

Albert Bandura (Archives of the History of American Psychology. Reproduced with permission.)

to the behaviorist learning methods of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, with their focus on learning through conditioning and reinforcement. However, it has been demonstrated that punishment and reward can have an effect on the modeling situation. A child will more readily imitate a model who is being rewarded for an act than one who is being punished. Thus, the child can learn without actually being rewarded or punished himself—a concept known as vicarious learning. Similarly, Bandura has shown that when a model is exposed to stimuli intended to have a conditioning effect, a person who simply observes this process, even without participating in it directly, will tend to become conditioned by the stimuli as well.

Based on his research, Bandura has developed modeling as a therapeutic device. The patient is encouraged to modify his or her behavior by identifying with and imitating the behavior of the therapist. Although modeling was first studied in relation to children, it has been found to be effective in treating phobias in adults as well. The patient watches a model in contact with a feared object, at first under relatively non-threatening conditions. The patient is encouraged to perform the same actions as the model, and the situation is gradually made more threatening until the patient is able to confront the feared object or experience on his or her own.

Bandura has also focused on the human capacity for symbolization, which can be considered a type of inverse modeling. Using their symbolic capacities, people construct internal models of the world which provide an arena for planning, problem-solving, and reflection and can even facilitate communication with others. Another area of social cognition theory explored by Bandura is self-regulatory activity, or the ways in which internal standards affect motivation and actions. He has studied the effects of beliefs people have about themselves on their thoughts, choices, motivation levels, perseverance, and susceptibility to stress and depression. Bandura is the author of many books, including Adolescent Aggression (1959), Social Learning and Personality (1963), Principles of Behavior Modification (1969), Aggression (1973), Social Learning Theory (1977), and Social Foundations of Thought and Action (1985).

See also Modeling

Further Reading

Decker, Philip J. Behavior Modeling Training. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists