It’s your first day at Salsa class and you’re one among the many who has no idea how to get along with the foot work. Therefore, you lag behind relative to the ones who are pro in it.
Or, it’s your first day in a foreign land that is not only unfamiliar in terms of people, food and culture but also in terms of language.
Many of us encounter such situations on day to day basis and hence try to cope by observing other people around.
We try to adapt the new environment by observing the actions of the other people and try to take in information through observation. This is observational learning which is the third form of learning after classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
This article talks about what is observational learning, principles of observational learning and some practical applications of this type of learning.
What is Observational Learning?
When an individual obtains new information, types of behavior or other complex concepts by observing the actions of other people as well as the outcomes that they experience, they learn through observation.
Thus, observational learning is the third most important way through which an individual learns in his day to day life.
This form of learning plays a vital role in influencing almost every aspect of our behavior. Many studies have been carried out that suggest the very existence of this form of learning.
Who Proposed Observational Learning?
The concept of Observational Learning was proposed by Albert Bandura through a series of research papers emphasizing social learning theory.
Observational Learning Experiments: The Famous Bobo Doll Experiment
The most known of all of them is the ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment. In this experiment, the nursery school children who were a part of the experiment were divided into two groups.
The first group observed an adult engaging with a large inflated bobo doll in an aggressive manner. That is, the adult was knocking the doll, abusing it verbally, sitting on it time and again and punching the doll in the nose.
While the other group of children saw an adult, who was quite calm and was not behaving aggressively with the bobo doll. After a while, both the groups of children were made to sit in a room full of toys including a bobo doll.
After careful observation, it came to the forefront that the children who saw the adult behaving with the bobo doll aggressively imitated his behavior. They too punched the doll, abused it verbally, knocked it down and sat on it, just like the aggressive doll.
Whereas, the children who saw the adult who was quite calm and was not behaving violently with the doll did not go aggressive with it.
This might not seem extraordinary, but this fact plays a significant role whether children acquire traits of aggression or violence while exposing themselves to violent video games and television programs.
But before we discuss on this aspect, let’s try to understand some basic principles behind the working of observational learning.
Basic Principles of Observational Learning
As the evidence suggests, individuals acquire new information through observational learning.
But the question here is that what are the various factors and conditions that help in determining whether an individual acquires new information, behaviors or concepts from others and to what extent.
Accordingly, there are four factors that help in determining the very existence of observational learning and its extent.
The first factor that affects observational learning is the extent to which an individual focuses his or her attention on the behaviour of other people performing an activity provided such people act as appropriate models.
By appropriate models we mean that such persons are either pro in what they do or are attractive or showcase behaviors that seem relevant to the needs and goals of the individual observing such persons.
This means that an individual does not choose people acting a models randomly.
The second factor affecting observation learning refers to the capability of an individual to remember or retain a representation of actions or behaviors of other people in his or her memory.
This means once an individual observes the actions of other people, he must be able to remember what other people have done or said.
It is because only if an individual retains the actions of other people in his memory, he would be able to acquire new information from such actions, or perform such actions in near future.
(iii) Production Processes
The next factor impacting observational learning refers to the capability of an individual to act on the memory representations that he has regarding acquired through observing other people.
That is, he should be able to convert such memory representations into suitable actions. Such a process in observational learning is known as production process. Now, the production process depends upon two factors:
- The physical capability of an individual to perform a behavior that he has learnt through observation. This is because if an an individual is not physically fit to perform such behavior, then having a clear representation of such a memory would be of no use.
- The capability of an individual to monitor his performance and modify the same until it equates to the behavior he learnt via observing the appropriate model.
Finally, motivation also plays an important role in determining whether an individual would require new information through observational learning and put it into practice.
There are times when an individual may acquire new information by observing the behavior of other people. But such an individual may not put such learnt behaviors or actions into practice into their own behavior.
This is because the individual may not be in need of such information.
Say for instance, you come across an advertisement of Mexican food master class on social media that is of no use to as you do not want toe learn cooking Mexican food.
Besides the non- usefulness of the acquired information, the behaviors observed by an individual may lead such a person to high risk zone or such behaviors may seem objectionable to an individual.
Say for instance, your best friend is smoking weed and asking you to take a drag. Since such an action seems objectionable to you, you feel repulsive to undertake such activity.
This means that if the new acquired information is of some use to the individual, then only such individual would put such information into practice.
Thus, we can see that observational learning is a complex process and plays an important role in impacting many aspects of human behavior.
Perhaps, the most widely discussed area where human behavior gets impacted through observational learning is the aggression in adults and children when exposed to violent movies or TV programs for a long period of time.
Observational Learning and Aggression
The most debated idea in the field of psychology is whether children learn aggression by observing actions of other people.
There have been many instances in the real world that suggest that children learn violence by watching television shows or movies depicting aggression and violence.
For instance, shootings in schools undertaken by young children compels such experts to suggest that the violence and aggression depicted in TV programs were responsible for such young children resorting to killing.
But the question here arises that just watching violence or aggression on television lead people to commit such violent acts? As per a research it is suggested that aggression may be learned through observational learning.
It is alleged that when young children and adults observe new ways of violence or aggression against other people, that is, the ways of expressing aggression they have not seen before, may add to their current pool of behaviors.
Eventually, when they get frustrated or irritated on any issue, they may use such behaviors as an attack against other people.
Impact Of Violence Is More On Aggressive Individuals
Another set of studies also reveal that the negative impact of exposure to violence is more prominent in individuals who are by nature quite aggressive as compared to their equivalents who are not aggressive.
As per the journal of personality and social psychology by Brad J Bushman, participants who got a higher score on the traits that captured aggressive tendencies of the participants were more inclined towards choosing a more violent film and had a greater probability of feeling angry after watching the movie.
Furthermore, they were also more likely to act violently after watching the aggression in the movies as compared to their non-aggressive fellows.
Other Ways In Which Aggression Impacts Human Behavior
Besides this, if individuals are exposed to violent media, be it movies or television programs, it impacts their behavior in some other ways as well.
For instance, violent content showcased on various types of media spreads a message that it is an acceptable way to handle interpersonal challenges.
This is because if the protagonists in the broadcasting media can adopt such a violent behavior, then it is certainly possible that the audience viewing such a violence can also behave violently with other people.
In addition to this, such violent media content makes viewers believe that violence in reality persists more often than not. Also, the violent media content makes viewers feeling less towards aggression and its harmful effects.
That is, the outcomes of violent acts seem less objectionable to the viewers. Therefore, such effects together with newly acquired information and behaviors through observational learning may lead individuals exposing themselves to violent media content to act more aggressively with other people.
It is important to note, however, that all research findings do not lead to the same conclusion. In some studies it was showcased that when individuals were exposed to violent media content, its effects were modest.
Observational Learning Examples
Here are some example from day to day life where observation learning is applied:
- A major challenge encountered by teenagers and adolescents is use of drugs. May young children the very habit of consuming drugs by observing their friends or family members consuming the same. This is one of the most prominent aspects in human behavior that gets impacted through observational learning.
- As mentioned above, shootings carried out by young children in schools is another instance that suggests learning through observing violence or aggression in movies or TV programs. Children acquire new information or behaviors, that is the ones which they have not seen or experienced before and hence make use of such behaviors with others when they feel irritated or frustrated.
- Couples who are violent with each other, either physically or verbally, influence the behavior of their kids in a negative way. Since kids are exposed to observing violence consistently, they become emotionless and are bound to acquire aggression, frustration and are often observed answering back or behaving aggressively with their parents.
- A trip to a foreign land that is unfamiliar not only in terms of food, culture and people but also in terms of language often makes people palpable. However, when they are exposed to a new culture for a relatively long period of time, they learn to adapt to such a culture by observing people around them.
- Many companies are preparing its employees to handle different cultures so that they have the capability to interact with people coming from different cultures having their own customs and lifestyles. This they are able to achieve through experiential approach based on behavioral modeling.
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