Definition: A form of cognitive learning in which new responses are acquired after watching others' behavior and the consequences of their behavior.


This form of learning was used in Bandura's experiment to account for the children's aggressive behavior after observing and later imitating the aggression and satisfaction put on by role models. (Bobo doll experiment)

Quite Simply...

  • Copying the behavior of someone else after witnessing the behavior and its aftereffects.
  • You learn from observing the successes and failures of other people.
  • Monkey see Monkey do.
  • You see how to do it and then apply it. Like "copy paste".

Examples of Observatioal learning

  • If you observe a classmate always attending class and making good grades, you will be encouraged to attend class more often in the hopes that your grades will improve.
  • When a child rides in a car driven by a parent who always speeds, they will be more likely to speed when they learn to drive.
  • Watching your parents cook food and learning how to cook other types of food
  • Observational learning can occur when you see a coworker work hard on a project and receive a raise, as a result, you work harder in hopes to also obtain a raise.
  • While in elementary school, you realize the teacher made one of the other students change their "color" from green to blue because they were being disobedient and talking. Because you do not want to be punished, you choose to not talk to avoid having to change your own color.
  • When teaching a child how to play guitar the child watches the adult so that the child can copy what the adult just played.

Bobo The Doll Experiment conducted by Albert Bandura

After seeing adults seeming to enjoy violent acts (punching, kicking, and hitting) at an inflated plastic doll (Bobo doll), the children showed similar aggressive behavior towards the doll. These children were more aggressive than the control group that had not witnessed the violent adults.


  1. A weird experiment was done where they took two groups of Octopuses. One group of octopuses was trained to pick up a red object when put in front of both a red and blue object. The other group was not trained this way, but instead observed the trained group picking up the red object. When the observer octopi were given the objects, they also picked up the red one. In fact, they learned this skill quicker than the trained ones had. This observational learning kept on going without observation for a further 5 days wihtout then messing up.
  2. In 1963, an experiment was conducted by Albert Bandura to test how various types of reinforcement administered to a model (an adult on film) exhibiting aggressive behavior would affect the performance behavior of a group of children within a similar situation. The children were divided into three test groups in which they watched the model either being punished, rewarded, or recieve nothing at all for his aggressive behavior. As a result, the children who watched the model being punished exhibited far fewer incidents of mimicking the model's aggressive behavior than the children in the other two groups. However, when Bandura conducted another trail of the expereiment in which he rewarded all the children for mimicking the aggressive behavior of the model, all the children showed around the same amount of aggressive behavior incidents regardless of what test group they were previously in.
Bobo Picture

An experiment to test the effects of being exposed to media violence was conducted in 1996 by Huesmann and Bushman. The experimenters took both children and adults to test the effects of long term and short term exposure to violence. It was found that the longer a child was exposed to a violent act, the more aggressive they become. They also found that long term view of violent behavior was impacting the children they studied greater than it impacted the adults. This was caused by the amount of life experiences the human is exposed to. The younger a child is, the less capable they are to feel aggressive arousal from short term exposure to violence. On the other hand, adults had less of a reaction to long term exposure, and greater towards short term. This experiment exhibited that, through observational learning, children and adults are prone to aggressive behavior depending the amount of exposure.
Bushman, B. J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2006). Short-term and long-term effects of violent media on aggression in children and adults. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160(4), 348.

See Also

Social Learning-