Bandura’s BOBO DOLL Experiment: Unveiling Child Aggression

Bandura’s BOBO DOLL Experiment: Unveiling Child Aggression


Wondering why your child has started indulging in violent behaviours? Why are their modus operandi in terms of overt and covert behaviour more about displaying aggression? Lashing out on petty issues, involving in verbal spats, trying to attack the significant other or using slang. One valid answer to the aforementioned question is their exposure to aggressive plots and individuals in day-to-day life, that is, the social settings in which they are an integral part as children are highly vulnerable to learning aggressive behaviours via imitation.

What is Aggression?

An aggression motive is a psychological drive or inclination in which an individual displays a propensity towards engaging in behaviours that can cause harm or injury to others. Manifestation of aggressive behaviour can range from physical aggression, verbal aggression, instrumental aggression, hostile aggression etc.

Aggressive Behaviour – Innate or Acquired

It has always been an area of interest in Behavioral Sciences to find out and understand the mechanics of aggression motive and to an certain whether it is inborn or learnt. Sigmund Freud held that aggression stems mainly from a powerful death wish or instinct ( Thanatos) possessed by all persons claiming aggression motive to be purely inborn.

Read More: Father of Psychoanalysis: A Deep Dive into the Life of Sigmund Freud

The biological perspective holds that aggression is genetically endowed. More than higher levels of testosterone have also been blamed for the higher levels of aggression in an individual. However, the most plausible, effective and logical explanation was presented by Albert Bandura who propounded the Social Learning Theory and maintained that aggression is an acquired motive and can be directly learnt merely by observing others engaged in aggressive behaviours. Out of all, children are more prone to acquire aggressive traits as a mode of expression via imitation and observation.

Read More: How does the media influence aggression?

The BOBO DOLL experiment and Aggression Motive

To establish his Social Learning Theory of Aggression, Bandura came up with a social experiment, which was based on the notion that young children who are exposed to adults’ aggression, tend to behave aggressively.

In these experiments, children observed adults, in vivo or in vitro, as well as cartoons, behaving aggressively toward a large, inflated doll (clown) named “Bobo doll”, for about 10 min. The findings of these studies are considered to support modelling, observational learning, or learning by imitation and provide evidence for Bandura’s social learning theory, which belongs to the behaviourism paradigm.

Read More: Social Psychology: The Landscape of Human Interaction

The results from Bandura’s experiment conveyed the following :
  1. Observing an aggressive model is sufficient to elicit aggressive behaviour and responses in young children. It does not require a model to be familiar.
  2. Since punishment does not follow the models of aggressive acts. The ultimate message received by the children is that aggression is acceptable.
  3. Positive reinforcement is not required to reinforce the aggressive behaviour of both.
  4. When children are exposed to aggressive models virtually, they tend to immediately in their behaviour
  5. Imitation can be enforced by observing children showcasing verbal or physically aggressive acts that are very similar to those of the models.
  6. Not only the exact in accurate behavior is imitated by the children but they also display ingenuity, manifesting different and novice acts of aggression.
  7. Delayed imitation which is imitating the aggressive acts of the model even when it is absent is also shown by children via generalization.
  8. Gender plays a crucial role in the display of aggression. Boys tend to exhibit more physical aggression than girls after observing the aggressive model, while no difference was recorded for verbal aggression.
  9. Inflexion of punishment to a model for aggressive behaviour potentially reduces aggressive behaviour in children.
  10. Contrary to punishment, if positive reinforcement or reinforcement is given, it tends to increase aggressive behaviour via vicarious or indirect learning.

Read More: Violent video games and Aggression in young children

Implications of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Bandura’s social learning theory suggests that aggression can be learned through observation and imitation of others. This implies that exposure to aggressive models, such as in media or real-life situations, can contribute to the development of aggressive behaviour in individuals. Additionally, the theory emphasizes the role of reinforcement and punishment in shaping aggressive tendencies, highlighting the importance of consequences in the learning process. Overall, the implications underscore the significance of social influences in the acquisition and expression of aggressive behaviours.

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Generalization also plays a critical role in the social learning of aggressive behaviour as it keeps on growing indirectly. This inspired research and interventions and raised public awareness about the effects of children’s exposure to violence (e.g., through media). These experiments are still regarded to provide indisputable evidence, using a “rigorous experimental design”, for young children’s vulnerability to adults’ violence. They also illustrate that, from early on, humans are capable of abusive acts, and that these acts can be easily provoked. Therefore, the work of civilization is to undertake every action to protect children from the transmission of violence.

Read More: Microaggressions and Their Health Impacts

Though Bandura tried to solely concentrate on the very cause of aggression in young children to be acquired through social models or observation, other plausible reasons may also be held accountable for the display of aggressive behaviour viz biological or genetic. Many scientific studies have shown certain biological aspects to be responsible for aggression. One out of several more than the highest levels of testosterone in an individual may turn him/her into a severely aggressive person. Also, it can be genetically endowed, yet may not get displayed until any trigger from the environment is received.

Whether inborn, biological or genetically endowed, environment or social setting is critical for the outward expression of aggression. The social environment has such intense properties that it can tone down or spurt up the articulation of aggressive responses. Especially young children who are more susceptible to learning from observing behaviour patterns and later imitating them. Specifically, aggression can have a horrific and lasting impact on their lives and hamper their growth adversely.

As a precaution, we need to be more aware of our immediate environment and to what kind of stimuli are we exposing our kids to.

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