Bobo doll experiment

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Bobo doll experiment

The Bobo doll experiment (or experiments) is the collective name for a series of experiments performed by psychologist Albert Bandura to test his social learning theory. Between 1961 and 1963, he studied the behavior of children after they watched an adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll. The most notable variation of the experiment measured the children's behavior after seeing the adult model rewarded, punished, or experience no consequence for physically abusing the Bobo doll.[1]

The social learning theory proposes that people learn largely through observation, imitation, and modeling. It demonstrates that people learn not only by being rewarded or punished, but they can also learn from watching someone else being rewarded or punished. These studies have practical implications, such as providing evidence of how children can be influenced by watching violent media. [1]

Experiment of 1961[edit]


Diagram of a bobo doll

The participants in these experiments consisted of 72 children from the Stanford University nursery school between the ages of 37 months and 69 months.[2] For the experiments, a third of the children were exposed to an aggressive model and another third were exposed to a non-aggressive model. The rest of the participants formed the control group.

For the experiment, each child was exposed to the scenario individually, so as not to be influenced or distracted by classmates. The first part of the experiment involved bringing a child and the adult model into a playroom. In the playroom, the child was seated in one corner filled with appealing activities such as stickers and stamps. The adult model was seated in another corner with a toy set, a mallet, and an inflatable Bobo doll. Before leaving the room, the experimenter explained to the child that the toys in the adult corner were only for the adult to play with.

During the aggressive model scenario, the adult would begin to play with the Bobo doll, then would start to show aggressive behavior towards the doll. Examples of this aggressive behavior include hitting or punching the Bobo doll and using the toy mallet to hit the Bobo doll in the face. The aggressive model would also verbally assault the Bobo doll yelling "Sock him," "Hit him down," "Kick him," "Throw him in the air," or "Pow". After a period of about 10 minutes, the experimenter came back into the room, dismissed the adult model, and took the child into another playroom. The non-aggressive adult model simply played with other toys for the entire 10-minute period. In this situation, the Bobo doll was completely ignored by the model, then the child was taken out of the room.

The next stage of the experiment was performed with the child and experimenter in another room filled with interesting toys such as trucks, dolls, and a spinning top. The child was invited to play with them. After 2 minutes of play time, the child was then told that they were no longer allowed to play with the toys because they were reserved for other children. This was done in order to build frustration. They were told they could instead play with the toys in the experimental room (the aggressive and non-aggressive toys). In the experimental room the child was allowed to play for 20 minutes while an experimenter evaluated the child's play.

The first measure recorded was based on physical aggression such as punching, kicking, sitting on the Bobo doll, hitting it with a mallet, and tossing it around the room. The second measure recorded was verbal aggression. The judges counted each time the children imitated the aggressive adult model and recorded their results. The third measure was the number of times the mallet was used to display other forms of aggression than hitting the doll. The final measure included modes of aggression shown by the child that were not direct imitation of the role-model's behavior.[3]


Bandura found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to pursue physically aggressive behavior than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. [4] The results concerning gender differences strongly satisfied Bandura's prediction that children are more influenced by same-sex models. Results also showed that boys exhibited more aggression when exposed to aggressive male models than aggressive female models. While the results for the girls show similar findings, they were less drastic.

Bandura also found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in verbally aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. The number of imitative verbal aggressions exhibited by the boys was much more than by the girls.[4] Additionally, the results indicated that the boys and girls who observed the non-aggressive model exhibited much less non-imitative mallet aggression than those in the control group, which did not have a model. Lastly, the evidence demonstrates that males tend to be more aggressive than females. When all instances of aggression are tallied, males exhibited 270 aggressive instances compared to 128 aggressive instances exhibited by females.[5]

Experiment of 1963: Live vs. Filmed Models[edit]


For his 1963 study, Albert Bandura wanted to vary his original 1961 study by seeing if there were any differences in imitated aggressive behavior after witnessing a filmed or cartoon model compared to a live model.[6] He also wished to see if children watching aggressive behavior from a filmed or cartoon model would experience a cathartic effect, or in other words if they would experience a release of aggressive emotions from seeing an model carrying out aggressive behaviors.[7]


For the experiment, 96 children, 48 girls and 48 boys, from the Stanford University nursery were divided into three groups. The first group watched a live model become aggressive towards a Bobo doll. The second group watched a movie version of the human model become aggressive to a Bobo doll, and the third group watched a cartoon version of a cat become aggressive towards a Bobo doll. Each child watched the aggressive acts individually to control for group biases. Data from the original 1961 study was used for the control group where children did not view a model. After being exposed to their respective models, all three groups of children were then placed individually in a room with an experimenter where they were exposed to a mildly frustrating situation to elicit aggression. Next the children were allowed to play freely in an adjoining room, which was full of toys, including the Bobo doll and the "weapons" that were used by the models. The researchers observed the children and noted any interaction with the Bobo doll.[7]


The results of the study show that compared to the control group, all three groups showed similar increases in aggressive behavior. From this, Bandura concluded that children will imitate aggressive behavior they witness from a model regardless of who or how it is presented. He also found that watching aggressive behavior does not cause a cathartic effect. The results of this study are of particular significance because of its contributions to the controversial topic of whether or not violent media can influence children to become more aggressive.

Experiment of 1965: Reinforcement and Punishment[edit]


For his 1965 study, Albert Bandura wanted to see if children's learned behavior would be influenced by vicarious reinforcement, or the act of imitating a behavior observed in another person after witnessing that person be reinforced for said behavior.[8][9]


In the experiment, 66 children, 33 boys and 33 girls, were divided into one of three groups. The first group would witness a model display aggressive behaviors towards a Bobo doll followed by a researcher praising the model for his behavior and rewarding him with a candy. The second group would witness the same scripted scenario of aggressive behaviors, but the model was instead reprimanded for his actions and hit with a rolled wooden golf club. The third group served as the control group, and the model was neither rewarded nor punished after his displayed behavior. The children would watch individually to control for group biases. Afterwards, each child would be placed individually in a room structured similarly to the one they saw for 10 minutes, and experimenters would score children based on the number and variation of aggressive behaviors they acted. The experiment would be repeated a second time, and this time the children would be incentivized with various rewards including candy, juice, and stickers to mimic the behavior they just witnessed.[10][7]


The results of the study showed little difference between the reward group and the control group; however, the punishment group displayed much less aggressive behavior, especially for girls. In all three groups, personal incentives had a substantial effect in increasing aggressive behavior for both boys and girls. An analysis of the study shows that reinforcement and punishment do not influence learned aggressive behavior, only the outward expression of it.[7]

Theories supporting media effects[edit]

Two major theories that add to the ongoing debates concerning media influences are the General Aggression Model (GAM) and the Cultivation theory. Both of these theories are attempts to explain the development of aggressive behavior and knowledge resulting from media's effect on children.

GAM emphasizes how we develop aggressive attitudes from exposure to violent media depictions and how it relates to aggressive behavior.[11] Violent video games have become widespread in modern society, which is another example of how exposure to violence can affect people's thoughts and actions. According to McGloin, Farrar and Fishlock (2015), "Triple whammy!", using a realistic gun controller correlated with double or nearly double that of most other effect sizes reported in meta-analytic work exploring the association between violent games and cognitive aggression. Overall, we gain aggressive knowledge when exposed to realistic violent media, and therefore behave more aggressively through actions and words.[12]

The "Cultivation Theory" argues that the more a child engages in media, the more they will be affected by it.[13] Therefore, the more violent content the child is engaging in, the larger the effect it will have on them. Children in our society have the opportunity to observe violent images and media by television, movies, online media, and video games. The "Mean World Syndrome" discusses how news channels are only showing the negative events that are happening in the world. This skews our minds to believe that the world is a more dangerous place because we are only seeing what the media shows us.

The Bobo Doll experiment is supported by both the GAM and the Cultivation Theory. The conclusion of this experiment supports the social learning theory, that when one observes another's actions (the aggression model) they tend to behave in a similar way (an aggressive manner). In modern society, children observe and learn from the media, even when fictional.


These experiments relate empirically to Bandura's social learning theory.[6] This social science theory suggests that people learn by observing, imitating, and modeling; moreover, it suggests specifically that people learn not only by being rewarded or punished, as traditionally seen in behaviorism, but by watching others receive rewards or punishments in consequence to their behavior (observational learning).[14] The experiments are important because they resulted in much further study related to observational learning. As well, the data offered further practical working hypotheses, e.g., regarding how children might be influenced from watching violent media.[6]


Claims regarding inherent bias[edit]

According to Hart & Kritsonis (2006),[non-primary source needed][better source needed] the original Bandura experiments were biased or otherwise flawed in ways that weakened their validity. The issues these researchers perceived were:[unbalanced opinion?]?

  • Selection bias. Bandura's subjects, all from the Stanford University nursery, were necessarily the children of Stanford students.[verification needed] Students of a prestigious university like Stanford were almost exclusively Caucasian during the 1960s, and largely from high-income families. Thus, bias in the study subjects was present, with regard to race and socioeconomics.
  • Temporal sequence. The 1963 study used data concerning the "real life aggression and control group conditions" from the 1961 study;[15] hence, it is possible that the maturing of subjects and influences external to the studies, occurring during the period between the studies, could have contributed to the 1963 observations, results, and conclusions.[verification needed]

Claims regarding reliability[edit]

When the Bobo doll experiment was repeated later in 1990, researchers found that children who were playing with a Bobo doll for the first time in their lives were up to five times more likely of imitating aggressive behavior compared to children who have been previously exposed to one before. Upon analyzing this observation, researchers propose that the sheer novelty of the Bobo doll could be a potential third variable that increases the probability that a child will imitate aggressive behavior.[1][16]

Claims regarding motivation[edit]

Some scholars suggest the Bobo Doll studies are not studies of aggression at all, but rather that the children were motivated to imitate the adult in the belief the videos were instructions.[17][page needed][18] In other words, the children may have been motivated by the desire to please adults or become adults rather than by genuine aggression. Furthermore, the same authors criticize the external validity of the study, noting that bobo dolls are designed to be hit.

Ethical claims[edit]

Challenges have been made regarding the ethics of the original studies. In a university-level introductory general psychology text, Bandura's study is termed unethical and morally wrong, as the subjects were manipulated to respond in an aggressive manner.[19][page needed] They also state no surprise that long-term implications are apparent due to the methods imposed in this experiment as the subjects were taunted and were not allowed to play with the toys and thus incited agitation and dissatisfaction. Hence, they were trained to be aggressive.

Miscellaneous claims[edit]

Bar-on et al. (2001) described the frontal lobe of children younger than the age of 8 as underdeveloped, which contributed to their being unable to separate reality from fantasy; for instance, children up to the age of 12 may believe that "monsters" live in their closets or under the beds. They are also sometimes unable to distinguish dreams from reality.[20]

An analysis of the 1961 study made note of the fact that children's imitations of aggressive behavior occur almost immediately after observing the model. Due to such a short period of time between observation and imitation, conclusions cannot be made regarding the long-term effects of exposure to violence.[1]

Furthermore, biological theorists argue that the social learning theory ignores a person's biological state by ignoring the uniqueness of an individual's DNA, brain development, and learning differences.[21]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • A. Bandura & R.H. Walters (1959). Adolescent Aggression, New York, New York, US:Ronald Press.
  • A. Bandura, (1962) Social Learning through Imitation, Lincoln, Nebraska, US:University of Nebraska Press.
  • Bandura, A., & Walters, R. (1963). Social learning and personality development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  • A. Bandura (1975) Social Learning & Personality Development, New York :Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • A. Bandura (1976) Social Learning Theory. New Jersey, US: Prentice-Hall.
  • A. Bandura (1986) Social Foundations of Thought and Action.[full citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d McLeod, Saul A. "Bobo Doll Experiment | Simply Psychology". Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  2. ^ Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961
  3. ^ Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961
  4. ^ a b Hock 2009: 89
  5. ^ Hock 2009: 90
  6. ^ a b c Hart, K. E., Scholar, F., Kritsonis, W. A., & Alumnus, D. (2006). Critical analysis of an original writing on social learning theory: Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models by: Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross and Sheila A. Ross. In National forum of applied educational research journal (Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 1-7).
  7. ^ a b c d Rowe, Jonathan (July 3, 2020). "Three Studies Into Imitating Aggression". Psychology Wizard. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  8. ^ Greenwald, Anthony G. (1968). "Observational Learning: A Technique For Elucidating S-R Mediation Processes" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology. 76 (2): 267–272. doi:10.1037/h0025370. PMID 5636570.
  9. ^ Bandura, Albert (1965). "Vicarious Processes: A Case of No-Trial Learning". Department of Psychology Stanford University Stanford, California.
  10. ^ Bandura, Albert (1965). "Influence of models' reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1 (6): 589–595. doi:10.1037/h0022070. PMID 14300234. S2CID 13032768.
  11. ^ Stewart, Andrew L.; Sweetman, Joseph; Anderson, Craig A.; Bushman, Brad J. (2018). "Media Violence and the General Aggression Model". Journal of Social Issues. 74 (2): 386–413. doi:10.1111/josi.12275. ISSN 0022-4537.
  12. ^ McGloin, Rory; Farrar, Kirstie M.; Fishlock, Joshua (April 2015). "Triple Whammy! Violent Games and Violent Controllers: Investigating the Use of Realistic Gun Controllers on Perceptions of Realism, Immersion, and Outcome Aggression: Violent Controllers and Aggression". Journal of Communication. 65 (2): 280–299. doi:10.1111/jcom.12148.
  13. ^ Potter, W. James (December 2014). "A Critical Analysis of Cultivation Theory: Cultivation". Journal of Communication. 64 (6): 1015–1036. doi:10.1111/jcom.12128.
  14. ^ Albert Bandura (1971). "Social Learning Theory"(PDF). General Learning Corporation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  15. ^ Hart & Kritsonis 2006
  16. ^ Cumberbatch, W. G. (1992). "Is Television VIolence Harmful?". Psychology and Social Issues, London.
  17. ^ Gauntlett 2005
  18. ^ Ferguson 2010
  19. ^ Wortman, Loftus & Weaver (1998),[better source needed]
  20. ^ Sharon & Woolley 2004
  21. ^ Isom 1998
  • McGloin, Farrar & Fishlock (2015). "Triple whammy! Violent games and violent controllers". Journal of Communication.