Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Observational Learning

Wikipedia | Observational learning (also known as: vicarious learning or social learning or modeling or monkey see, monkey do) is learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and, in the case of imitation learning, replicating novel behavior executed by others. It is most associated with the work of psychologist Albert Bandura, who implemented some of the seminal studies in the area and initiated social learning theory. It involves the process of learning to copy or model the action of another through observing another doing it. Further research has been used to show a connection between observational learning and both classical and operant conditioning.

There are 4 key processes of observational learning. 1.) Attention: To learn through observation, you must pay attention to another person's behavior and its consequences. 2.) Retention: Store a mental representation of what you have witnessed in your memory. 3.) Reproduction: Enacting a modeled response depends on your ability to reproduce the response by converting your stored mental images into overt behavior. 4.) Motivation: Finally, you are unlikely to reproduce an observed response unless you are motivated to do so. Your motivation depends on whether you get benefits from responding that action.

Many mistake observational learning with imitation. The two terms are different in the sense that observational learning leads to a change in behavior due to observing a model. This does not mean that the behavior exhibited by the model is duplicated. It could mean that the observer would do the opposite of the model behavior because he or she has learned the consequence of that particular behavior. Consider the case of learning what NOT to do. In such a case, there is observational learning without imitation.

Although observational learning can take place at any stage in life, it is thought to be particularly important during childhood, particularly as authority becomes important. The best role models are those a year or two older for observational learning. Because of this, social learning theory has influenced debates on the effect of television violence and parental role models. Bandura's Bobo doll experiment is widely cited in psychology as a demonstration of observational learning and demonstrated that children are more likely to engage in violent play with a life size rebounding doll after watching an adult do the same. However, it may be that children will only reproduce a model's behavior if it has been reinforced. This may be the problem with television because it was found, by Otto Larson and his coworkers (1968), that 56% of the time children's television characters achieve their goals through violent acts.


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