Albert Bandura’s 1961 ‘Bobo doll experiment‘ examined whether watching aggressive behaviour could trigger violence in children and is one of the most famous studies in in psychology. The video from the experiment is now available online so you can hear Bandura narrating the study as various children knock ten bells out of a plastic doll.
The study has been widely cited in debates about whether TV violence makes children more aggressive, but Bandura never referred to television at all in the article that described the study.
Undoubtedly, the study came at a time of peak concern about the effect of TV on children and so was highly topical, but it also caught the changing mood in psychology as a science.
In contrast, cognitive psychology argues that the mind is more like a computer, and so processes information and builds internal models of the world.
The Bobo doll experiment was designed as a study of social learning theory, an approach Bandura innovated which attempts to explain how we can learn from others simply by observing them.
While individuals might get rewarded for successfully learning by observation, there are many other instances when this doesn’t happen even though learning still successfully occurs.
Therefore, social learning theory implies that we have internal models, internal motivations and non-conditioned learning – all of which are incompatible with a purely behaviourist approach.
The study could be applied to social concerns about TV and caught the spirit of the new psychology, making it popular with the public and psychologists alike.