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Bobo doll experiment

Bobo doll experiment

The Bobo doll experiment (or experiments) is the collective name for the experiments performed by Albert Bandura during 1961 and 1963 when he studied children's behavior after they watched a human adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll, a doll-like toy with a rounded bottom and low center of mass that rocks back to an upright position after it has been knocked down. There are different variations of the experiment. The most notable experiment measured the children's behavior after seeing the human model get rewarded, get punished, or experience no consequence for physically abusing the Bobo doll. The experiments are empirical methods to test Bandura's social learning theory. The social learning theory claims that people learn largely by observing, imitating, and modeling. It demonstrates that people learn not only by being rewarded or punished (behaviorism), but they can also learn from watching somebody else being rewarded or punished (observational learning). These experiments are important because they resulted in many more studies concerning the effects of observational learning. The new data from the studies has practical implications, for example by providing evidence of how children can be influenced by watching violent media.[1]

Experiment of 1961Edit


Bobo doll

The participants of this experiment were 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University nursery school, all between the ages of 37 months and 69 months with a mean age of 52 months (here and following, Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961). For the experiments, 24 of the children were exposed to an aggressive model and 24 others were exposed to a non-aggressive mode. Each group was coed, ensuring that half of the children were exposed to models of their own gender and the other half were exposed to models of the opposite gender. The remaining 24 children comprised a 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 by playing with the toys for approximately one minute. After this time the adult would start to show aggression towards the Bobo doll. Examples of this included hitting/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 the 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. In order to build frustration, the child was then told after two minutes that they're no longer allowed to play with the toys and that they were reserved for other children. 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 the duration of 20 minutes while the 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.[2]


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. In regards to the aggressive model, the number of imitative physical aggressions exhibited by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7 for the girls.[3] 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. When exposed to aggressive male models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by boys averaged 104 compared to 48.4 instances exhibited by boys who were exposed to aggressive female models. While the results for the girls show similar findings, they were less drastic. When exposed to aggressive female models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by girls averaged 57.7 compared to 36.3 instances exhibited when exposed to aggressive male models.

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 17 times and 15.7 times by the girls.[3] 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.[4]

Experiment of 1963Edit

Differences between learning and performingEdit

Albert Bandura followed his 1961 study two years later with another that again tested differences in children's learning/behavior or actual performance after seeing a model being rewarded, punished, or experiencing no consequences for aggressive behavior towards a Bobo doll (here and following, Bandura, Ross & Ross 1963) .

The procedure of the experiment was very similar to the one conducted during 1961. Children between the ages of 2.5 to 6 years watched a movie of a mediated model punching and screaming aggressively at a Bobo doll. Depending on the experimental group, the movie ended with a scene in which the model was rewarded with candies or punished with the warning, "Don't do it again". In the neutral condition the movie ended right after the aggression scene toward the Bobo doll. Regardless of the experimental group the child was in, after watching the movie the child stayed in a room with many toys and a Bobo doll. The experimenter found that the children often showed less similar behavior toward the model when they were shown the movie that ended with the punishment scene as compared to the other conditions. Also, boys showed more imitative aggression than girls toward the Bobo doll. That is the measure of the performance and it confirms the results of the experiment of 1961.

Next, the experimenter asked the children to demonstrate what they had seen in the movie. The experimenter did not find differences in the children's demonstrated behavior based on which of the three movies the child watched. The results of the experiment shows that rewards or punishment don't influence remembering or learning information, they just influence whether or not the behavior is performed. The differences between girls and boys imitating behavior was smaller than in the 1961 experiment.[5]

Are children influenced by movie-mediated aggressive models?Edit

For many years, media violence has created many discussions concerning the influence of children and their aggressive behavior. For the 1963 study, Albert Bandura used children between the ages 3 and 6 to test the extent to which movie-mediated aggressive models influenced imitative behavior.

For the experiment, 32 girls and 32 boys were divided into three groups and one control group. Group 1 watched a live model become aggressive towards a Bobo doll. Group 2 watched a movie version of the human model become aggressive to a Bobo doll, and group 3 watched a cartoon version of a cat become aggressive towards a Bobo doll. Each child watched the aggressive acts individually. After the exposure to the models all four 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.

Results showed that the children who had been exposed to the aggressive behavior, whether real-life, by realistic movie or cartoon, exhibited nearly twice as much aggressive behavior as the control group. It was also found that boys exhibited more overall aggression than girls. The results of this experiment have contributed to ongoing debates concerning media influences.

Theories supporting media effectsEdit

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.[6] 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.[7]

The "Cultivation Theory" argues that the more a child engages in media, the more they will be affected by it.[8] 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.[citation needed] 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 is claimed by behaviorism), but also by watching others being rewarded or punished (observational learning).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


Claims regarding inherent biasEdit

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;[9] 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 motivationEdit

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.[10][page needed][11] In other words, they 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 claimsEdit

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.[12][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 claimsEdit

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.[13]

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.[14]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • 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. ^ McLeod, Saul. "Bobo Doll Experiment | Simply Psychology". Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  2. ^ Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961.
  3. ^ a b Hock 2009: 89
  4. ^ Hock 2009: 90
  5. ^ Bandura 1965
  6. ^ Stewart, Andrew L.; Sweetman, Joseph; Anderson, Craig A.; Bushman, Brad J. (2018). "Media Violence and the General Aggression Model". Journal of Social Issues (2): 386. doi:10.1111/josi.12275. ISSN 0022-4537.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Potter, W. James (December 2014). "A Critical Analysis of Cultivation Theory: Cultivation". Journal of Communication. 64 (6): 1015–1036. doi:10.1111/jcom.12128.
  9. ^ Hart & Kritsonis 2006
  10. ^ Gauntlett 2005
  11. ^ Ferguson 2010
  12. ^ Wortman, Loftus & Weaver (1998),[better source needed]
  13. ^ Sharon & Woolley 2004
  14. ^ Isom 1998
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Bandura, A.; Ross, D.; Ross, S. A. (1963). "Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 66 (1): 3–11. doi:10.1037/h0048687.
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Bar-on, M. E.; et al. (2001). "Media Violence: Report of the Committee on Public Education". Pediatrics. 108 (5): 1222–1226. doi:10.1542/peds.108.5.1222.
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Hart, K.E.; Kritsonis, W.A. (2006). "Critical analysis of an original writing on social learning theory: Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models". National FORUM of Applied Educational Research Journal. 19 (3): 1–7. [Note, per the CV of Prof. Kritsonis, Prairie View A&M University (see [1]), this journal is a forum for publishing mentored doctoral student research.] Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |journal= (help)[better source needed]
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Loye, David; Gorney, Roderic; Steele, Gary (1977). "An Experimental Field Study". Journal of Communication. 27 (3): 206–216. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1977.tb02149.x.
Murray, John P. (1995). "Children and Television Violence" (PDF). Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy. 4 (3): 7–14. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2015. Retrieved July 16, 2015. See also [3], both accessed 15 July 2015.
Sharon, Tanya; Woolley, Jacqueline D. (2004). "Do monsters dream? Young children's understanding of the fantasy/reality distinction". British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 22 (2): 293–310. doi:10.1348/026151004323044627.
Stein, Aletha H.; Friedrich, Lynette Kohn (1972). "Television Content and Young Children's Behavior". In J. P. Murray, E. A. Rubinstein and G. A. Comstock, eds., Television and Social Behavior, Volume 2: Television and Social Learning (pp. 202–317). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Wortman, Camille B.; Loftus, Elizabeth F.; Weaver, Charles A. (1998). Psychology (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.[page needed][better source needed]
Yates, Bradford L. "Modeling Strategies for Prosocial Television: A Review". AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Lexington, KY, USA March 4–6, 1999. Retrieved July 16, 2015. [A paper presented by University of Florida doctoral student B.L. Yates to the Open Paper Competition of this regional Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference; faculty advisor unknown.][unreliable source?][better source needed]
  • McGloin, Farrar & Fishlock (2015). "Triple whammy! Violent games and violent controllers". Journal of Communication.