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Observational Learning Learning by Imitation

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Observational Learning Learning by Imitation
196
doing
2
learn
Chapter 5
Learning
LEARNING BY IMITATION
Much of our behavior is
learned by imitating others,
especially those who serve as role
models. To appreciate the impact of social
learning in your life, list five examples of
how your own actions, speech, appearance, or mannerisms have come to match
those of a parent, a sibling, a friend, a
teacher, or even a celebrity.
by
instance, a chimp would jump for it several times. Then it would stop jumping, look
up, and pace back and forth. Finally it would run over to a wooden crate, place it
directly under the fruit, and climb on top of it to reach the fruit. Once, when there
were no other objects in the cage, a chimp went over to Köhler, dragged him by the
arm until he stood beneath the fruit, and then started climbing up his back!
Köhler believed that the only explanation for these results was that the chimpanzees had experienced insight, a sudden understanding of the problem as a
whole. Was he right? Possibly, but what Köhler saw as sudden insight might not have
been so sudden. Other psychologists found that previous trial-and-error experience
with objects, such as boxes and sticks, is necessary for “insight” in chimps (Birch,
1945). In fact, some psychologists argue that all known cases of “insight” include a
long history of experience with the objects that are used to solve the problem
(Epstein et al., 1984; Wynne, 2004). So although Köhler’s work helped establish the
importance of cognitive processes in learning, questions remain about whether it
demonstrated true insight.
Observational Learning: Learning by Imitation
insight A sudden understanding of
what is required to solve a problem.
observational learning Learning by
watching the behavior of others.
People and animals learn a lot from personal experience, but they can also learn by
observing what others do and what happens to them when they do it (e.g. Akins &
Zentall, 1998; Mattar & Gribble, 2005). Learning by watching others—a process called
observational learning, or social learning—is efficient and adaptive. We don’t have
to find out for ourselves that a door is locked or an iron is hot if we have just seen
someone else try the door or suffer a burn.
Children are particularly influenced by the adults and peers who act as models for
appropriate behavior. In a classic experiment, Albert Bandura showed nursery school
children a film starring an adult and a large, inflatable, bottom-heavy “Bobo” doll
(Bandura, 1965). The adult in the film punched the Bobo doll in the nose, kicked it, threw
things at it, and hit its head with a hammer while saying things like “Sockeroo!” There
were different endings to the film. Some children saw an ending in which the aggressive
adult was called a “champion” by a second adult and rewarded with candy and soft drinks.
Some saw the aggressor scolded and called a “bad person.” Some saw a neutral ending in
which there was neither reward nor punishment. After the film, each child was allowed
to play alone with a Bobo doll. The way they played in this and similar studies led to
some important conclusions about learning and the role of cognitive factors in it.
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