What Is The Bobo Doll Experiment?

The experiment acquired its name from the inflatable doll named Bobo, that served as a tool in the study.

The Bobo doll experiment is a study dealing with aggression carried out by the famous psychologist Albert Bandura. He was observing the behavior of children throughout 1961 and 1963 to see how children were learning via observation. The experiment got its name from the inflatable doll that served as a tool in the study. The researchers would physically and verbally abuse the doll while the children were watching, and afterward, they would monitor children’s behavior. This experiment is important because it helped to further developed studies dealing with observational learning.

The Social Learning Theory

The experiment had several different modifications. One that was considered the most important was when the children’s reactions to the consequences of dealing with the doll were measured. The children would witness adults being punished, rewarded, or not experience any consequence for being aggressive toward the Bobo doll. Through this researchers were able to test Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. This theory deals with the process of learning and social behavior. According to the theory,

learning can occur just by observing certain behavior or by receiving instructions. 
Learning can occur just by observing certain behavior or by receiving instructions. 

Another important thing to note is that learning can occur by observing the rewards and punishments as consequences of specific behavior, which is vital for the Bobo doll experiment. To further simplify, people can learn not only by being punished or rewarded for their actions but by observing other people being punished or rewarded. It is called observational learning.

The First Bobo Doll Experiment

The first experiment was performed in 1961 at Stanford University. The participants were 36 boys and 36 girls from the nursery school at Stanford. The youngest participant was 37 months old and the oldest 69 months. The experiment was carried out in 3 groups, each comprised of 24 children. One group was exposed to aggressive behavior, the second group to non-aggressive behavior, and the third group was the control group. The critical group to observe was the first group. The children were examined individually.

Each child from the first group would enter the room with an adult and given some toys. The adult would have toys of their own, with one being especially interesting - the Bobo doll. The doll had a rounded bottom and rocked back and forth after being hit. If the doll got knocked down, it would get back up to a vertical position. The adult would act aggressively towards the doll while the child observed, while not being able to play with the doll. They would make the child get more frustrated by taking their children’s toys away. Later, the children would be left alone in the room with the doll, and a large number of them showed signs of aggressive behavior. 

children that observed aggressive behavior were more likely to be aggressive,
Children that observed aggressive behavior were more likely to be aggressive.

The Second Bobo Doll Experiment

According to the first experiment, children that observed aggressive behavior were more likely to be aggressive, which was especially prevalent in male children. The second experiment was conducted in 1963. The experiment was set up similarly to the first one. However, the children did not observe the aggressive behavior in front of them; they watched a video of an adult physically and verbally abusing the Bobo doll. The adult would either be rewarded or punished at the end of the video. The results were remarkably similar to the first experiment. 

The children that witnessed a reward being given to the adult after abusing the doll would go on and be aggressive towards the doll themselves. On the other hand, witnessing the punishment scene made the children not repeat the aggressive behavior in most cases. This is called observational learning, as we previously mentioned. The importance of the Bobo doll experiment is amplified today because it can help us understand the different ways mass media can influence children.

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.


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