Imitation by Children is called as Observational Learning by educational psychologists. It is also called as modeling. In this style of learning, learning occurs because of observing, retaining and duplicating the behavior executed by others. This type of learning is called as Social Learning theory and is devised by Albert Bandura. According to this, learning occurs when an observer’s behavior changes after viewing the behavior of the model. Depending on the consequences of the behavior, observer’s behavior learning is affected. This types of learning is paramount importance as children learn by observing others. Refer this article on how children learn grammar by imitating words of elders.
Although Observational Learning takes place at every stage of our life, it is given more importance during the childhood. The best role models a child gets are older siblings and parents. In the modern world, TV channels, movies, songs also act as role model for children to learn behaviors. Because of this reason, social learning theory has influenced debates on the effect of television violence and parental issues.
Albert Bandura believes that if we learn only through trial and error method, learning would be extremely tedious. By observing others, we acquire knowledge, skills, strategies, rules, beliefs, attitude, and values. Bandura conducted a study in 1961 to check whether observation and imitation can gain behaviors. It involved preschool children, Bobo Doll, and an experimenter. This experiment is famously called as Bobo Doll Experiment. The experimenter first interacted with the doll in a very calm non-aggressive manner. The children were made to observe this through a window. After that, each child is left alone in the room with Bobo doll. The kids reacted calmly and ignored the presence of the doll as they observed before. Secondly, the experimenter is asked to act aggressively with the doll by yelling at it and kicking it. The experimenter threw it in the air and hit it with a hammer. When each child was left alone in the room and got the opportunity to play with the toy, a camera filming through one-way mirror caught that the children who were exposed to the aggressive behavior of the experimenter were beating the bobo doll exactly like the experimenter did. This made it clear that children learned aggressive behavior by merely watching someone doing it without any reinforcement or reward.
Four important stages of Observational Learning
The first step in observational learning is giving attention to the object or model. Attention is the single most important thing in observational learning. Many characteristics influence attention to the model. Influential people command more attention than the weak people.
The second step in this type of learning is to store the actions in the sequence in which it gets performed. The learner must be able to retain the learning in memory to retrieve it and perform whenever they want.
The third stage is to execute the operations or behavior learned by observing. Limitations in motor skills might make it difficult for them to reproduce model’s action. A preschool child may be able to watch someone tie shoelaces but may not be able to imitate the action by itself.
The learner must have the desire to perform the action. If a person gets rewarded for performing the action, the chance of repeating the behavior is increased.
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