Image result for bandura bobo dollFor many of us who take Psych 101 or Child Development 101, we associate Albert Bandura with the infamous Bobo doll experiment. This experiment involved children punching a large, inflatable clown doll to express aggression. The catch in this experiment was that children expressed aggression toward the doll IF someone else modeled such behavior toward the doll.

This experiment became one of his most iconic developmental breakthroughs to understand self-regulatory processes, and social adaptations in children, and people alike.

Bandura has been an educator and professor at Stanford University in California, where much of his research has been completed. (I personally heard him speak during my undergrad about 6 years ago). Bandura is deemed an award winning researcher and has completed several research studies and well-recognized in the world of development and psychology. More of his biography can be found here.

But why is Bandura important to child life?

I’m so glad you asked!

Bandura is an important theorist to know for 2 important theories:Image result for albert bandura

  1. Social Learning/Cognitive Theory
  2. Self-Efficacy

These 2 components are necessary for understanding behavioral and cultural development for children and adolescents. Let’s do a quick Sparknotes definition of each of these:

  1. Social Learning/Cognitive Theory-“explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences (Bandura, 1977).” Bandura figured out here that there are external influences that can impact how a child can respond to a situation or experience their development and how they respond to these external influences modifies and shapes behavior.
  2. Self-Efficacy-“people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives (Bandura, 1994).” This means that when a child can recognize their capabilities, they are more likely to have more of a likelihood to achieve a task independently according to these capabilities and achieve success.

How can we put this in the perspective of Child Life?

Children learn how to respond to situations from different external influences.  For example, if a child is about to experience an upcoming procedure, and they observe how their parents are anxious and stressed about the experience, in some cases, the child will model similar anxious and stress-related behaviors. In adolescents, concerns about their image can be determined according to what is “trending” and what will make them cool, so that they will be included in their group of peers.

We see this throughout culture as well. How is it that we are not universal in how we celebrate rites of passage/coming of age? Because of Social Learning Theory! In the Jewish Faith, a rite of passage is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, while in Hispanic culture, when a girl turns 15, they have a quincenera. This is because there is influence by previous traditions in religion, family, and society according to these different groups of people that they have adapted to and consider a norm.

What about Self-efficacy?

Image result for albert bandura

As Child Life Specialists, it is our role to recognize capabilities in children and use their strengths to achieve tasks and help them learn about how they can self-regulate and cope with their experiences. We do this through various interventions that support autonomy and independence, as well as helping children discover these talents so that they can apply those capabilities to achieving a task. By helping children with building self-efficacy, they can further develop confidence to tackle challenging tasks with as little of help or assistance as possible (as appropriate). We also can improve behavior because if a child continues to believe that they are capable through their own skills and abilities, they will have a greater likelihood of having the desire to take on more challenging tasks, build resilience to stressors, and improve self-esteem.

Bandura’s work is essential for the Child Life Specialist to understand a different perspective on a child’s learning processes. It is essential to know as we move forward in understanding how to provide comprehensive support for the child’s well-being and development.


Resources Cited:

  1. Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
  2. Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).


Read about my other theorists!

Virgina Axline

Leo Vygotsky

Abraham Maslow

Emma Plank