Modeling (psychology)

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Modeling is:

  1. a method used in certain cognitive-behavioral techniques of psychotherapy whereby the client learns by imitation alone, without any specific verbal direction by the therapist, and
  2. a general process in which persons serve as models for others, exhibiting the behavior to be imitated by the others [1] [2] This process is most commonly discussed with respect to children in developmental psychology.

The word modeling refers both to the behavior of the learner and the teacher.


Study by Albert Bandura

The concept of behavioral modeling was most memorably introduced by Albert Bandura in his famous 1961 Bobo doll experiment. In this study, 72 children from ages three to five were divided into groups to watch an adult confederate interact with an assortment of toys in the experiment room, including an inflated Bobo doll. For children assigned the non-aggressive condition, the confederate ignored the doll. For children assigned the aggressive condition, the confederate spent the majority of the time physically aggressing the doll and shouting at it.

After the confederate left the room, the children were given the opportunity to individually interact with similar toys. Children who observed the non-aggressive confederate's behavior played quietly with the toys and rarely initiated violence toward the Bobo doll. Children who watched the aggressive confederate were more likely to imitate the confederate's behavior by hitting, kicking, and shouting at the Bobo doll. [3]

Factors influencing behavioral modeling

Psychological factors

Bandura proposed that four components contribute to behavioral modeling. [4] [5]

  1. Attention: The observer must watch and pay attention the behavior being modeled.
  2. Retention: The observer must remember the behavior well enough to recreate it.
  3. Reproduction: The observer must physically recreate the actions they observed in step 1.
  4. Reinforcement: The observer's modeled behavior must be rewarded

Neurological factors

The mirror neuron system, located in the frontal lobe of the brain, is a network of neurons that become active when an animal either performs a behavior or observes that behavior being performed by another. For example, the same mirror neurons will become active when a monkey grasps an object as when it watches another monkey do so. [6] While the significance of mirror neurons is still up for debate in the scientific community, there are many who believe them to be the primary biological component in imitative learning. [7] [8]

In neuro-linguistic programming

Modeling is an important component of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which field has developed specialized techniques involving modeling.

See also

Related Research Articles

Observational learning is learning that occurs through observing the behavior of others. It is a form of social learning which takes various forms, based on various processes. In humans, this form of learning seems to not need reinforcement to occur, but instead, requires a social model such as a parent, sibling, friend, or teacher with surroundings. Particularly in childhood, a model is someone of authority or higher status in an environment. In animals, observational learning is often based on classical conditioning, in which an instinctive behavior is elicited by observing the behavior of another, but other processes may be involved as well.

Aggression Social interaction aiming at inflicting damage or unpleasantness

Aggression is overt or covert, often harmful, social interaction with the intention of inflicting damage or other harm upon another individual. It may occur either reactively or without provocation. In humans, aggression can be caused by various triggers, from frustration due to blocked goals to feeling disrespected. Human aggression can be classified into direct and indirect aggression; whilst the former is characterized by physical or verbal behavior intended to cause harm to someone, the latter is characterized by behavior intended to harm the social relations of an individual or group.

Albert Bandura Canadian-American psychologist

Albert Bandura is a Canadian-American psychologist who is the David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University.

Social learning theory is a theory of learning process and social behavior which proposes that new behaviors can be acquired by observing and imitating others. It states that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement. In addition to the observation of behavior, learning also occurs through the observation of rewards and punishments, a process known as vicarious reinforcement. When a particular behavior is rewarded regularly, it will most likely persist; conversely, if a particular behavior is constantly punished, it will most likely desist. The theory expands on traditional behavioral theories, in which behavior is governed solely by reinforcements, by placing emphasis on the important roles of various internal processes in the learning individual.

Theory of mind (ToM) is the popular term from the field of psychology as an assessment of an individual human's degree of capacity for empathy and understanding of others. ToM is one of the patterns of behavior that is typically exhibited by the minds of both neurotypical and atypical people, that being the ability to attribute—to another or oneself—mental states such as beliefs, intents, desires, emotions and knowledge. Theory of mind as a personal capability is the understanding that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Possessing a functional theory of mind is considered crucial for success in everyday human social interactions and is used when analyzing, judging, and inferring others' behaviors. Deficits can occur in people with autism spectrum disorders, genetic-based eating disorders, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cocaine addiction, and brain damage suffered from alcohol's neurotoxicity; deficits associated with opiate addiction reverse after prolonged abstinence.

Bobo doll experiment Collective name of experiments conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and 1963 when he studied childrens behavior after watching an adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll (a toy that gets up by itself when knocked down)

The Bobo doll experiment is the collective name for a series of experiments performed by psychologist Albert Bandura to test his social learning theory. Between 1961 and 1963, he studied the behavior of children after they have watched a adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll. The most notable variation of the experiment measured the children's behavior after seeing the adult model rewarded, punished, or experience no consequence for physically abusing the Bobo doll.

Imitation Behaviour in which an individual observes and replicates anothers behaviour

Imitation is an advanced behavior whereby an individual observes and replicates another's behavior. Imitation is also a form of social learning that leads to the "development of traditions, and ultimately our culture. It allows for the transfer of information between individuals and down generations without the need for genetic inheritance." The word imitation can be applied in many contexts, ranging from animal training to politics. The term generally refers to conscious behavior; subconscious imitation is termed mirroring.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in human and primate species, and birds.

Relational aggression or alternative aggression is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone's relationships or social status.

Evolutionary developmental psychology (EDP) is a research paradigm that applies the basic principles of evolution by natural selection, to understand the development of human behavior and cognition. It involves the study of both the genetic and environmental mechanisms that underlie the development of social and cognitive competencies, as well as the epigenetic processes that adapt these competencies to local conditions.

The studies of violence in mass media analyzes the degree of correlation between themes of violence in media sources with real-world aggression and violence over time. Many social scientists support the correlation. However, some scholars argue that media research has methodological problems and that findings are exaggerated.(Ferguson & Kilburn, 2009; Freedman, 2002; Pinker 2002; Savage, 2004)

Social learning is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers. It may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and behaviour.

Social cognitive theory (SCT), used in psychology, education, and communication, holds that portions of an individual's knowledge acquisition can be directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences. This theory was advanced by Albert Bandura as an extension of his social learning theory. The theory states that when people observe a model performing a behavior and the consequences of that behavior, they remember the sequence of events and use this information to guide subsequent behaviors. Observing a model can also prompt the viewer to engage in behavior they already learned. In other words, people do not learn new behaviors solely by trying them and either succeeding or failing, but rather, the survival of humanity is dependent upon the replication of the actions of others. Depending on whether people are rewarded or punished for their behavior and the outcome of the behavior, the observer may choose to replicate behavior modeled. Media provides models for a vast array of people in many different environmental settings.

Typically researched in infants, intermodal mapping refers to the ability to gather information about a particular stimulus by integrating multiple senses. Researched by American psychologists Andrew N. Meltzoff and M. Keith Moore, this capability plays an underlying part in neonatal imitation.

The behavioral analysis of child development originates from John B. Watson's behaviorism.

The concept of motor cognition grasps the notion that cognition is embodied in action, and that the motor system participates in what is usually considered as mental processing, including those involved in social interaction. The fundamental unit of the motor cognition paradigm is action, defined as the movements produced to satisfy an intention towards a specific motor goal, or in reaction to a meaningful event in the physical and social environments. Motor cognition takes into account the preparation and production of actions, as well as the processes involved in recognizing, predicting, mimicking and understanding the behavior of other people. This paradigm has received a great deal of attention and empirical support in recent years from a variety of research domains including developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and social psychology.

Behavioral contagion is a form of social contagion involving the spread of behaviour through a group. It refers to the propensity for a person to copy a certain behavior of others who are either in the vicinity, or whom they have been exposed to. The term was originally used by Gustave Le Bon in his 1895 work The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind to explain undesirable aspects of behavior of people in crowds. In the digital age, behavioural contagion is also concerned with the spread of online behaviour and information. A variety of behavioral contagion mechanisms were incorporated in models of collective human behavior.

A social experiment is a kind of psychological or a sociological research for testing people’s reaction to certain situations or events. The experiment relies solely on a particular social approach when the main source of information is people with their knowledge and point of view. To carry out a social experiment, specialists normally divide participants into two groups — active participants and respondents. Throughout the period of the experiment, participants are monitored by specialists to identify the effects and differences as a result of the experiment.

Cecilia Heyes British psychologist (born 1960)

Cecilia Heyes is a British psychologist who studies the evolution of the human mind. She is a Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical Life Sciences at All Souls College, and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oxford. She is also a Fellow of the British Academy, and President of the Experimental Psychology Society.

Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.


  1. VandenBoss, Gary (2006) APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
  2. Westen, D.; Burton, L. & Kowalski, R. (2006) Psychology: Australian and New Zealand Edition. Milton, QLD. John Wiley and Sons.
  3. Bandura, Albert (1961). "Transmission of Aggression Through Imitation of Aggressive Models" (PDF). Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 63 (3): 575–582. doi:10.1037/h0045925. PMID   13864605. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-03-06 via Stanford University.
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