Children strike back - Bobo doll experiments cover image

Children strike back - Bobo doll experiments

Dorian Minors • September 4, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Kids are incredibly impressionable. Have you read 'how to terrify an infant'? In that article we talk about how the nutter John Watson decided to terrify a little child in order to explore an already well-documented phenomenon known as classical conditioning. Well, in these experiments it'll be the kids that scare you. Following about 25 years of research focusing on how the rewards and punishment could influence human behaviour, Psychology legend Albert Bandura wanted to investigate how children learned from role models. His first experiment, in 1961, saw the introduction of the now infamous 'Bobo dolls'. These were roughly human sized, inflatable clown dolls that were weighted such that you could push them over and they would spring back up again.

Here are the kids, beating the everloving crap out of the clown doll. Who wouldn't? Here are the kids, beating the everloving crap out of the clown doll. Who wouldn't?

He got a bunch of kids and placed them individually in a room with a Bobo doll, an adult confederate (someone in on the experiment) and some toys. In one condition, the confederate beat the crap out of the doll and verbally abused it. In the other, the adult just played and ignored the doll. The kids were then placed into a different room and told they weren't allowed to play (to get them frustrated). Eventually, they were returned to the Bobo doll and given free reign. Surprise, surprise, the kids who were exposed to an aggressive confederate had a much higher tendency to (cutely and ineffectually) attack the Bobo dolls. Amazingly, Bandura managed to simultaneously show that children were very influenced by 'role models', as well as convincingly show that same-sex models were more influential (boys were more aggressive when paired with a male adult, and girls the same when paired with a female adult) AND that boys tend to be more responsive to aggressive role modelling, all this in one experiment. Obviously, we're now well aware of the impact role models have on our kids and Bandura followed this research with many years of careful study; eventually developing the hugely influential Social-Cognitive Theory (you use it to raise your kids today, and so do all the schools, in one way or another). But what a way to start exploring it, right? Whadda guy.

Bandura for President Bandura for President

Other psychology legends include Lev Vygotsky, who advocates talking to oneself, Eric Kandel, who poked sea slugs and got a Nobel Prize, and Ivan Pavlov, who sprayed dogs with meat and also won a Nobel Prize. Psych legends are odd and delightful people. Speaking of odd, learn three random things that make you more attractive. Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.