BANDURA, ALBERT (Social Science)

1925-

Considered by some to be the father of behavioral psychology, Albert Bandura was born on December 4, 1925, in Mundare, a small town in Alberta, Canada. As a teenager, Bandura decided to take a psychology course to fill a space in his high school schedule. The result was a love for the subject that extended through his college years. He received his PhD in 1952 from the University of Iowa.

Promoted to full professor at Stanford University in 1964, Bandura often attributed his motivation for research to his collaborations with researchers such as Jack Barchas and Craig Barr Taylor. The joint research allowed them to combine different expertise and laboratory resources. One outcome of these research efforts was the finding that people regulate their level of physiological arousal (i.e., hormonal release) through their belief in self-efficacy. Bandura’s contributions to personality theory and therapy incorporated a three-way interaction between the environment, behavior, and psychological processes at a time when dynamic systems theory had yet to be defined. Bandura focused on observational learning, or modeling, and he showed that children learn behavior through watching others. His most famous study, known as the Bobo dolls study, established that children do not need punishment or reward to learn. With his then doctoral student Richard Walters, Bandura found that hyperag-gressive adolescents often had parents who modeled hostile attitudes; the results led to Bandura’s first book, Adolescent Development (1959).


Bandura’s decision to relabel his theoretical approach from social learning to social cognition was due to his growing belief that the breadth of his theorizing and research had expanded beyond the scope of the social learning label. Bandura presented a social cognitive vision of the origins of human thought and action and the influential role of self-referential processes to motivation, affect, and action. He depicted people as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflective, and self-regulative in thought and action, rather than as merely reactive to social environmental or inner cognitive-affective forces. A major focus of Bandura’s theorizing addressed the extraordinary ability of humans to use imagery and symbolism. Drawing on their symbolic capabilities, people can comprehend their environment, construct guides for action, solve problems cog-nitively, support forethoughtful courses of action, gain new knowledge by reflective thought, and communicate with others at any distance in time and space. By symbolizing their experiences, people give structure, meaning, and continuity to their lives.

A further distinctive feature of social cognitive theory that Bandura singles out for special attention is the capacity for self-directedness as well as forethought. People plan courses of action, anticipate their likely consequences, and set goals and challenges for themselves to motivate, guide, and regulate their activities. The focus that Bandura gave to self-efficacy brought the term into mainstream conversation. Social learning theory is a general theory of human behavior, but Bandura and people concerned with mass communication have used it specifically to explain media effects. Bandura warned that children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses, and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modeling. Bandura’s warning struck a responsive chord in parents and educators who feared that escalating violence on television and other forms of media would transform children into bullies. Although Bandura does not think this will happen without the tacit approval of those who supervise the children, he regards anxiety over televised violence as legitimate. That stance caused him to be blackballed by network officials from taking part in the 1972 Surgeon General’s Report on Violence. The psychologist Kevin Durkin, who reviewed the research on violent video games in 1995, reported that studies had found "either no or minimal effects." Indeed, he added, "some very tentative evidence indicates that aggressive game play may be cathartic (promote the release of aggressive tensions) for some individuals" (Durkin 1995, p. 2). Durkin and Kate Aisbett reported in a 1999 follow-up survey that "early fears of pervasively negative effects" from video games "are not supported"; "several well designed studies conducted by proponents of the theory that computer games would promote aggression in the young have found no such effects" (Durkin and Aisbett 1999, p. 3). These findings were echoed by other scholars.


To combat public policy problems, Bandura presided over the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Psychology as an advocacy group for promoting the influence of psychology in public policy initiatives and congressional legislation. He was elected to the presidencies of the American Psychological Association in 1974 and the Western Psychological Association in 1981. He was also appointed honorary president of the Canadian Psychological Association. In August 1999 Bandura received the Thorndike Award for Distinguished Contributions of Psychology to Education from the American Psychological Association (APA). In 2001 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy. In August 2004 he received the APA’s Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology Award. He has written seven books and edited two others, which have been translated into numerous languages.

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