Albert Bandura

An influential contemporary American psychologist whose main body of work is in the area of social learning theory.

Albert Bandura was born in 1925 in the province of Alberta, Canada, and received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia. His M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology were completed at the University of Iowa. His focus was on social learning theories, and he studied under Kenneth Spence and Robert Sears. He graduated in 1952 and completed a one-year internship at the Wichita Guidance Center before accepting an appointment to the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, where he has remained throughout his career. In Bandura's view, cognition plays a causal role in human behavior, which contrasts with some of the more radical tenets of behaviorism.

His primary area of research, social cognitive theory, is concerned with the interaction between cognition, behavior, and the environment. Social learning theory posits that learning is influenced by the social setting or milieu in which it occurs, and that much of learning occurs during the process of observation of the environment (passive learning).

Much of Bandura's work has focused on the acquisition and modification of personality traits in children, particularly as they are affected by observational learning, or modeling, which, he argued, plays a highly significant role in the determination of subsequent behavior. While it is generally accepted that children learn by imitating the characteristics and behaviors of others, little formal research was done on this subject before Neal Miller and John Dollard published Social Learning and Imitation in 1941. Bandura became the seminal figure for building an empirical foundation for the concept of learning through imitation and modeling. His work on the nature of aggression suggests that modeling plays a highly significant role in determining thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Bandura asserted that virtually anything that can be learned by direct experience can also be learned by modeling (observational learning). Learning by modeling occurs regardless of whether either the observer or the model is rewarded for performing a particular action. This assertion contrasts with the behavioral learning theories of Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner, with their focus on conditioned learning through the use of reinforcement. It has been demonstrated that positive and negative reinforcement can both have an impact on the modeling situation. A child will more readily imitate a model who is being positively reinforced for an act than one who is being negatively reinforced. Thus, the child can learn without actually being rewarded or punished himself; a concept known as vicarious learning. Bandura also demonstrated that children will more readily imitate or learn from a model with whom they believe they share similarities: Same gender and age group are strong factors for positive models. Bandura showed that when a model is exposed to stimuli intended to have a conditioning effect, a person who passively observes this process without participating in it directly will also tend to become conditioned by the stimuli.

Bandura extended the use of modeling and selfobservation/self-control to the therapeutic realm. He called one therapeutic modality self-control therapy, and created strategies for its use with so-called simple problems such as overeating, acquisition of good study skills, and smoking cessation. Clients keep behavior diaries or charts of the occurrences of the behavior to be changed, noting frequency, cues, thoughts, and feelings at the outset. After the charting phase has been completed, the clients use the data to begin to make habit and environmental shifts in order to substitute new, desired behaviors for the undesired ones. Clients would then reward themselves for accomplishing the desired behavior and withhold rewards for failure to meet goals.

Albert Bandura.

Albert Bandura.
(© A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)

The second modality, called modeling therapy, involved having an individual with a specific behavioral health disorder observe someone else with the same issue dealing with it successfully. Bandura worked extensively with people who had a morbid fear of snakes, called herpephobia. For models, he used actors (this was known to the clients) who went through a very elaborate process, behind a window in an enclosed room, of apparently overcoming fear of snakes using a systematic desensitization process done entirely in a single session. There was no deception involved. Bandura reported that this technique was extremely successful, whether done with actual modeling or through the use of guided imagery.

Bandura, as a single author and with colleagues, wrote many dozens of scholarly articles appearing in juried journals, as well as myriad academic book chapters and numerous books. Some of his more wellknown books are: Adolescent Aggression (1959), Social Learning and Personality (1963), Principles of Behavior Modification (1969), Aggression (1973), Social Learning Theory (1977), Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (1986), and Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997). In the second decade of the 21st century, he had more than a dozen academic articles in print.

See also Cognitive behavior therapy; Modeling ; Social learning theory ; Spence, Kenneth W.



Bandura, Albert. Self-Efficacy: The Exercising of Control. New York: Worth, 1997.

Coulter, Jeff, and W. W. Sharrock. Brain, Mind, and Human Behavior in Contemporary Cognitive Science: Critical Assessments of the Philosophy of Psychology. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007.

Deaux, Kay, and Mark Snyder. The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fiske, Susan T., et al. Handbook of Social Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010.

Gazzaniga, Michael S. The Cognitive Neurosciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.

Groome, David. An Introduction to Cognitive Psychology Processes and Disorders. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013.


Bandura, Albert. “Science and Theory Building.” Psychology Review 14, no. 4 (April 2009): 2–3.


American Psychological Association. “Changing Behavior through TV Heroes.” (accessed September 9, 2015).

Stanford University. “Albert Bandura.” (accessed September 9, 2015).