Academic journal article Human Factors

What Determines Whether Observers Recognize Targeted Behaviors in Modeling Displays?

Academic journal article Human Factors

What Determines Whether Observers Recognize Targeted Behaviors in Modeling Displays?

Article excerpt


Observational learning is based on a critical assumption that trainees can and do recognize critical modeled behaviors. This assumption has been virtually untested in applied settings. We studied the effects of work experience and instructions on the ability of 59 observers to recognize target behaviors in an observational learning paradigm similar to existing ones. Additionally, we investigated the effects of two key factors that were hypothesized to affect the recognition process in observational learning. The results indicated that only observers who had a minimum of work experience (i.e., intermediate and experienced observers in the study) were able to consistently recognize targeted behaviors. Additionally, recognition was influenced by the level of detail of instructions given to the participants. Finally, characteristics of the modeled behaviors greatly affected recognition: Overall, examples of negative behaviors were better recognized than were positive examples. Behaviors whose consequence was show n were also better recognized than those that were neither reinforced nor punished in the video. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for the design of observational learning as a training strategy in complex and applied social learning situations. The applications of this work include the design of training, and the training of evaluators and observers.


Observational learning is generally regarded as one of the most effective training strategies. The efficacy of observational learning has been demonstrated many times and in a variety of applications. A 1989 study found that observational learning was the most effective of several techniques that were evaluated (Knapp & Deluty, 1989). However, it should be noted that despite these successes, observational learning is not always effective. Berry (1991) described examples of tasks that do not seem to be trained effectively using this technique, and other investigators have found only mild positive effects (Knapp & Deluty, 1989). Thus there is a continuing need to evaluate the mechanisms that underlie observational learning in order to ensure optimal training results.

According to Bandura's (1986) social learning theory, observational learning is dependent on four serial processes: attention, retention, motor production, and motivation. The theory suggests that the attention processes are a key element in the effectiveness of observational learning. They are the processes that govern "exploration and perception of the modeled activities" (Bandura, 1986, p. 51). Presumably this includes recognition of the target behavior and the consequences of that behavior. Little of the published research in the area of observational learning, however, has investigated how and under which circumstances observers actually recognize what is being modeled. There is a small number of studies regarding the identification of specific behaviors for performance appraisal, but it is not clear how well these data would generalize to the problems faced by trainees trying to learn (Borman & Hallam, 1991).

That so little attention has been paid to the factors that might influence trainees' attention processes regarding observational learning stimuli may be partly attributable to the success of observational learning in empirical studies. That is, because observational learning works, trainees mast be able to recognize critical elements. It might also be the case that previous studies have used observational learning in environments where the salience of training cues is very high. Thus the issue of attention would not be critical. However, observational learning is now being applied in relatively complex social situations in which training cues (and consequences) exist in a complicated stimulus array. For example, observational learning has been used to train managerial and communication skills to managers (e. …

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