Albert Bandura is a Canadian-born psychologist and the author of Social Learning Theory (1977). Through a career stretching over six decades, he came to be regarded as one of the world's most influential psychologists and was often credited with bridging the gap between behaviorism and cognitive psychology, thus becoming the father of cognitive behaviorism.
Bandura was born in Mundare, Alberta, on 4 December 1925, to Ukrainian and Polish emigrants, the youngest and only son in a family of eight. His entry into psychology was by chance. As a member of a car-pooling group of students at the University of British Columbia, Bandura arrived early for his classes and took a psychology course to fill his morning hours. In 1949, he graduated with a B.A. and moved to the University of Iowa, where he took his M.A. and, in 1952, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. A year later, Bandura joined Stanford University, becoming a professor in 1964. It was at Stanford that he started his research into social learning, pioneering a theory that proved influential in understanding how self-evaluations drive and regulate human behavior, particularly with regard to aggression.
In Fifty Thinkers in Psychology (2004), Noel Sheehy writes that early in Bandura's career, it was then generally assumed that learning only took place through response to stimuli and experiencing the effects they produced. However, Bandura pursued anecdotal evidence that practically all learning attributed to direct experience is vicarious, meaning that it occurs through observing the behavior of other people and the consequences of that behavior for the individuals. Unlike behaviorists, who tended to stress the influence that the environment exerts on behavior, Bandura's interest included the reverse effect as well. He called his concept "reciprocal determinism," arguing that the environment influences a person's behavior and vice versa. He then expanded the idea to take into account psychological processes and explore the interaction among the three.
Bandura started considering modeling, or observational learning, and self-regulation. He launched a research program aimed at clarifying the factors and mechanisms that shaped rule-governed behavior. The outcome was a list of three distinct models on which new behavior can be based: live (for example, observing the way a friend behaves), symbolic (modeling behavior on that of a TV actor), and verbal (using as a model a character from a novel). Sheehy noted that Bandura's work became more relevant because of the explosive growth in information technology and communications in the 20th and 21st centuries, making the symbolic environment an increasingly potent factor in determining values, lifestyles and attitudes.
Bandura went to extra lengths to study the role symbolic modeling plays in establishing new patterns of behavior, conducting the "Bobo Doll experiment." This involved children aged between three and six years with the objective to establish whether their observation of adult aggressive behavior could lead to imitation. One group of children watched an adult beating the doll, another saw an adult simply ignoring the doll and playing quietly with other toys and the third group was subjected to neither scenario. Bandura found that children who had observed the aggressive adult were more likely to resort to violent behavior than members of the other two groups.
Bandura also studied the various mechanisms of personal agency, or ways through which people control their motivation, behavior and environment. One focal point of this investigation is how anticipatory self-evaluative reactions and internal standards motivate and regulate behavior. According to Bandura, none of them can compare in importance to self-efficacy, the term used to describe individuals' belief in their power to control various aspects of their lives. He believes that it is the driving force behind motivation and the bedrock of personal accomplishments and well-being. To put it another way, people are unlikely to take action or brave difficulties if they do not believe that their actions will produce the desired effect.
The social cognitive theory developed by Bandura looks at the individual as an active participant in shaping the environment. Through the use of cognitive processes, people evaluate their life experiences, plan their behavior and make decisions. The person is seen as an adaptive organism able to change the environment and tailor it to his or her own needs. This pits it against theories regarding individuals as basically passive respondents to their surroundings or entities governed by unconscious drives.