In this lesson, we will take a look at the concept of __social modeling__ as behaviors that we observe and imitate, and examine the four factors that must be present in order to learn the new behavior. We will also take a look at the response of those who are being imitated.
What Is Social Modeling?
If we really pay attention, we will easily notice the human tendency to copy behaviors that we see around us.
A child could hear her mother talk about her weight and start doing the same thing. A younger brother may notice that his sister gets rewarded for doing well in school, so he starts to study more; or a teenager may want to start drinking because her close friend does it every weekend. Regardless of the new behavior being positive or negative, the point is that we can learn to behave in certain ways just by watching others do what they do. This idea of learning to imitate others by observing their behavior is called social modeling. It is also referred to as social learning.There was a time when social modeling was not recognized or talked about; that is, until psychologist Albert Bandura started developing the theory and adding supporting research. In 1961, he initiated the Bobo doll experiment, where children watched an adult act violently toward a doll.
When given the chance to later play with this doll, they treated it with the same kind of aggressive behaviors as the adult. It was then clear that human beings have the natural capacity to pick up on the actions of others.
Requirements for Learning the Behavior
There are requirements for learning behavior. Of course, we do not just copy everything and everyone we see. There are four factors that have to be present in order for us to learn behavior that we witness.
These include: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
Attention and Retention
The first two requirements we will talk about that must be present for us to learn behavior are attention and retention.In order to take on someone’s behavior, we have to really be paying attention to it. We are after all, learning the behavior, so it takes a certain amount of focus. If we find the model interesting, if they are close to us emotionally, or if their actions are impacting our lives, we will tend to focus more of our attention on them.The second requirement necessary for learning a new behavior is the need for us to retain the information about the behavior we have observed. This is known as retention, which is the ability to store information so it can be brought up again.
Your parents may give you advice on various situations, but it is only when you remember and retain that information that you can use it later on. So it is with social modeling: we will learn behavior only when we remember what we watched in order to apply it. In the Bobo doll experiment, the children had to recall the actions of the adult when it was their turn to interact with the doll.
Reproduction and Motivation
The third and fourth requirements for learning behavior are reproduction and motivation.
Learning takes place when we actually reproduce the new behavior, and when someone or something motivates us to perform the new behavior. This third requirement for learning a new behavior – when we reproduce, or perform, the new behavior, and then repeat it over and over – helps us truly learn a new behavior. Just like any learned skill, new behavior practice in order for it to be automatic and acquired by the individual.
Finally, the fourth requirement for learning behavior takes place when we are motivated in some way to acquire the new behavior. This comes from being reinforced or encouraged to act that way. For example, is this behavior making people like us? Do we get praise or compliments when we use it? Or will we avoid punishment? Let’s look at the example at the start of the lesson.
A younger brother began copying his sister by studying more, in order to get good grades and make his parents happy. If his grades improve and his parents do praise him, and if they no longer punish him for bad grades, then he is motivated to continue the new behavior.
We Favor Those Who Imitate Us
What about the people who are being imitated? Just like there is attention paid to those who learn the behavior of others, there is also attention given to those who are modeling the behavior.In an experiment arranged by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1999), students were found to favor individuals who mimicked their physical actions. Psychologists Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh asked college students to meet one-on-one with researchers and describe a set of photos.
In each of the meetings, the researcher observed and subtly mirrored each of the students’ mannerisms – leaning back, head nodding, arm folding, etc. In the control group however, there was no mirroring done by the researchers. Due to the careful skill of the researchers, the students did not realize they were being copied. In the end, the students reported liking those researchers that mimicked them, more than the control group. They also thought that the meeting went more smoothly.Five years later, a team of Dutch researchers utilized the same experiment, expanding on it to test if students would be more altruistic to those who were like them. After the individual meetings, the researcher dropped his pens, and 84% of the students who were mimicked helped pick up the pens, whereas only 48% of students from the control group helped.
These experiments show that we have a fascinating preference for those who behave as we do, even when we are not aware of the similarities (or of our own favoritism). We may perceive more of a connection with those like us and be inclined to show more kindness, perhaps because we identify with them. Of course, the preferential treatment only motivates the other person to continue copying our behavior.
Social modeling, also termed social learning, is a theory developed by Albert Bandura that states we can learn behavior by observing the actions of others. In order to truly learn the behavior we watch, there are four requirements or factors that need to be at work: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
There is also attention paid to the people being mimicked. Research shows that people favor those who take on their behavior, even when they aren’t consciously aware of the imitation.