Some thoughts on Albert Bandura’s Research Agenda

The work of Albert Bandura is legendary. The breadth of his theoretical work challenges description. Bandura has described subjects as theoretical as comparing the effects of goals and negative self-efficacy (Bandura & Locke, 2003), to as emotionally volatile as the roots of terrorism (Bandura, 2004). Bandura’s social cognitive theory has been described as a way of understanding mass communication (Bandura, 2001a) and human agency (Bandura, 2006). Bandura’s influence is such that he wrote the review of his own theory for the first the Annual Review of Psychology (Bandura, 2001b).

Bandura’s empirical work is also very large. In his empirical work, Bandura not only outlines theories of the world but executes research practices designed to help understand the world. Thus, in his research papers, Bandura refines both his theoretical reach and his methodological approach. In order to briefly describe these processes, I will briefly online three of Bandura’s papers. First, in Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961), Bandura describes personality in the context of personality. Second, in gender differences article, Bandura and a co-author examining the development of self-regulatory mechanisms (Bussey & Bandura, 1984). Finally, Bandura examined moral disengagement and the state-sponsored killing of prison inmates (Osofsky, Bandura, & Zimbardo, 2005). For each of these studies, a general background is first present. The theoretical discussion and conclusion of the article is then summarized. Finally, the experimental design is discussed. Following this, the papers are compared and contrasted, to emphasize how Bandura’s theories and methods have evolved over time.

The first article to be examined, “Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models,” bridges the gap between behavioralism and cognitivism. In it, Skinner and his co-authors consciously position their research as presenting original problems to the idea that there are no complex mental structure outside of stimulus-response chains. However, in their discussion of results they stick of behavioralist phrases and ideas. The study itself is part of a chain of research, describing itself as building on Bandura & Huston (1961) and quickly followed by Bandura (1965).

Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961) argued that imitation is a generalizable form of learning, not limited to the repetition of specific actions. This learning was defined as “sufficiently novel patterns of responses which are unlikely to occur independently of the observation of the behavior of a model and if a subject reproduces these behaviors in a substantially identical form.” The research went beyond publications beyond research which argued that children’s actions were merely imitations of what they had observed (Maccoby, 1959) in order to demonstrate that children would engage in behaviors similar to, but different from, those they had seen modeled. The article challenged the ability of behaviorialism to explain this, nothing that responses to stimulus could only (in the behavioralist view of the world) could only be encouraged after similar responses were already provoked. The modeling research that interested Bandura showed that a learner could observe an action and produce a different action, behaving in a manner that required cognitive manipulation of information.

Methodologically, the study would be well received today. 72 students were examined in a 2x2x2 design with 1 control group. Likewise, half of the subjects were males and alf were females, all less than 70 months old. Half the participants saw a model adult of the same sex, while half saw a model adult of the opposite. Additionally, half saw the model act in a hostile manner towards a doll, while half did not. Along with this, Bandura and his co-authors reported results in way that are typical now and that were typical of the older behaviorists. Tests of t values, p values, and tables of results are still regular features of research journals. However, the authors talk about behavioral measures such as the probability of behavior, rather than later formulations such as the average incidence of some behavior.

The second article, published twenty-three years later, is “Influence of gender constancy and social power on sex-linked modeling.” The theoretical construction of the article is new, reflecting the cognitive revolution. The theory is expanded to develop the role of development, a phenomenon missing from Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961). However, in accordance with Leahy’s (2004) claim of continuity with the older approach, the methods would be recognizable to a behaviorist. The article itself began a collaboration with Bussey, that would lead to three more publications on gender development (Bussey & Bandura 1992; 1999; 2004).

Theoretically, Bussey & Bandura (1984) builds on Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961). The new paper extends the analysis of the older research into the development of sex roles in children. This is done in a way that respects the lines of research of both Bandura and his colleague, as they cite earlier work by both (including Bandura, 1969 and Bussey, 1979). The substantive focus of Bussey & Bandura (1984) thus begins to make long stretches of time a meaningful part of the experiment, as younger children are compared to older ones. Finally while some phrases are holdovers from Bandura, Ross, & Ross (such as modeling, patterns of responses or behavior, and so on), others (such as information, cognitive, and capacity) reflect the new reality of psychology after the cognitive revolution

The method of is familiar. Two experiments are conducted in Bussey & Bandura (1984), the first being a two-way analysis and the other being a 2x4x2 analysis of variance design. The second experiment in particular recapitulates Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961): participants are split into either male or female groups, with either male or female models, in one of four treatment conditions. To make sure the reader does not miss this, Bandura & Ross tie both the theory an the procedure to Bandura’s earlier work: “Social power can exert a strong impact on modeling (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963)” (p. 1297). The behavioralist concern for probability of behavior is gone, and the analysis of variance (ANOVA) test appears with its standard P and p values as results.

The third article, published twenty-one more years later, is titled “The role of moral disengagement in the execution process.” The theory in the paper would be incomprehensible to a behaviorist, rather focusing on high-level mental structures over long periods of time with no special reinforcement. The method of this paper is no longer experimental, but rather a correlational study. Osofsky, Bandura, & Zimbardo (2005) follows Bandura’s continuing work on how socialization impacts moral standards (Bandura, 1999, 2002), and is followed by work on moral disengagement in support of the military (McAlister, Bandura, & Owen, 20060.

The theory of the article continues the generalizing trend that began with the transition from Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961) to Bussey & Bandura (1984). In the first article, the behavior of small children was study. In the second, the socialization of children as they develop into sex roles was examined. In this final piece, Bandura and his co-authors examine the socialization of adults as they do their jobs. The article also continues the trend toward increasing concern over moral behavior. The first publication discussed its findings in the context of imitation, largely ignoring the moral implications of teaching violence. The second more directly addressed concerns of social power and sex roles, and cites Kohlberg (1996). However, the third openly deals with the disquieting impact on morality of being involved in the imprisonment and death of follow human beings.

The methodology is a correlational study that does not create any new conditions, but observes how factors appear to affect participants. Nearly 250 guards three maximum-security prisons in three different states were studied. Some of the guards had served in the execution process, while others had not. Standard survey tools such as likert scales were used by the guards to rate responses to questions, such as “Murderers who receive the death penaly have forfeited the right to be considered full human beings” (p. 380). From the guards’ responses, Bandura and his colleagues were able to conclude that “Executioners made heaviest use of dehumanization, security and economic justifications and disavowal of personal responsibility” (p. 382). For those who participated in executions, moral disengagement increased with the number of executions with which a guard was involved.

The length of Bandura’s career is striking. At first glance, his experiments (ranging from imitation, to sex-role development, to capital punishment) have little to do with each other. Some have even talked about Bandura having a second and third professional life. With respect, I disagree. Bandura has consistently addressed issues at the intersection of modeling, behavior, and social rules. Bussey & Bandura’s (1984) study is a continuation of Bandura, Ross, & Ross’s (1961) examination on imitative child violence, just as Osofsky, Banduyra, & Zimbardo (2005)’s adult participatory violence naturally extends the study of childhood imitative violence. Bandura’s research style has expanded a bit more in this time, moving beyond the experimental studies of the laboratory to correlational studies of the outside world. This perhaps is the more profound shift, sacrifices the rigor of being able to manipulate variables at well for the external validity of conducting research that matters


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