From ‘Bobo Dolls’ at Bing to Alleviation of Global Problems
By Chia-wa Yeh, Research Coordinator and Head Teacher
Bing Nursery School is the laboratory school for the psychology department at Stanford University. Since its inception in 1966, Bing has supported a robust body of scientific research on the development of young children.
Sometimes parents ask what happens to all the research that takes place at Bing. One good example is the early work of renowned Stanford psychology professor Albert Bandura. His studies at Bing, conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, continue to have far-reaching influence in the United States and abroad.
Over the course of a long and extremely productive academic career, Bandura has maintained a close relationship with Bing Nursery School and currently serves on the Bing director’s advisory committee. He is also one of the professors from the Stanford psychology department who applied for the original grant from the National Science Foundation to build a laboratory nursery school for research purposes at Stanford. With this grant from the NSF and a matching gift from Peter Bing and his mother, Anna Bing Arnold, Bing Nursery School came to life!
Bandura developed one of the major theories in child development: social learning theory. It was a dramatic departure from both the behavioristic perspective, which regarded human behavior as shaped and controlled by the environment, and the psychodynamic perspective, which regarded people as being driven largely by unconscious impulses. In contrast, Bandura focused on the key role that individuals play in shaping their lives. He devised a more complex theory in which self-development and change are the product of an interplay between personal attributes, behavioral styles, and environmental influences.
From early on, Bandura was interested in the power of social modeling—both good and bad—in child development. He began his research when television was still new. Even then, many children’s programs contained substantial violence, and concerns arose about the effects on children. Findings from Bandura’s ground-breaking research, the so-called “Bobo doll” studies, figured prominently in the presidential commission on televised violence. Bandura has also testified on the effect of televised violence numerous times before the Congress and the Federal Trade Commission regarding children’s modeling of hazardous feats in televised advertisements.
The modeling studies were conducted at the Stanford Village Nursery School, the predecessor of Bing Nursery School, in the early 1960s. At the time these studies began, it was widely believed that television violence was cathartic for viewers. Scholars claimed that vicarious exposure to violent programs could actually reduce aggression in viewers, including children. Bandura’s research showed exactly the opposite. It demonstrated that aggressive modeling fostered aggressive styles of behavior and reduced restraints over aggression.
In the 1970s, Bandura shifted his attention to some of the positive effects of exposure to prosocial modeling and its therapeutic effects. He designed a program, for example, to help children at Bing overcome fears of dogs through modeling of coping strategies and carefully designed guided-master experiences. This approach is now a standard treatment for phobias.
Bandura extended this research to adults who had suffered for decades from snake phobias. Success in overcoming years of phobic debility and tormenting nightmares was a liberating and transforming experience. They gained a sense of personal efficacy to overcome other obstacles in their lives. This finding spurred Bandura’s later research to gain a deeper understanding of believing one’s efficacy enables people to take a hand in shaping their life course.
Most recently, Bandura’s knowledge of social modeling is being used to alleviate some of the more urgent global problems. These include burgeoning population growth and the environmental devastation it produces, devaluation of women in societies in which they are marginalized, disallowed aspirations and denied their ability and dignity, and the AIDS epidemic.
Long-running serial dramas serve as the means to enable, motivate and guide people for personal and social changes that improve their life conditions. The dramatic productions portray people’s everyday lives and the impediments they face. They help viewers to see a better life and provide them with the strategies and incentives to take the steps to realize it. Many worldwide applications in Africa, Asia and Latin America are promoting national literacy, fostering family planning, raising the status of women and curbing the spread of the AIDS epidemic.
We often cite examples in the natural success where knowledge pursued for its own sake has unforeseen human benefits. The knowledge gained from the early modeling experiment at Bing some 40 years ago spawned unimagined global applications designed to alleviate major global problems.
In reflecting on his programs of research on social modeling, Bandura notes that the tragedy is not only the heavy commercial overdosing of viewers on violence, but the forfeiting of this powerful medium for human enlightenment and betterment.
Bandura’s work on modeling has also informed our teaching practices at Bing. Teachers model positive social interactions for young children every day, handling conflicts in ways that illustrate how children can solve similar problems in the future on their own.
The mastery experiences we provide them help to build children’s belief in themselves during this important formative period.