The term modeling, as used by behavioral psychologists, occurs when one person, the model, performs a behavior, and this performance prompts imitation of that behavior by another person, the observer. Advantages of modeling produce rapid gains of learning a behavior and a natural method of teaching. There are negative consequences as well in this modeling technique in that undesirable behavior can be modeled, such as a parent’s punishment can be imitated as aggression on the playground.

A key theoretician in this field is Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura who demonstrated social learning by the popular Bobo Doll experiment. The Bobo Doll study conducted in 1961 study used 72 participants (approximately age 4) to study social learning of aggressive behavior by imitation. Concisely, an inflatable toy doll (approximately 5 feet tall) was physically and verbally assaulted by an aggressive adult model. A child was observed to document if he or she would reproduce the aggressive behaviors demonstrated by the adult on the toy Bobo doll, which in fact the child did. For detailed information on this experiment, please see the link posted below on the Bobo Doll Experiment.

Albert Bandura also theorized modeling by explaining observational learning with four main principles:

  • Attention (distinctiveness, complexity, and personal value to stimulus)
  • Retention (ability to store, encode, remember and make sense of information)
  • Reproduction (ability to enact a behavior)
  • Motivation (amount of thrive to conduct and carry through to achieve desired result)

Modeling is a complex response that indicates a deep level of intelligence and awareness. It is an indication of the basic trust and willingness of the physical unit, or rather the consciousness that inhabits the physical unit, to learn about the world it inhabits and how to function within it.

Modeling is an important method of socialization performed wittingly or unwittingly by Agents of Socialization. Modeling occurs via parental and school socialization practices, media representations of reality, corporate and governmental actions in the world, peer interactions, and so on.

Various factors may influence the likelihood that modeled behavior will be imitated and adopted. Younger individuals are more likely to adopt modeled behaviors. Individuals are more likely to model those whom they respect, care for, and trust and so on. In addition, Operant Conditioning can increase or decrease the likelihood that modeled behavior will be adopted, a process known as vicarious reinforcement and vicarious punishment.


As noted above, because the physical unit is intelligent and aware at even an early age, modeling is an important tool of socialization. Obviously, a considerable amount of professional and practical thinking across all disciplines needs to go into determining the sorts of behaviors, information, and practices that we model for each other.

See Also


Classical Conditioning


John B. Watson

Ivan Pavlov

Operant Conditioning



Dyce, J. (2008, July 24). Power Point: Principles of Behavior Change. Retrieved from:

External Links

Bobo Doll Experiment

Cite as:
Sharp, Michael & Qureshi, Uzma. (2021). Modeling. The SpiritWiki: [Accessed: January 20, 2021]