The Dark Side of Science The Bobo Doll Experiment 1963

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Written By Mohateasam Pavel


It is the 7th of December 1993 and the first of several congressional hearings is waiting to begin the room is full with people with an empty table near the front one side has a tv screen.

An easel senator john Lieberman holding a light gun begins to speak he explains that video games are increasingly becoming a more violent and dangerous influence on children the tv is switched on and a video of mortal kombat springs to life as the senator continues to speak

He describes the basis for the game as the committee meeting goes on a number of industry and educational experts speak this hearing will become to be known as the 1993 congressional hearings on video games.

It was the culmination of a moral panic the thinking being that violence shown in media will be emulated by children the ultimate result of the hearings is a more unified age rating system for home media although not explicitly stated this idea is an evolution of fears tracing its way back before home video games to a long-standing theory the social learning theory this line of thinking became part of the social zeitgeist from a number of studies starting with bf skinner’s operant conditioning. Culminating in a controversial but fascinating study called the bobo doll experiment overseen by Albert bandura

The aftermath of the study reinforced the belief that children become violent when exposed to violent media the experiments would in retrospect be seen as a controversial and ethically questionable chapter in the discipline of psychology many criticisms of the experiments would be brought forward including accusations that the children were manipulated to gain the desired results and selection bias but the results would influence general thinking on children copying actions observed which would ultimately be the scientific justification of media censorship and age-related restrictions welcome to the dark side of science

our story starts in a small town in Alberta Canada named on the 4th of December 1925 with the birth of Albert bandura he was born to polish and Ukrainian parents growing up in a small town educational opportunities are fairly limited but under the guidance of his family, he became self-motivated.

He was encouraged by his parents to seek out the experience of life beyond mundae after high school he took a job in the Yukon it would be here that his interest in science would be sparked in an unlikely turn of events while studying at British Columbia university. He took a psychology course in order to pass the time in his empty early morning schedule becoming passionate about the subject in 1949

He would graduate with a ba to further his newly discovered passion he moved to the University of Iowa from where he gained a MA in 1951 and a Ph.D. in 1952 post-doctorate in 1953

he took a teaching position at Stanford University throughout the 1950s bandura became fascinated by a new theory originally posed by b.f skinner in his series of lectures in the 1940s on social learning skinner mentioned a thing called echoic response in its most basic form is the copying of a parent’s speech by child fairly straightforward and obvious when observing a child copy a parent talking but skinner stated that all verbal behavior was underpinned by operant conditioning around the same time a book social learning theory was published in 1941 by Clark lewis hull which suggested that personality traits were learned by copying parents actions in 1959 nom Chomsky published

his review of bf skinner’s verbal behavior theories and criticized his 1957 book called verbal behavior chomsky said that operant conditioning alone could not explain our ability to learn language and instead there is something more as if skinner’s theory was right then to learn a new response would require multiple attempts and positive reinforcement much like how you train a dog to sit in the same vein bandura set out to find if learned behaviors were from operant conditioning i.e from reward or punishment or from imitation i.e watching another do something and copy it one particular thing that fascinated bandura was aggression in social learning theory free models of observational learning are posited live models where a person is demonstrating the desired behavior to a participant verbal instruction in which an individual describes the desired behavior in detail and instructs the participant in how to engage in the behavior and symbolic in which modelling occurs by means of the media including movies television literature and radio stimuli can either be from real or fictional characters working with one of his first doctorate students bandura set out to prove his theory this resulted in their 1959 book adolescent aggression the research for the book involved looking into the origins of anti-social behavior of 26 adolescent boys each boy and a match control were given an intensive interview and a tat like projective test the parents were also interviewed to determine their attitudes about and how they actually handled problems relating to dependency aggression and sex as they arose from day to day bandura’s next study would be the culmination of his research and that would be to put the theory into practice and see if a child would copy a model doing a certain kind of behavior and this involved a strange item a large blob clown doll this is bobo a blob clown doll although a kind of creepy looking toy

he is a bop bag and is intended to be used as a safe way for a child to practice boxing bouncing around and generally playing with well that’s what my daughter does with it an unlikely tool for a psychological study but it would become a vital part of a classic series of experiments the bobo doll experiment would start in 1961

But first let’s look at the method that bandura set out the study involved 36 boys and 36 girls who had been enrolled in the Stanford University nursery school they ranged from the age of 37 to 69 months with a mean age of 52 months two adults a male and a female served in the role of model and one female experimenter conducted a study for all 72 children the children were split up into eight experimental groups of six with a control group of 24 half the experimental subjects would be exposed to aggressive models

Half were exposed to models that were subdued and non-aggressive in their behavior these groups were further divided into male and female half the subjects that experienced the aggressive and non-aggressive models had same-sex models whereas the others had an opposite-sex model. Each subject would be exposed to the scenario individually this was to prevent the children from copying one another the child and model would be brought into a playroom where they would be confronted by the bobo clown doll the child was seated in one corner filled with things such as stickers and stamps

The adult model sat in another corner with a toy set a toy mallet and the inflatable bobo doll before leaving the room the experimenter explained to the child that the toys in the adult corner were only for the adult to play with the aggressive scenario the model would initially start playing with the bobo doll after a short while the adult model would start to verbally and physically assault the doll they would also use the mallet after a period of 10 minutes the experimenter came back into the room dismissed

The adult model and took the child into another playroom in the non-aggressive scenario the bobo doll was completely ignored and the model simply played with the other toys in the room for the 10 minutes before being dismissed and the child like in a previous scenario was taken to another playroom the next part of the experiment involved a child being allowed to play in the second playroom with some toys to create frustration after around two minutes the experimenter would tell the child they would have to put the toys down because they were reserved for other children they were told they could instead play with the toys in the experimental room in the first room with the bobo doll the child was allowed to play for 20 minutes while an experimenter evaluated the child’s play the experimenter would record each time the child would initiate aggression in four ways the first measure was based on physical acts such as punching kicking sitting on the bobo doll hitting it with a mallet or tossing it around the room

The second measure was any verbal aggression towards the doll especially if it mimicked the model the third measure was the number of times the mallet was used to display forms of aggression other than hitting the doll and the fourth measure was each time aggression was shown that was not a direct imitation of the role model’s behavior andorra’s results were not particularly surprising the children who experienced the aggressive scenarios were way more aggressive in the playing with the bobo doll the results also showed that if the model was of the same gender as the child then they would be even more aggressive the most aggressive were boys who had a male model who had shown aggression towards the bobo doll when compared between the two genders males exhibited 270 aggressive instances compared to 128 instances exhibited by females

After the experiment bandura wanted to dive deeper but it would take another two years before he upped the ante for a second experiment bandura set out to see if the results would change if the children saw the aggressive scenario in the form of a cartoon or a film in comparison to a live model bandura also thought that maybe the children would experience a cathartic effect by seeing the aggression for the medium of media or would watching the aggression on tv create the same response as a live model this time the number of subjects was increased from 72 to 96 but like before they were from the stanford university nursery and were divided into three groups a live aggressive group a pre-recorded model aggressive group and a cartoon of a cat being aggressive to the bobo dole group

There was also a 24 child control group like before they were subdivided again to gender the original results from the 1961 study were used as a control for the experiment and like before each subject experienced the aggressive scenario individually like before after the exposure the subject was placed in a mildly frustrating situation before being left alone with the bobo doll the results were similar to before with the live model but what was interesting was that the children did actually show aggression after exposure to the pre-recorded model and the cartoon the third experiment in 1965 sought out to find if classic conditioning could affect results this time 66 children 33 boys and 33 girls were used for the study again three groups were used which were again subdivided into gender the first group would witness model display aggression towards the bobo doll followed by a researcher praising

The model rewarding them with candy the second group would witness the same scripted scenario of aggression behaviors but instead the model received a reprimand and was hit with a rolled wooden golf club the third group served as the control and the model had no reward or punishment for the display behavior the children like before would watch individually the child would then be placed in a room with the doll and any aggressive behaviors would be noted the results showed no real difference compared to the previous studies at least in regards to the reward and control group however the group that witnessed the model being punished showed an interesting reduction in aggression the bobo doll experiments helped further bandura’s social learning theory and carve a new way of thinking this is mainly due to children observing the punished model and subsequently understanding this to modify their own response to the bobo doll without being punished themselves but let’s look at the study’s criticisms although not as controversial as other studies involving children the bobo doll experiments did have some shortcomings

Firstly there was a question of whether the children did actually show aggression or were they just mimicking the model you see children are very well known for copying adults with little thought to the consequences meaning finding out the motivation behind the subject’s actions can be difficult and open to interpretation an overtly aggressive act to an adult observer might be perceived by the child as a simple action with no weight placed on the actual meaning behind it a later study which copied bandura’s method for the experiment found that subjects acted much less aggressively when observing an aggressive model if they had a neutral exposure to the bobo doll in a previous experience this means that the novelty of the doll in the study could have encouraged a more exaggerated response from the children the study could also be considered as unreliable as most of the subjects were from the same racial and economical background being that in the early 1960s the majority of attendees were wealthy and caucasian due to having parents that were students of stanford university the main concern for the study however is its ethical implications this is due to the children being almost trained into being aggressive by placing them in a frustrating situation before observing them with the bobo doll

There is also a question of consent as a child isn’t able to make an informed decision as to whether they want to take part in a study needless to say from all three studies the subjects did not agree nor disagree to take part which leaves a potential ethical gray area the children also didn’t have a long enough cooldown period between experience exposure and observation this means that there can be no proper conclusion as to the long-term effects of exposure to aggressive acts which brings us back to the media and whether it actually in the long term makes children more likely to be violent in real life personally i think age restrictions on media is a good thing as a parent myself i would not want my child to be exposed to age inappropriate material such as swearing as i know she will just start copying and say to everyone she speaks to i think the bobo dull study is a very fascinating experiment although not particularly dark i still really enjoyed looking into the subject the study is a very important cornerstone of modern day psychology and this is reflected in albert being the fourth most cited psychologist of all time and as such i’m going to rate it a free on my ethical scale which is mainly due to the lack of informed consent from the children but more importantly where would you rate this subject on my scale one being all okay and nine being as cruel as a fox’s head on a stick let me know in the comments below this is a plain difficult production all videos on the channel are creative commons attribution share alike license plainly difficult videos are produced by me john in a currently late night and dark south eastern corner of london uk help channel grow by liking commenting and subscribing check out my twitter for all sorts of videos nods and sods as well as hints on future videos i’ve got patreon and youtube membership as well so check them out if you fancy supporting the channel financially and also have to say is thank you for watching

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