Observational Learning

Observational Learning

Learning refers to the process of acquiring knowledge and behavior. Learning is a continuous process that takes place voluntarily and involuntarily. Observational learning is a very important aspect that we cannot downplay. This is because it involves the use of the greatest sense in humans, which is the sense of sight. For observational learning to take place, three things are involved. One of the aspects involved is attention. Just as it is mentioned above, sight is a very important sense for one to go through the process of observational learning. A blind person cannot be able to go through this type of learning. The next aspect is that for one to see is one thing, but to pay attention is another. For observational learning, the person going through this process must be able to not only see but also pay attention to whatever they have seen. All these aspects were developed after the Bobo Experiment and Bandura’s perspective of observational learning (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2008).

Retention is another aspect that takes place for observational learning to occur. This entails keeping in mind whatever you saw and was attentive to. This has to do with the brainwork and the memory. A person can only retain whatever they were attentive to. So many people observe but do not retain whatever they were observing. This is mostly because they were not paying attention to whatever they were observing. The amount that one retains will affect the level of duplicity.

Reproduction is the other thing and is based on the ability to duplicate or imitate what one saw and retained. Reproduction can only happen if a person retained whatever information they saw and retained. Reproduction is all about downloading all that was retained and put in the brain and putting it to action. A person may retain some activity they observed but they may not have the capability of duplicating whatever they saw. This makes the process of learning incomplete (Schacter et al., 2008). For instance, a lame person may not be in a position to copy whatever a person participating in a high jump competition can do.

Motivation is critical aspect for observational learning to take place. Bandura defines at motivation as the push that makes humans to act. For instance, many people go to work because they are motivated by the need to get money that will help then have a living. For a child that sees the father going to church daily will only voluntarily go to church only if they are motivated to do so. Learning refers to the process of acquiring knowledge and behavior. Learning is a continuous process that takes place voluntarily and involuntarily.

Observational behavior is part of our society today. Everybody has in one way or the other learned from this perspective. From my own experience, I would say that I am victim to this theory and this is my testimony. When I was two years old, I used to see my dad urinate and whenever he would finish relieving himself, he would shake the tail (I think to get rid of the remaining urine). Without having to find out the reason behind this, I started doing the same. I would follow the same whenever I urinated until the day my friends discovered this behavior and criticized me that I left. I remember one time telling my mom while on a short call, “let me do it just like daddy”. Despite the criticism from my friends, it was difficult for me to stop this behavior even up to today.

Neuroscience and Observational Learning

Mirror neurons were discovered a century ago to the shock of many in the neuroscience industry. These cells are said to fire when an animal does a given activity and when it sees a fellow doing the same. There was much speculation of the roles that these neurons can play in issues to do with acquisition of language, imitation, empathy and observational learning. Since then there have been several researches over these cells. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology has been used by many researchers to observe the activities of the network of mirror neurons (Schacter et al., 2008).

This technology facilitates the study of relations between the blood flow changes in specific places to the behaviors of or operations of human beings. The outcomes of these experiments have shown that there is increased activation in the mirror systems of humans when people are exposed to seeing movements they are familiar and or associate. For example, when one sees a person jumping in a manner they know and are familiar with, the yare more attracted to that than when they see those that they are not familiar to it.

Further research has indicated that sounds of actions alone can be able to activate the human mirror system. This happens even without the visual cues. It is evident that mirror neurons can be activated through hearing but it is yet to be established if visual imagery can be evoked by aurally presented stimuli (Schacter et al., 2008). This imagery is the one that is responsible for recruiting the mirror system. However, what was not addressed in these studies was whether functional visual system was a prerequisite for mirror system development.

Studies of the human mirror system have also revealed that it can be activated by the sounds of actions alone, in the absence of any visual cues. While evidence along these lines suggests that hearing can activate mirror neurons as well as vision, it is not clear if aurally presented stimuli evoke visual imagery that then recruits the mirror system. These studies did not address whether a functional visual system was a prerequisite for the development of the mirror system. From the various experiments, it is definite that observational learning is closely related to the activities in the brain. This has to do with the imagery that the brain initializes and then interprets before an action is taken.



Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). Chapter 6: Learning. In Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, Incorporated

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