The psychologist and theorist Albert Bandura was born in Canada at the end of 1925. In the 1950’s, Bandura graduated from Columbia University with a degree in psychology.

Given his brilliant record, in 1953 he began teaching at the prestigious Stanford University. Years later, Bandura became president of the APA ( American Psychological Association ).

His theories are still valid today, and in Psychology and Mind we have already echoed some of them:

“Albert Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning”

“Albert Bandura’s Theory of Self-Efficacy”

Personality Theory: Background and Context

behaviorism is a school of psychology that emphasizes the importance of experimental methods and tries to analyze observable and measurable variables. Therefore, it also tends to reject all aspects of psychology that cannot be grasped, everything subjective, internal and phenomenological.

The usual procedure using the experimental method is the manipulation of certain variables, to subsequently assess the effects on another variable. As a result of this conception of the human psyche and of the tools available to evaluate personality, the Theory of Personality of Albert Bandura gives greater relevance to the environment as the genesis and key modulator of the behavior of each individual.

A new concept: reciprocal determinism

During his first years as a researcher, Albert Bandura specialized in the study of the phenomenon of aggression in adolescents. He soon realised that, although the observable elements were crucial when it came to establishing a solid and scientific basis for the study of certain phenomena, and without renouncing the principle that it is the environment that causes human behaviour, it was also necessary to make another reflection.

The environment causes the behavior, certainly, but the behavior also causes the environment . This rather innovative concept was called reciprocal determinism : material reality (social, cultural, personal) and individual behaviour cause each other.

Psychological processes complete the equation (from behaviorism to cognitivism)

Months later, Bandura went a step further and began to value personality as a complex interaction between three elements: environment, behavior and individual psychological processes . These psychological processes collect the human capacity to retain images in the mind and the aspects related to language.

This is a key aspect to understand Albert Bandura, since by introducing this last variable he abandons the orthodox behaviorist postulates and begins to approach cognitivism . In fact, Bandura is currently considered one of the fathers of cognitivism.

Adding imagination and language aspects to his understanding of the human personality, Bandura starts from much more complete elements than pure behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner. Thus, Bandura will analyze crucial aspects of the human psyche: learning by observation (also called modeling) and self-regulation .

Learning by observation (modeling)

Of the many studies and researches carried out by Albert Bandura, there is one that was (and still is) the object of special attention. The studies on the dummy . The idea came from a video recorded by one of his students, where a girl repeatedly hit an inflatable egg-shaped doll called “Bobo”.


The girl poked the dummy mercilessly, while shouting “stupid!” She hit it, either with fists or a hammer, and accompanied these aggressive actions with insults. Bandura showed the video to a group of children from a daycare center, who enjoyed the video. Later, after the video session was over, the children were taken to a playroom, where a new dummy and small hammers were waiting for them. Obviously, they were also in the Bandura room and their collaborators, analyzing the behavior of the sprouts.

The children soon grabbed the hammers and started to hit the dummy, mimicking the insults of the girl in the video . So, shouting “stupid”, they copied all the ‘misdeeds’ they had seen minutes before.

Although the conclusions of this experiment may not seem very surprising, they served to confirm several things: the children changed their behavior without any reinforcement aimed at carrying out that behavior. This will not be an extraordinary reflection for any parent or teacher who has shared time with children, but nevertheless it did create a schism with respect to the theories of behavioral learning .

Bandura called this phenomenon “learning by observation” (or modeling). His theory of learning you can know through this summary:

“Albert Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning”

Modeling: analyzing its components

Attention, retention, reproduction and motivation

The systematic study and variations of the dummy test allowed Albert Bandura to establish the different steps involved in the modeling process .

1. Attention

If you want to learn anything, you must pay attention . Likewise, all the elements that are an obstacle to paying as much attention as possible will result in worse learning.

For example, if you are trying to learn something but your state of mind is not the best (because you are half asleep, you feel sick or you have taken drugs), your degree of acquisition of new knowledge will be affected. The same is true if you have distracting elements.

The object for which we pay attention also has certain characteristics that can attract more (or less) our attention.

2. Retention

No less important than paying proper attention, is being able to retain (remember, memorize) what we are studying or trying to learn. This is where language and imagination play an important role: we retain what we have seen in the form of images or verbal descriptions.

Once we have stored the knowledge, images and/or descriptions in our minds, we are able to consciously remember these data, so that we can reproduce what we have learned and even repeat it, modulating our behavior.

3. Reproduction

When we reach this step, we should be able to decode the retained images or descriptions so that they serve to change our behavior in the present.

It is important to understand that when we learn to do something that requires a mobilization of our behavior, we must be able to reproduce the behavior. For example, you can spend a week watching ice-skating videos, but not even be able to put on skates without falling on the floor. You don’t know how to skate!

But if you do know how to ice skate, it’s likely that watching videos of skaters better than you doing jumps and pirouettes will improve your skills.


It is also important, with respect to reproduction, to know that our ability to imitate behavior gradually improves the more we practice the skills involved in a given task. In addition, our abilities tend to improve simply by imagining ourselves performing the behavior. This is what is known as “Mental Training” and is widely used by athletes and sportsmen to improve their performance.

4. Motivation

The motivation is a key aspect in learning those behaviours we want to imitate. We must have reasons and motives for wanting to learn something, otherwise it will be more complicated to focus attention, retain and reproduce those behaviours.

According to Bandura, the most frequent reasons why we want to learn something , are:

  • Past reinforcement , like classic behaviorism. Something that we liked to learn before has more ballots to like now.
  • Promised reinforcements (incentives) , all those future benefits that make us want to learn.
  • Vicar reinforcement , which gives us the possibility of recovering the model as a reinforcement.

These three reasons are linked to what psychologists have traditionally considered to be the elements that “cause” learning. Bandura explains that these elements are not so much the “causes” as the “motives” for wanting to learn. A subtle but relevant difference.

Of course, negative motivations can also exist, and they push us not to imitate certain behaviour:

  • Past punishment
  • Punishment promised (threats)
  • Vicar’s punishment

Self-regulation: another key to understanding human personality

The self-regulation (that is, the ability to control, regulate and model our own behavior), is the other fundamental key to personality. In his theory, Bandura points to these three steps towards self-regulation :

1. Self-observation

We perceive ourselves, we evaluate our behaviour and this serves to establish a coherent corpus (or not) of what we are and do.

2. Judgment

We compare our behaviors and attitudes with certain standards . For example, we often compare our actions with those that are culturally acceptable. Or we are able to create new acts and habits, such as going for a run every day. In addition, we can instill in ourselves the value of competing with others, or even with ourselves.

3. Auto-response

If in the comparison we make with our standards we come out well, we give ourselves positive reward responses . If the comparison creates discomfort for us (because we don’t conform to what we think would be right or desirable), we give ourselves punishment responses . These responses can range from the most purely behavioural (staying up late at work or apologizing to the boss), to more emotional and hidden aspects (feeling of shame, self-defence, etc.).


One of the important elements in Psychology that serves to understand the process of self-regulation is the self-concept (also known as self-esteem). If we look back and perceive that we have acted throughout our lives more or less according to our values and have lived in an environment that has conferred rewards and praise, we will have a good self-concept and therefore a high self-esteem. Conversely, if we have been unable to live up to our values and standards, we are likely to have a poor self-concept, or low self-esteem.


Albert Bandura and his Personality Theory based on the behavioral and cognitive aspects involved in learning and behavior acquisition had a great impact on personality theories and psychological therapy. His theses, which were based on behavioral postulates but embraced innovative elements that allowed for a better explanation of phenomena concerning human personality, earned him wide recognition in the scientific community.

His approach to personality was not merely theoretical but prioritized action and the solution of practical problems linked, above all, to learning in childhood and adolescence, but also to other fields of great importance.

Scientific psychology seemed to have found in behaviorism, at the time when Bandura was taking his first steps as a teacher, a privileged place within the academic world, where the knowledge base is extracted through measurable studies. Behaviorism was the approach preferred by the vast majority, since it was based on the observable and left aside the mental or phenomenological aspects, not observable and therefore not coupled to the scientific method.

However, at the end of the 1960s and thanks to leading figures such as Albert Bandura, behaviourism has given way to the “cognitive revolution”. The cognitive psychology combines the experimental and positivist orientation of behaviorism, but without kidnapping the researcher in the study of externally observable behavior, since it is precisely the mental life of people that must always remain in the orbit of what Psychology tries to investigate.