The Bobo doll experiment was a psychological experiment conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and 1963 when he studied children's behavior after watching an adult model act aggressively towards a Bobo doll.

There are different variations of the experiment. The most notable experiment measured the children's behavior after seeing the model get rewarded, get punished, or experience no consequence for beating up the bobo doll.

The experiment is empirical approaches to test Bandura's social learning theory. The social learning theory claims that people learn through observing, imitating, and modeling. It shows that people not only learn by being rewarded or punished (behaviorism), but they can also learn from watching somebody else being rewarded or punished (observational learning). These experiments are important because they sparked many more studies on the effects of observational learning. The studies not only give us new data, but this data has practical implications, e.g. how children can be influenced from watching violent media.

"I Couldn't Do
It Better."

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura OC is a psychologist who is the David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University.

For almost six decades, he has been responsible for contributions to the field of education and to many fields of psychology, including social cognitive theory, therapy, and personality psychology, and was also influential in the transition between behaviorism and cognitive psychology.

He is known as the originator of social learning theory and the theoretical construct of self-efficacy, and is also responsible for the influential 1961 Bobo doll experiment.

The Experiment

The participants in this experiment were 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University nursery school, all between the ages of 37 months and 69 months with a mean age of 52 months (here and following, Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961). The children were organized into 4 groups and a control group. The 4 groups exposed to the aggressive model and non-aggressive model belonged to the experimental group. 24 children were exposed to an aggressive model and 24 children were exposed to a non-aggressive model. The two groups were then divided into males and females, which ensured that half of the children were exposed to models of their own sex and the other half were exposed to models of the opposite sex. The remaining 24 children were part of a control group.

For the experiment, each child was exposed to the scenario individually, so as not to be influenced or distracted by classmates. The first part of the experiment involved bringing a child and the adult model into a playroom. In the playroom, the child was seated in one corner filled with highly appealing activities such as stickers and stamps. The adult model was seated in another corner containing a toy set, a mallet, and an 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.

Bobo Doll

A Bobo doll is an inflatable toy that is about 3 feet tall and is usually made of a soft durable vinyl or plastic. The Bobo doll was most often painted to look like a clown. The doll was designed to be bottom-weighted so that if it were hit, it would fall over then immediately lift back up to a standing position. It first came on the market in the 1960s.

During the aggressive model scenario, the adult would begin by playing with the toys for approximately one minute. After this time the adult would start to show aggression towards the Bobo doll. Examples of this included hitting/punching the Bobo doll and using the toy mallet to hit the Bobo doll in the face. The aggressive model would also verbally assault the Bobo doll yelling "Sock him," "Hit him down," "Kick him," "Throw him in the air," or "Pow". After a period of about 10 minutes, the experimenter came back into the room, dismissed the adult model, and took the child into another playroom. The non-aggressive adult model simply played with the other toys for the entire 10-minute period. In this situation, the Bobo doll was completely ignored by the model, then the child was taken out of the room.

The next stage of the experiment, took place with the child and experimenter in another room filled with interesting toys such as trucks, dolls, and a spinning top. The child was invited to play with them. After about 2 minutes the experimenter decides that the child is no longer allowed to play with the toys, explaining that she is reserving those toys for the other children. This was done to build up frustration in the child. The experimenter said that the child could instead play with the toys in the experimental room (this included both aggressive and non-aggressive toys). In the experimental room the child was allowed to play for the duration of 20 minutes while the experimenter evaluated the child's play.

The first measure recorded was based on physical aggression such as punching, kicking, sitting on the Bobo doll, hitting it with a mallet, and tossing it around the room. Verbal aggression was the second measure recorded. The judges counted each time the children imitated the aggressive adult model and recorded their results. The third measure was the number of times the mallet was used to display other forms of aggression than hitting the doll. The final measure included modes of aggression shown by the child that were not direct imitation of the role-model's behavior (Bandura, Ross & Ross 1961).

Are children influenced by film-mediated aggressive models?

In the 1963 study, Albert Bandura used children between the ages 3 and 6 to test the extent to which film-mediated aggressive models influenced imitative behavior.

32 girls and 32 boys were divided into 3 experimental groups and 1 control group. Group 1 watched a live model become aggressive towards the Bobo doll. Group 2 watched a film version of the human model become aggressive to the Bobo doll, and group 3 watched a cartoon version of a cat become aggressive towards the Bobo doll. Each child watched the aggressive acts individually. Following the exposure to the models all four groups of children were then individually placed in a room with an experimenter where they were exposed to a mildly frustrating situation to elicit aggression. Next the children were allowed to play freely in an adjoining room, which was full of toys, including the Bobo doll and the "weapons" that were used by the models. The researchers observed the children and noted any interaction with the Bobo doll.

Results showed that the children who had been exposed to the aggressive behavior, whether real-life, on film or cartoon, exhibited nearly twice as much aggressive behavior as the control group.


Bandura found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in physically aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. For those children exposed to the aggressive model, the number of imitative physical aggressions exhibited by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7 for the girls (Hock 2009:89). The results concerning gender differences strongly supported Bandura's prediction that children are more influenced by same-sex models. Results also showed that boys exhibited more aggression when exposed to aggressive male models than boys exposed to aggressive female models. When exposed to aggressive male models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by boys averaged 104 compared to 48.4 aggressive instances exhibited by boys who were exposed to aggressive female models. While the results for the girls show similar findings, the results were less drastic. When exposed to aggressive female models, the number of aggressive instances exhibited by girls averaged 57.7 compared to 36.3 aggressive instances exhibited by girls who were exposed to aggressive male models.

Bandura also found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in verbally aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. The number of imitative verbal aggressions exhibited by the boys was 17 times and 15.7 times by the girls (Hock 2009: 89). In addition, the results indicated that the boys and girls who observed the non-aggressive model exhibited far less non-imitative mallet aggression than in the control group, which had no model. Lastly, the evidence strongly supports that males tend to be more aggressive than females. When all instances of aggression are tallied, males exhibited 270 aggressive instances compared to 128 aggressive instances exhibited by females (Hock 2009: 90).

"Acts of aggression were noted."

When each group finished watching their filem the children were allowed into a playroom which included a bobo doll.

The results showed the group of children who saw the model punished for his aggressive behavior had the lowest precent of aggression. The other two groups had comparably higher aggression percetages.