The Effect of Observational Learning and Aggression

Aggression, or interpersonal violence, in today’s civilized society is becoming more common and accepted than in past years. But what is making this trail of aggression more common? More violence in today’s television shows and media is teaching young people that violence is an acceptable way to get the things you want.

Observational Learning

Imagine, walking along a sidewalk on a cold winter day, suddenly the person walking in front of you nearly slips on a patch of ice. Most likely you will avoid the area where the sidewalk is icy, and pay attention to patches of ice during the rest of your walk. This is an example of observational learning. Observational learning is defined as “learning by watching the behavior of another person, or model” (Feldman, 2017, Pg. 183). Children learn many skills without formally being taught what to do.


Many factors affect aggression, whether they be genes, hormones, or developmental factors from childhood. “Aggression has been defined as overt behavior with the intention of inflicting physical damage upon another individual” (Nelson, 2006, Pg. v). Wanting to cause physical damage to another person is becoming a bigger problem than ever in today’s civilized society.

The Bobo Doll Study

Albert Bandura conducted research on how observational learning effects children. In the Bobo doll study, children were divided into groups. The first group was shown a video where an adult was beating and throwing the Bobo doll. The second group was shown no video at all. When each group was allowed to go to a playroom that had the Bobo doll, the first group of children began beating the doll while the second group showed little to no aggression towards the Bobo doll.

The Bobo Doll Study Gives Further Evidence of Observational Learning. Source

“TV provides even more opportunities to experience violence than real life does” (Huesmann, 2013, Pg. 5), violent television shows allow many children who would never experience violence first hand, exposure to this behavior. There are so many more opportunities for children to experience and learn these aggressive behaviors than when compared to before television and other forms of today’s media. “immediate but transient short-term changes in behavior and those that produce more delayed but enduring long-term changes in behavior” (Bushman, 2006)

“We are more likely to imitate behavior that is rewarded and refrain from behavior that is punished” (Mcleod, 2014). The children in the first group are shown that aggressive behavior is acceptable, and they will not be punished for showing aggression towards the Bobo doll.

The Bobo doll study makes aggression learned by observation more understandable. By comparing observational learning and the effect it has on aggression, we are able to understand just how closely the two ideas are related.

Television and Videogames

There are so many types of entertainment in today’s world with computers, game consoles, and cell phones there is always an option to provide yourself entertainment. Keeping your brain busy with mind-stimulating games such as word finds or digital puzzles can be great for keeping your brain stimulated and functioning, but what about violent games? Violent video games are considered an escape from the real world by many gamers, but what lessons does this form of entertainment provide to those who play aggressive video games? Aggressive games teach children and adults alike that getting the things you want can be achieved by physically causing harm to other humans and that the consequences are minimal. But as many people know, videogames shy away from the real world consequences to allow players to continue playing and companies to continue selling their products to these consumers. These gamers, being misinformed, believe that they can do these actions in society without punishment. An article from the American Psychological Association presents the topic of videogame violence and television aggression.


Violent television shows increase aggression among children and adults. many people spend more than 20 hours per week watching television. This is more than half of the amount of time that students spend in school per week. Television can be very educational when the right programming is provided to students and adults alike, but educational programming may become boring to many people.

This image from shows a child watching a television show

This is when people begin searching for more exciting television shows, most of which may include violence and aggression. Watching the daily news can also be a stem of aggression among viewers. There are many robberies and murders which get publicized by the media, some viewers then believe that they could perform the same crime but believe that they may have a better plan than the last offender did and believe that they will not get caught. “Exposure to media violence increases aggressive interactions with strangers, friends, and classmates” (Mattson, 2003, pg. 233). While not all news stories cover violence or robberies, they may cover stories that start ideas of revenge, arguments, or hatred between friends and families.


There are many factors that affect aggression and many ways that this behavior can be learned. The next time you are watching a video, movie, or television show, take a minute to think about how that could be affecting your psychological health and well being.


Bushman, B. J. (2006, April 1). Short-term and Long-term Effects of Violent Media on Aggression in Children and Adults. Retrieved from

Feldman, R. S. (2017). Chapter 5 Learning (Pg. 183–189) Essentials of Understanding Psychology. (McGraw Hill Education New York, NY

Huesmann, L. R., & Eron, L. D. (Eds.). (2013). Television and the Aggressive Child: A Cross-National Comparison. Routledge.

Mattson, M. P. (2003). Neurobiology of Aggression : Understanding and Preventing Violence. Totowa, N.J.: Humana Press. Retrieved from

Mcleod, S. (1970, January 1). Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved from

Nelson, R. J. (2006). Biology of Aggression. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from to an external site.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store