The Bobo Doll Experiment

This post answers the following questions

1) When was Bobo doll experiment conducted?
2) What are the methods of Bobo doll experiment?
3) When was a follow-up experiment conducted?
4) Why does the validity of the Bobo doll experiment has been questioned?
5) How did they test the behavior of the children?

The Experiment

The Bobo doll experiment was conducted by Albert Bandura in 1961 and was designed to test how young children learn their behaviour from the observation of adult role models. The subjects of the experiment were 72 children aged 3 to 6 from the Stanford University nursery.


The subjects, whose existing levels of aggression had been tested, were divided into three groups of 24 according to that level of aggression. One group were shown aggressive behaviour from an adult role model, one group passive behaviour and the final control group no adult behaviour. The children were taken individually into a room containing appealing toys. In the aggressive scenario an adult would enter and physically attack a Bobo doll, a kind of mannequin designed to be hit. The adults would hit the doll and or use a mallet which had also been placed in the room, sometimes shouting aggressively. In the non-aggressive version the adult would enter and simply play nicely with the other toys.

Second Stage

In the next stage of the experiment the children were taken, again individually, to another room containing enticing toys and after a short period were told they could not play with them. This was to build up frustration in the subjects.

Final Stage

Finally the children were placed in a room with aggressive toys including a Bobo doll and non-aggressive toys like drawing materials and plastic animals. They were then left to play for a period of 20 minutes whist being observed.


In a 1963 follow-up experiment Bandura wanted to discover whether or not children were performing rather than imitating the behaviours they witnessed. In other words, if they were acting in a certain way because they believed that was what was desired of them. A new element was added to the tests – role models were shown to the children being rewarded or punished for their behaviour.


The results of the experiments supported Bandura’s theory of learned behaviour, that children learn through observation and imitation. The children who witnessed role models attacking the Bobo doll were more likely to act aggressively when left to play alone. In addition children were more likely to exhibit behaviour that they had seen rewarded rather than punished. The tests also showed that boys were more likely to learn aggressive behaviour than girls and were more likely to imitate specific acts of aggression than girls. Girls were more likely to imitate verbal violence than the physical variety and both sexes were more likely to copy a same-sex role model than an adult of the opposite sex.


The validity of the Bobo doll experiment has been questioned. The subjects were drawn from a narrow social pool and therefore it may not have been a good socially representative group. The experiment took place in a laboratory and so was not an accurate mirror of the real world. The object of aggression was a doll and so you could not know if children would replicate the same kind of learned behaviour against a real person or animal. The results were taken immediately and so it was not known whether the children would retain their learned behaviour for the future.


Whatever the validity of the experiment it remains one of the most famous and talked about in psychology and in the 50 years since it was conducted there have been hundreds of further studies looking at the issues it raised.

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