Albert Bandura: Biography, Theories, and Impact

(Last Updated On: November 12, 2021)

Albert Bandura was an influential Canadian-American psychologist who was known for his social learning theory, Bobo doll experiment, observational learning, and self-efficacy. Throughout his long career, he left an indelible mark on the field of psychology and influenced other areas including education and psychotherapy.

In this article, learn more about Albert Bandura including his early life, research, and impact on psychology.

Albert Bandura Biography

Albert Bandura was born in Mundare, Canada, a small town in Alberta on December 4, 1925. He was the youngest of his six siblings born to his parents, who immigrated to Canada as teens, his father from Poland, his mother from the Ukraine. Two of his older  sibling died in childhood—one due to the flu and the other in a hunting accident.

While neither of his parents were formally educated, they instilled in him a love for learning. He attended a tiny school with only two teachers and few educational materials. As a result, he found that he had to direct much of his own educational pursuits through his own efforts and curiosity.

It was when he started school at the University of British Columbia that he became fascinated with psychology. He had started taking electives to fill extra time, which was how he started with his first psychology course.

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After completing his degree in 1949, he went to the University of Iowa for graduate school. He completed his master’s degree in 1951 and his doctorate in clinical psychology in 1952. In 1953, he began teaching at Stanford University where he would continue to teach for the rest of his career.

Bandura’s Theories

Albert Bandura developed a social learning theory that emphasized the importance of social learning theory as part of the learning process. During much of the first half of the 20th century, behaviorism dominated the field of psychology. Bandura believed that conditioning processes including association and reinforcement were important, but they couldn’t account for all learning on their own as behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner suggested.

Among Bandura most influential theories, ideas, and research:

  • Bandura’s Bobo doll experiments involved children observing adults behaving aggressively toward a toy Bobo doll. When the children later played with the same doll, they imitated the violent actions the adults previously modeled.
  • Observational learning describes the process of observing and imitating others as a way of learning. As Bandura’s experiments demonstrated, this can involve both direct or indirect demonstrations.
  • Social learning theory describes how people learn by observing and imitating others. Bandura later renamed his approach social cognitive theory to emphasize the cognitive factors, including attention and memory, that play a role in social learning.
  • Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their own ability to succeed. Bandura was the first to demonstrate that a person’s self- belief influenced what people close to do, how they feel about what they do, and how much effort they put in.
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His work on self-efficacy had notable parallels to his own life.

“Self-directedness has really served me very well throughout my whole career,” he suggested in a 2012 episode of Inside the Psychologist’s Studio. “In a way my psychological theory is founded on human agency, which means that people have a hand in determining the course their lives take, and in many respects my theory is really a reflection of my life path.”

Albert Bandura’s Impact 

Bandura is widely regarded as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century.

In a 2002 survey published in the journal General Review of Psychology, Bandura was named the fourth most influential psychologist of the 20th century. The other psychologists who ranked ahead of him were Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and B.F. Skinner. 

Throughout his almost 60 year career, Bandura wrote hundreds of scientific papers, wrote several books, and influenced thousands of students.

His many awards and honors included:

  • The Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology Award from the American Psychological Association
  • The James McKeen Cattell Award from the American Psychological Society 
  • The Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Psychological Science from the American Psychological Foundation

He was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2014. In 2016, President Barack Obama presented Bandura with the National Medal of Science.

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Bandura died on July 26, 2021 at the age of 95. 

Sources:

Haggbloom SJ. The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the Twentieth Century. PsycEXTRA Dataset. 2001. doi:10.1037/e413802005-787

Maccormick HA. Stanford psychology professor Albert Bandura has died. Published July 30, 2021.