Rock Star Psychologist Bandura Receives National Medal of Science

He formed social learning theory. He made self-efficacy a game-changing concept. And he really did a number on Bobo the Clown. Albert Bandura is the Keith Moon of psychology.


Albert Bandura, one of the most famous psychologists of all time, has just received the National Medal of Science. According to a 2002 study, Bandura is the most eminent living psychologist and the fourth most cited of all time.

His famous Bobo doll experiments in 1961 and 1963 are some of the most influential psychological studies ever, as their findings have been replicated by numerous studies since. In the study, one group of children watched as adults threw Hulk Hogan-style smackdowns on an inflatable clown doll and used kid-friendly verbal aggression against the doll. Another group of children were not exposed to the clown punching. The children who were exposed to the violent adults were much more likely to imitate the behavior, by kicking, punching, and pummeling the doll. The results confirmed Bandura’s theory of social learning: that we learn through observing, imitating, and modeling. Before this experiment, psychologists believed witnessing violence would “purge” one of their aggressive instincts. Bandura proved them wrong. He reran the experiment in 1963, this time with children watching filmed violence instead. The results were the same — children imitated the aggressive behavior. This research blazed the trail for studying how kids react to violent media.

Bandura’s theories evolved in later decades, as he began to see humans as self-regulating and not at the mercy of external forces. His studies ranged from the late 1970s to 2004, and showed that self-efficacy, or the belief that we have control over our experiences and reactions, could ease the symptoms of phobias and traumas. The idea that we are not just reactive organisms, but that we have the power to self-regulate, to choose, to control, was revolutionary. When we believe things are out of our control, we feel helpless. When we believe there are things we can control, we are empowered. This theory doesn’t undermine the Bobo experiment. We may want to act aggressively when we witness violence; it may even be our go-to reaction. But we have a choice, we have the power to self-reflect, to pause and decide how to respond. That’s a very powerful insight.

Bandura has received 16 honorary degrees, and has been graced with dozens of awards and honors throughout his illustrious career. In 1974, he was named president of the American Psychological Association. Now at 90, he is still teaching and researching at Stanford University, and has one more award for his immeasurable contributions to the field of psychology.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archive

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

7 fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Here are 7 often-overlooked World Heritage Sites, each with its own history.

Photo by Raunaq Patel on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites are locations of high value to humanity, either for their cultural, historical, or natural significance.
  • Some are even designated as World Heritage Sites because humans don't go there at all, while others have felt the effects of too much human influence.
  • These 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites each represent an overlooked or at-risk facet of humanity's collective cultural heritage.
Keep reading Show less

Following sex, some men have unexpected feelings – study

A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.

Credit: Pixabay
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study shows men's feelings after sex can be complex.
  • Some men reportedly get sad and upset.
  • The condition affected 41% of men in the study
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover how to trap mysterious dark matter

A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
  • Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
  • The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Keep reading Show less