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Cognition and Development – Behaviourist Learning Theories

4. Learning by Observation

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In this lecture, we think about learning through observation, focusing in particular on: (i) the proposed limitations of classical and operant conditioning theories by only considering events which happen to the person or animal being conditioned, rather than those which are observed by them; (ii) Carpenter’s research, which found that infants learned to understand the outcomes of behaviour when observing it, rather than simply imitating that behaviour, at around the age of one year old; (iii) Bandura’s ‘bobo doll study’, which demonstrated that social learning is learning from the consequences of other people’s behaviour; (iv) Bandura’s proposal that children only learn directly from the actions of role models, which in this context are people who are very close and important to the child.


In this course, Dr Cathal O’Siochru (Liverpool Hope University) explores behaviourist learning theories in the context of growth and development. In the first lecture, we think about what learning and development is and how it relates to behaviourism. In the second lecture, we think about classical conditioning as the original behaviourist theory. In the third lecture, we think about operant conditioning, which was the focus of much of B. F. Skinner’s research. Next, we think about learning through observation, with a specific note toward Bandura’s ‘bobo doll experiments’ in the 1960’s. In the fifth and final lecture, we think about self-efficacy and the role it plays in all forms of behavioural reproduction.


Dr Cathal O’Siochru is a senior lecturer in education studies at Liverpool Hope University and has a background in psychology, research methods and education. Dr O’Siochru’s research interests include the psychology of education, epistemological and pedagogical beliefs, and assessment practices. Some of Dr O’Siochru’s recent publications include 'Action learning: how can it contribute to a collaborative process of pedagogical action research?' (2020) and 'Academic perspectives of metrics: Procedural justice as a key factor in evaluations of fairness' (2019).

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O'Siochru, C. (2022, April 20). Cognition and Development – Behaviourist Learning Theories - Learning by Observation [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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O'Siochru, C. "Cognition and Development – Behaviourist Learning Theories – Learning by Observation." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Apr 2022,

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