The next form of learning takes place by observing others. Earlier this for m of learning was called imitation. Bandura and his colleagues in a series of experimental studies investigated observational learning in detail. In this kind of learning, human beings learn social behaviours,
therefore, it is sometimes called social learning. In many situations individuals do not know how to behave. They observe others and emulate their behaviour. This form of learning is called modeling.

Examples of observational learning abound in our social life. Fashion designers employ tall, pretty, and gracious young girls and tall, smart, and well-built young boys for popularising clothes of different designs and fabrics. People observe them on televised fashion shows and advertisements in magazines and newspapers. They imitate these models. Observing superiors and likeable persons and then emulating their behaviour in a novel social situation is a common experience.

In order to understand the nature of observational learning we may refer to the studies conducted by
Bandura. In one of his well-known experimental study, Bandura showed a film of five minutes duration to children. The film shows that in a large room there ar e numerous toys including a large sized ‘Bobo’ doll. Now a grown-up boy enters the room and looks around. The boy starts showing aggressive behaviour towards the toys in general and the bobo doll in particular. He hits the doll, throws it on the floor, kicking it and sitting on it. This film has three versions. In one version a group of children see the boy (model) being rewarded and praised by an adult for being aggressive to the doll. In the second version another group of children see the boy being punished for his aggressive behaviour. In the third version the third group of children are not shown the boy being either rewarded or punished.

After viewing a specific version of the film all the three groups of children were placed in an experimental room in which similar toys were placed around. The children were allowed to play with the toys. These groups were secretly observed and their behaviours noted. It was found that those children who saw aggressive behaviour being rewarded were most aggressive; children who had seen the aggressive model being punished were least aggressive. Thus, in observational learning observers acquire knowledge by observing the model’s behaviour, but performance is influenced by model’s behaviour being rewarded or punished.

You must have noticed that children observe adults’ behaviours, at home and during social ceremonies and functions. They enact adults in their plays and games. For instance, young children play games of marriage ceremonies, birthday parties, thief and policeman, house keeping, etc. Actually they enact in their games what they observe in society, on television, and read in books.

Children learn most of the social behaviours by observing and emulating adults. The way to put on clothes, dress one’s hair, and conduct oneself in society are learned through observing others. It has also been shown that children learn and develop various personality characteristics through observational learning. Aggressiveness, pro- social behaviour, courtesy, politeness, diligence, and indolence are acquired by this method of learning.


Some psychologists view learning in terms of cognitive processes that underlie it. They have developed approaches that focus on such processes that occur during learning rather than concentrating solely on S-R and S-S connections, as we have seen in the case of classical and operant conditioning. Thus, in cognitive learning, there is a change in what the learner knows rather than what s/he does. This form of learning shows up in insight learning and latent learning.

Insight Learning

Kohler demonstrated a model of learning which could not be readily explained by conditioning. He performed a series of experiments with chimpanzees that involved solving complex problems. Kohler placed chimpanzees in an enclosed play area where food was kept out of their reach. Tools such as poles and boxes were placed in the enclosure. The chimpanzees rapidly learned how to use a box to stand on or a pole to move the food in their direction. In this experiment, learning did not occur as a result of trial and error and reinforcement, but came about in sudden flashes of insight. The chimpanzees would roam about the enclosure for some time and then suddenly would stand on a box, grab a pole and strike a banana, which was out of normal reach above the enclosure. The chimpanzee exhibited what Kohler called insight learning – the process by which the solution to a problem suddenly becomes clear. 


In a normal experiment on insight learning, a problem is presented, followed by a period of time when no apparent progress is made and finally a solution suddenly emerges. In insight learning, sudden solution is the rule. Once the solution has appeared, it can be repeated immediately the next time the problem is confronted. Thus, it is clear that what is learned is not a specific set of conditioned associations between stimuli and responses but a cognitive relationship between a means and an end. As a result, insight learning can be generalised to other similar problem situations.

Latent Learning

Another type of cognitive learning is known as latent learning. In latent learning, a new behaviour is learned but not demonstrated until reinforcement is provided for displaying it. Tolman made an early contribution to the concept of latent learning. To have an idea of latent learning, we may briefly understand his experiment. Tolman put two groups of rats in a maze and gave them an opportunity to explore. In one group, rats found food at the end of the maze and soon learned to make their way rapidly through the maze. On the other hand, rats in the second group were not rewarded and showed no apparent signs of learning. But later, when these rats were reinforced, they ran through the maze as efficiently as the rewarded group.

Tolman contended that the unrewarded rats had learned the layout of the maze early in their explorations. They just never displayed their latent learning until the reinforcement was provided. Instead, the rats developed a cognitive map of the maze, i.e. a mental representation of the spatial locations and directions, which they needed to reach their goal.


Verbal learning is different from conditioning and is limited to human beings. Human beings, as you must have observed, acquire knowledge about objects, events, and their features largely in terms of words. Wor ds then come to be associated with one another. Psychologists have developed a number of methods to study this kind of learning in a laboratory setting. Each method is used to investigate specific questions about learning of some kind of verbal material. In the study of verbal learning, psychologists use a variety of materials including nonsense syllables, familiar words, unfamiliar words.

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