Albert Bandura, Leading Psychologist of Social Learning Theory, Dies

Albert Bandura, a renowned psychological scientist whose name has become nearly synonymous with his 1961 Bobo doll experiment, died July 26, 2021, at age 95, in Stanford, California. Over the course of nearly 60 years at Stanford University, Bandura established the foundations of both self-efficacy and social learning theory and is considered one of the most influential psychological scientists in the world. 

In his landmark study of social learning, Bandura presented children with one of two scenarios involving the now iconic inflatable doll, Bobo the clown: one in which an adult kicked, hit, and threw the doll, and another in which the adult handled the doll without aggression. Children who witnessed an adult attack the doll were significantly more likely to exhibit aggression themselves, indicating that children can be strongly influenced by observing the behavior of other people without any explicit instruction. 

Bandura discussed the foundational role this experiment played in his lifetime of research during his 2014 Inside the Psychologist’s Studio interview with APS Fellow Gian Vittorio Caprara at the 2014 APS Annual Convention. His work is widely credited with advancing the field of psychological science beyond behaviorism, which positioned learning as a simple matter of reward and punishment, to a more complex social-cognitive model of learning. This work has contributed not only to the development of treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy but to worldwide initiatives related to everything from adult literacy to family planning and the prevention of child trafficking. 

An APS charter member and recipient of both the William James Fellow and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, Bandura received numerous other lifetime achievement awards from organizations in the field. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980, became a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989, and received a National Medal of Science from U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016. 

Bandura wrote 11 books, of which Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control and Social Foundations of Thoughts and Action: A Social-Cognitive Theory are among the most cited. 

Selected research by Albert Bandura in APS journals 

Psychological Science 

A Sociocognitive Analysis of Substance Abuse: An Agentic Perspective (1999) 

Prosocial Foundations of Children’s Academic Achievement (2000) 

Exercise of Human Agency Through Collective Efficacy (2000) 

Perspectives on Psychological Science 

Toward a Psychology of Human Agency: Pathways and Reflections (2018) 

Applying Theory for Human Betterment (2019) 

Toward a Psychology of Human Agency (2006) 

Photo credit: Ryan K. Morris and the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation

Comments

It was a huge privilege to have Dr. Bandura as one of my professors at Stanford. Social Psychology was my area of concentration and to be in the presence of one of the giants in the field made me awestruck. But Dr. Bandura was not just an insightful genius for our field, he was a great human being. I loved his sense of humor. He liked to hear a good joke and loved to tell one too. He always had time for those who needed to talk to him about an idea. And he treasured his graduate students who treasured him equally as much. One of the things he enjoyed most was to have a get-together with former graduate students. He kept track of them and what they did as though they were his children, and I think he looked on them that way. They were his intellectual children. He is missed.


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