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What is Model Learning?

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Model learning is the term introduced by Albert Bandura for a cognitive learning process that occurs when an individual, as a result of observing the behaviour of other individuals and the subsequent consequences, acquires new behaviour or largely changes already existing behaviour patterns. The learner is called the observer, the observed the model. Important for this learning process, which only takes place under certain conditions (e.g. extensive identification of the observer with the model), is vicarious reinforcement. According to Albert Bandura, model learning is a learning principle that is synonymous with classical (Pavlov) and operant (Skinner) conditioning. He describes the process of model learning as “the occurrence of a similarity between the behaviour of a model and that of another person under conditions in which the model’s behaviour has acted as the crucial cue stimulus for imitative responses.”

As for Bruner or Piaget, it was also clear to Bandura that human behaviour could not be explained by stimulus-response relationships alone. He too assumes that higher processes take place between stimulus and reaction. In contrast to other learning psychologists, Bandura deals specifically with the question of how behaviour is acquired, especially in the social and linguistic spheres. For him, his approach of model learning explains the quick and efficient adoption of such behaviours. By learning from a model, people are able to acquire even complex social actions. The human being is influenced by a model. This model can be a concrete person or, for example, a book or a person in a film. By looking at a model, one is encouraged to question certain behavioural alternatives more closely. Three different learning effects can occur.

  • The modelling effect A new way of behaving in a certain situation is learned. It is possible to recall this in an adequate situation.
  • The disinhibiting effect The observed behaviour, which is already familiar to me, lowers/increases my inhibition threshold to display the same behaviour in a similar situation. If a behaviour of the model has a positive effect, my inhibition threshold to select this behaviour will decrease. If the behaviour does not lead to the desired success for the model, the threshold will rise here, especially if the model is punished for his behaviour.
  • The triggering effect In the observing person, an already existing behaviour is triggered. For example, a “football fan” feels the need to take on an opposing “fan group”. As he is still undecided, he observes his friends. Some of them start shouting abuse against the “opponent”. The fan then begins to bawl along.

The observed behaviour triggers the behaviour he already has. Observing a model can therefore lead to new behaviour being learned, to the inhibition threshold for already existing behaviour rising or falling, and it can lead to existing behaviour being triggered.


Stangl, W. (2023, 12 June). Learning from the model – Albert Bandura – Model learning.