Albert Bandura (biography)

April 7, 2010

About Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura is Canadian. He was born in 1925 in Mundare, Alberta, a small village 50 miles east of Edmonton. Ironically, as a young man I spent 6 weeks close by in Vegreville working for Lenkurt Electric installing the microwave antennas on the Post Office tower.

Bandura’s parents emigrated from Eastern Europe and tilled the hard land, built roads, survived drought, harsh winters and the tragedy of losing two of their six children. Regardless of their struggles and lack of formal schooling they both emphasized the value of education and created a lively, musical and fun loving family environment.

Albert went to school in a small country school where teaching materials were at a minimum including only one textbook for mathematics for the entire class (Pajares, 2004). Students had to “take charge of their own education” (Bandura, as cited in Panjares, 2004) and interestingly almost all of them continued their education at universities all over the world (Pajares, 2004). Bandura’s social cognitive theories – particularly self efficacy – were inspired by his own industrious, capable and loving family and the self directed nature of his schooling. Ultimately, his ideas were to change psychological theoretical perspectives dramatically in the 1980’s.

During his high school summer holidays he worked as a carpenter and labourer on the Alaska highway where he was exposed to an amazing range of colourful characters who Bandura himself described as “[not] Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” (Bandura, as cited in Pajares, 2004). These experiences made him develop “a keen appreciation for the psychopathology of everyday life” (Pajares, 2004) and after finishing high school he attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. His choice of psychology came from a need to find an early class time slot to maximize his opportunities for part time work. A psychology course happened to be a convenient option. This was to change the direction of his academic career, and he graduated in 1949 with the Bolcan Award in psychology (Pajares, 2004). His article “The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths” from the early 80’s focused on “how to make chance work for one through self-development to exploit fortuitous opportunities” (Pajares, 2004).

His pragmatic approach to life is demonstrated by his choice of the University of Iowa for graduate work in psychology because it was considered to be where “the stone tablets of psychology” lay (Bandura, as cited in Pajares, 2004). Bandura was exposed to the theories of Clark Hull, Kenneth Spence and Kurt Lewin. Hull and Spence had been together at Yale University where social learning theory originated in the 1930’s at the Institute of Human Relations and was later adapted in Clark Hull’s “Hullian” theories. Bandura had problems with the Hullian learning methodology. Instead he believed that “cultures transmitted social mores and complex competencies primarily through vicarious experience”, therefore focusing on alternative ways how “humans acquired competencies and knowledge” (Pajares, 2004).

Bandura’s personal life took a turn when he met his future wife Virginia Varns, a lecturer at the College of Nursing, on a golf course (Pajares, 2004). With his boundless sense of humour he quipped “I met my wife in a sand trap!” (Bandura, as cited in Pajares, 2004). After receiving his M.A. in Psychology Bandura took  a postdoctoral internship at the Wichita Guidance Centre under the direction of Joseph Brewer, a psychologist who Bandura believed to be less inclined to support the “excessive medicalization of the common problems on living” (Bandura, as cited in Pajares, 2004) at a time when clinical psychology was strongly influenced by psychoanalytic theory.

In 1953, he joined the Faculty of Psychology at Stanford University where he has remained until today. He found a likeable scholastic atmosphere and an academic culture that “approached scholarship not as a matter of publish or perish but with puzzlement that the quest for knowledge could require coercion” (Bandura, as cited in Pajares, 2004).

Inspired by the renowned psychologist Robert Sears, Bandura began field studies in social learning with Richard Walters, his first doctoral candidate. They were studying the nature of antisocial behaviour in boys who, ironically, came from advantaged homes (Pajares, 2004). This led to a laboratory research program about the “determinants and mechanisms of observational learning” (Pajares, 2004).

The results showed that these young people often modelled the hostility expressed by their aggressive parents.  Bandura and Walters found that the impact of “seeing a model meting out punishment outweighed the suppressive effect of receiving punishment directly for aggressive acts” (Pajares, 2004). The research contradicted the previous Freudian influenced theories by Clark Hull that parents directly punishing their child would reduce the child’s aggressive drives. It led to Bandura’s first book Adolescent Aggression in 1959.

He expanded this further through experiments with the inflated plastic doll ‘Bobo’, with which he challenged the Freudian theory of catharsis (modeled behaviours will reduce observers’ aggressive impulses). His results illustrated that children who were exposed to violent behaviour towards the doll by particular social models later mirrored the same violent behaviour to the dolls. Bandura and his colleagues demonstrated that “children could learn new patterns of behaviour vicariously without actually performing them or receiving rewards” (Pajares, 2004).

This view was significantly different from the norms at that time suggesting the intrinsic relationship between learning and direct reinforcement. It challenged the work of Millard and Dollard and “led Bandura to distinguish between the cognitive effects of modelling on acquisition and the motivational effects of rewards on imitative performance” (Pajares, 2004). This laid the foundations for his  second book Social Learning and Personality Development, in 1963. In essence, it convinced Bandura and Walters to see that modelling could account for many forms of learning and freed them from the Freudian and Skinnerian assumptions about catharsis and reinforcement.

In a leap of insight Bandura showed that modelling influences could alter motivation by “instilling behavioural outcome expectations” (Pajares, 2004). Emotional inclinations and value systems are created by the expressions of others as well as one’s own actions.

These revolutionary studies of children’s self motivation and regulation developed into laboratory observations of adult social modelling. For instance, when children observed a game of bowling where the adults rewarded themselves, based on the performances they perceived as  high or low, the children mirrored the performance levels and rewards for their own activities. Those who saw high rewards for high standards mirrored the behaviours and rewards (Panjares, 2004).

With the rapidly accelerating spread of new technologies Bandura expanded his research into how modes of modelling contribute to a diffusion of social effects.

He became a full professor at Stanford in 1964 and after receiving many honours including being awarded a ‘chair’  he published his Social Learning Theory in 1977. This ambitious book “dramatically altered the direction psychology was to take in the 1980’s.”…. He was just getting warmed up”. (Panjares, 2004). His habit of research across a range of interests led him to perceive that people contribute  to their own motivations and actioned decsisions with considerable effect in understanding the core problems of human agency; of producing effects and actions.

Following this direction he embarked on an “examination of self referent thought in psychological function” (Panjares, 2004)and to one of his most significant concepts: that of self efficacy a human factor function within social cognitive theory.

John Walker

Doctoral Candidate


Source: Pajares,F.(2004). Albert Bandura: Biographical Sketch. Retrieved 31.08.09, from