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

The PhD journey

March 25, 2010

I entered the University of Calgary in 1968 as a mature student doing English in a B.Ed degree having left school at 15 in Glasgow Scotland.It was a long and tough four years driving taxi at the weekends, getting robbed once and beaten up twice and drinking too much in between the grind of university and part-time work.   Being quite uncomfortable with public speaking I went out to the University of Victoria and did my 4th year senior English courses ( modern American and British literature) coming back to do the professional teaching year when I was more ready.

Moving on from teaching  junior high English at Victoria and then Branton Junior high schools (hardest work ever),and getting married I went back to the UK, probably to prove I could really do it and did my MA at the University of Sussex in 1977.

This was an incredible experience and I lucked out as the School of Education program under  guidance of Dr. Michel Eraut was very flexible, no exams, minimum bullshit but really challenging and perfect for a self-starter who could get out and find schools to do research in. Most of them were pissed off with the university so it was pretty difficult for an outsider. This led  my  developing academic brain to the world of curriculum development within organizational behaviour and planned change. It had a pass/fail system of grading and two significant projects,  An Institutional Profile of a school (Whitehawk Middle School), and a Curriculum Analysis (South Downs High School). The final was a major organizational project (A Case Study of Curriculum Innovation in Scotland). The latter was quite a ‘full circle’ for me as I was researching the four major curriculum  centers (English, Social Studies, Modern languages and Science) in the very system that I had hated with a passion as a young schoolboy. At one point when working out of the Social Sciences Center at Jordanhill Teaching College I could look out my window at my old  school for which I had developed a very unhealthy loathing for and had left in a foul mood on a pissing wet day at 15 to head for the shipyards.

With my MA completion came my first daughter, born in Glasgow about the same time I got my degree in the mail. Complete with baby, debts, voluminous student loans we came back to Canada in 1978 to a very changed situation and a major recession with hundreds of teachers out of work including myself. It took a few tough years but I developed a behavioural oriented consultancy practice within policing and enjoyed the excitement and motivation of working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other law enforcement organizations  for the next decade. My teaching and curriculum research capability was a great asset. During that time I met many  police officers who were exceptional people and showed great resilience in very difficult situations. The germ of an idea began to form and I considered writing a book at the time about the “what’s in them” question – why were some so resilient to stress/trauma and adversity.

Family, travel, young kids growing and a full on teaching load put that into the background until many years later, now living in Australia at age 67 (See my Why Now article on this blog)  I approached a wonderful friend and academic colleague from teaching MBA organizational behaviour in China with, Dr Steven Segal and it all came together. With his encouragement I applied to do a research PhD at Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM) under his supervision. I am now 7 months into a planned five-year part-time doctorate. I even have a business card that says I am a ‘Doctoral Scholar’ not bad for a tearaway kid who left school at 15.

The PhD journey has begun: More later

Albert Bandura – Introduction to the “Resilience Guru”

March 15, 2010


I haven’t failed. I’ve identified 10,000 ways this doesn’t work.”
Thomas Edison

Most of the ideas for my PhD are based on the work of Albert Bandura, who is probably the most prominent academic figure in the field of self-efficacy. Without Bandura, a PhD on this stuff would certainly be a lot harder… I want to try to introduce Bandura to you in a nutshell, which will be hard to do with a man who had such an incredible life.

Bandura’s family were no strangers to adversity themselves, which might have been the reason for his devotion to the subject matter later on. As the son of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants, Albert Bandura was born in 1925 in the 400-soul village of Mundare, Canada, as the youngest and the only boy of a set of six children. His parents had no formal education, but showed remarkable resilience and self-efficacy throughout their lives, with his father, for instance, teaching himself to read three languages.

The pioneer life proved to be difficult for the family, however. In tough years of drought they had to feed part of their thatched rooftop to the cattle to save them from starvation. They lost one of their children in a hunting accident and another was claimed by the pandemic flu. Bandura’s mother worked as a nurse at the time wandering from home to home to help those who had survived.

Nevertheless, the family succeeded in providing Bandura with an education and he went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver after finishing high school. To make ends meet he worked in a woodwork plant in the afternoons and took classes in the morning. By coincidence, he decided to enrol in a psychology class as a filler for an earlier time slot. Psychology sparked his interest; he found his passion for it and never looked back. In order to find what he called “the stone tablets of psychology”, Bandura then went on to pursue graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where he received a PhD degree in clinical psychology in 1952.

In 1953, Bandura joined the faculty at Stanford University, where he also published his first book, Adolescent Aggression, in 1959. His further research concentrated on the development of a theory of social modelling, taking into consideration how people learn by observation rather than simply through the consequences of their own actions. In 1964, Bandura became full professor at Stanford University and in 1977 he published his ambitious research results in the book Social Learning Theory, which was to dramatically alter the direction of psychology in the 1980s.

Looking at Bandura’s life and experiences, it becomes very obvious just how important self-efficacy and resilience are in any success story and that it’s not only about the opportunities that are given to you – may they be positive or negative in nature – but how you choose to make use of them…

He who has a why to live for, can endure almost any how.
Dr. Victor Frankyl, Psychiatrist


Bibliographical information from

What is Resilience?

March 15, 2010

Imagine you get called into your boss’ office where previously you had been told that you have been doing a great job and the company really appreciates your contribution for the last five years, BUT unfortunately they will have to let you go…At the same time you are living on your own after an acrimonious divorce and the final straw is you need a hip replacement. This is when having a resilient spirit is going to be very important.

Most of us would have heard about resilience it in one way or another. Maybe someone has commended you on your ability to bouncer back before, or maybe you have read one of those great quotes you find in the ‘Inspiration’ section of the bookshops, like Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” But what does it really mean?

Resilience usually goes hand in hand with a few other terms such as self-efficacy, adversity, and motivation. How people deal with misfortune or hardships in their lives is an important aspect of their character. It means facing life’s difficulties with courage and endurance and a healthy belief in oneself. It’s about not giving up! Now, the really interesting question is why are there some people who seem to have a very strong resilience, who just keep going no matter how hard it is, and there are others who find it much more difficult to get themselves back up…

I might come back to this thought a little later, and will leave the topic with a quote by Albert Bandura, who is in some ways a ‘resilience guru’: “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.”