Modeling of Behavior

Modeling of Behavior Definition

Modeling of BehaviorModeling is one way in which behavior is learned. When a person observes the behavior of another and then imitates that behavior, he or she is modeling the behavior. This is sometimes known as observational learning or social learning. Modeling is a kind of vicarious learning in which direct instruction need not occur. Indeed, one may not be aware that another is modeling his or her behavior. Modeling may teach a new behavior, influence the frequency of a previously learned behavior, or increase the frequency of a similar behavior.

Components of Modeling

Four steps are involved in the modeling of behavior. The first is attention. Before a behavior can be replicated, one must pay attention to the behavior. The next step is retention. One must be able to remember or retain the observed behavior. The third stage is reproduction. One must be able to translate the images of another’s behavior into his or her own behavior. In short, one must have the ability to reproduce the behavior. The final stage is motivation. In the end, one must be motivated to imitate the behavior. Until there is a reason, one will not model the behavior.

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Behaviors Influenced by Modeling

Many categories of behaviors are known to be influenced by modeling. One such category of behavior is helping. For example, studies have indicated that children exposed to prosocial models were more helpful than were children who lacked exposure to such models. Modeling also influences aggression. Children exposed to a model playing aggressively mimicked the same aggressive play later, whereas peers unexposed to the aggressive model did not play as aggressively. Research has also found that when children observed an aggressive behavior that produced positive outcomes for the model, they behaved more aggressively. It seems that having seen a positive outcome for an aggressive model increased aggressive behavior in the observer. In addition, modeling influences gender-role behavior. Children learn gender-appropriate behaviors and preferences by imitating same sex models.

Effective Models

Many factors contribute to the effectiveness of a model. Ordinarily, the more attractive or desirable the model is to the observer, the more likely that model will be imitated. The desirability or attractiveness of the model is partially influenced by the prestige the model has to the observer. This explains why parents and teachers often serve as models for behavior. The effectiveness of the model is also to a degree influenced by similarity. The more similar the model is to the observer, the more effective the model will be. This explains why peers provide such strong models for behavior. Furthermore, effective models do not have to be human or live. Puppets and cartoons, as well as television and movie characters, often serve as effective models for behavior.


  1. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development (Vol. 6, pp. 1-60). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
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  4. Sprafkin, J. N., Liebert, R. M., & Poulos, R. W (1975). Effects of prosocial televised example on children’s helping. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 20, 119-126.