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Children Learn Bullying Behaviors

Bandura’s (1977) Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from observing the behaviors of others as well as the outcomes of those behaviors. According to this theory, children can acquire aggressive behaviors by observing models (e.g., parents, peers) who engage in similar aggressive acts and are reinforced for this behavior. Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1961) provided initial support for this assumption by demonstrating that children learn and imitate aggressive behaviors they have observed in adult models. Some of the children in the study watched a male or female adult behaving aggressively toward a toy called a Bobo doll. Later on, when these children were allowed to play in a room with a Bobo doll, they began to imitate the aggressive behaviors they had previously observed from the adult model. In general, children who observed the aggressive models engaged in significantly more aggressive behaviors than children who were exposed to a non-aggressive model or no model.

Bandura (1977) asserts that in order for observational learning to be successful four conditions – attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation – must be present. First, the observer must pay attention to the model and be able to remember the behavior that was observed. Second, the observer has to be able to replicate the behavior that the model has demonstrated. Lastly, the observer must be motivated to imitate the behavior that has been modeled. Thus, the likelihood that children will imitate bullying behaviors they observe depends on whether they attend to the person’s behaviors, remember the behaviors that are observed, are physically capable of replicating the bullying behaviors, and are motivated to engage in the bullying behaviors. Reinforcement, punishment, and self-efficacy play an important role in motivation (Bandura, 1978; Okey, 1992). For example, children are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors (i.e., bullying) if they result in positive outcomes and/or if they have high self-efficacy for aggressive behaviors and low self-efficacy for alternative coping strategies (Bandura, 1978; Okey, 1992).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800--507-2502.

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