Bobo Doll experiment reveals children and aggression

Do children’s violent behaviors observed in TV shows, movies, and video games cause them to be aggressive? This is a hot question today, but in the 1960s, when a psychologist led an experiment called the Popo Doll Experiment to determine how children learn to be aggressive through observation, it also caused great interest of.


Are aggression and violence acquired behaviors? In a famous and influential experiment called the Popo Doll Experiment, Albert Bandura and his colleagues demonstrated a way children learn to be aggressive.

According to Bandura’s social learning theory, learning occurs through observation and interaction with others. In essence, people learn by observing others and then imitating these behaviors.

Aggression is the source of many social ills, from interpersonal violence to war. No wonder this topic is one of the most studied topics in psychology. Social psychology is a subfield dedicated to the study of human interaction and group behavior. Scientists working in this field provide a large amount of research on human aggression.

Bobo doll experiment

The experiment included exposing children to two different adult models; an aggressive model and a non-aggressive model. After witnessing the behavior of adults, the children will be placed in a room without a model to observe whether they will imitate the behavior they have seen before.


Bandura made several key predictions about what would happen during the Popo doll experiment.

  • Boys will be more aggressive than girls.
  • Even if the adult model is not present, children who observe adult behavior may also act aggressively.
  • Children are more likely to imitate models of the same sex rather than models of the opposite sex.
  • Children who observe the non-aggressive adult model are less aggressive than those who observe the aggressive model; the non-aggressive exposure group is also less aggressive than the control group.


The participants in the experiment were 36 boys and 36 girls in the kindergarten of Stanford University. The children’s age ranged from 3 to nearly 6 years old, and the average age of the participants was 4 years and 4 months.

There are a total of eight experimental groups. Of these participants, 24 were assigned to a control group who would not be exposed to the adult model. Then divide the remaining children into two groups with 24 participants in each group. One of the experimental groups will be exposed to the aggressive model, while the other 24 children will be exposed to the non-aggressive model.

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These groups are divided into boy group and girl group. Then group each of these subgroups so that half of the participants will be exposed to the same-sex adult model and the other half will be exposed to the opposite-sex adult model.

Before conducting the experiment, Bandura also assessed the children’s current level of aggression. Then match the groups equally so that they are equally aggressive.


Each child is individually tested to ensure that his behavior will not be affected by other children. The child is first taken to a playroom, where there are many different activities to explore. Then the experimenter invited an adult model into the playroom and encouraged the model to sit at the table opposite the room with children who had similar activities.

More than ten minutes later, the adult model began to play with tinkering toys. Under non-aggressive conditions, the adult model simply played with toys and ignored the Popo doll throughout. However, under aggressive model conditions, the adult model will violently attack the Bobo doll.

“The model put Bobo aside, sat on it, and repeatedly hit her nose. Then the model lifted the Bobo doll, picked up the mallet, and hit the doll on the head. As the mallet attacked, the model” I put the doll Actively throw it in the air and kick it in the room. This physical aggression was repeated three times, interspersed with verbal aggressive responses. ”

In addition to physical aggression, adult models also use verbal offensive phrases such as “kick him” and “Pow.” The models also added two non-aggressive phrases: “He must be a strong man” and “He keeps coming back for more.”

After 10 minutes of contact with the adult model, each child will be taken to another room, where there are many attractive toys, including a set of dolls, fire trucks and toy airplanes. The children were allowed to play for two minutes and then told that they could no longer play with these enticing toys. The purpose of this is to build frustration among young participants.

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In the end, each child was taken to the last laboratory. There are many “aggressive” toys in this room, including mallets, tether balls with faces, dart guns, and of course Popo dolls. The room also includes several “non-aggressive” toys, including crayons, paper, dolls, plastic animals and trucks.

Then each child was allowed to play in this room for 20 minutes. During this period, the scorer observes the children’s behavior from behind a mirror and judges the level of aggression of each child.


The experimental results support three of the four original predictions.

  • Bandura and his colleagues had predicted that children in the non-aggressive group would be less aggressive than the control group. The results showed that although children of both sexes in the non-aggressive group did show less aggression than the control group, boys with non-aggressive behavior in the heterosexual model were more likely to participate in violence than boys in the control group.
  • Children exposed to violent patterns tend to imitate the exact behaviors they observe in the absence of adults.
  • The researchers’ prediction is correct, that boys will behave more aggressively than girls. Boys’ physical aggressive behavior is more than twice that of girls.
  • There are important gender differences when observing whether homosexual or heterosexual models are observed. Boys who observed the aggressive behavior of adult males were more affected than boys who observed the aggressive behavior of female models. Interestingly, the experimenters found that in the same-sex aggressive group, boys were more likely to imitate physical violence, while girls were more likely to imitate verbal aggression.

Influence and follow up

The experimental results support Bandura’s social learning theory. Bandura and his colleagues believe that the experiment shows how to learn specific behaviors through observation and imitation. The author also suggests that “social imitation may accelerate or shorten the acquisition of new behaviors without the need to strengthen successive approximations as Skinner suggests.”

According to Bandura, the violent behavior of adult models against dolls convinced children that such behavior is acceptable. He also suggested that, therefore, children may be more inclined to react to aggressive setbacks in the future.

In a follow-up study conducted in 1965, Bandura found that if adult models are rewarded for their actions, children are more likely to imitate aggressive behavior, but if they see adult models being punished or due to their hostile behavior And be condemned.

Comments and criticisms

Like any experiment, the research of Bobo dolls is not without criticism:

  • Acting violently against a doll is very different from acting aggressively or violently against another person in the real world.
  • Because the experiment was carried out in a laboratory environment, some critics believe that the results observed in this type of location may not be representative of what is happening in the real world.
  • It is also believed that when children hit the Popo doll, they are not actually aggressive; on the contrary, they may just want to please adults.
  • Since the data is collected immediately, it is also difficult to know the possible long-term effects.
  • Some critics believe that the study itself is unethical. They believe that by manipulating children to be aggressive, the experimenters are essentially teaching the children to be aggressive.
  • The study may have selection bias. All participants are from a small number of students with the same ethnic and socioeconomic background. This makes it difficult to generalize the results to a larger and more diverse population.

Very good sentence

Bandura’s experiment remains one of the most famous studies in psychology. Today, social psychologists continue to study the effects of observed violence on children’s behavior. In the decades since the Popo Doll experiment, there have been hundreds of studies on how violence affects children’s behavior.

Today, researchers continue to think about whether the violent behavior that children witness in TV, movies, or video games will be transformed into aggressive or violent behavior in the real world.