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Observational learning describes the process of learning through watching others, retaining the information, and then later replicating the behaviors that were observed.

There are a number of learning theories, such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning, that emphasize how direct experience, reinforcement, or punishment lead to learning.

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A tremendous amount of learning happens through this process of watching and imitating others. Observational learning is sometimes also referred to as shaping, modeling, and vicarious reinforcement.While it can take place at any point in life, it tends to be the most common during childhood as children learn from the authority figures and peers in their lives.It also plays an important role in the socialization process, as children learn how to behave and respond to others by observing how their parents and other caregivers interact with each other and with other people.Psychologist Albert Bandura is the researcher perhaps most often identified with learning through observation.Children who saw film clips in which the adult was punished for this aggressive behavior were less likely to repeat the behaviors later on.

Bandura's research on observational learning raises an important question: If children were likely to imitate aggressive actions viewed on a film clip in a lab setting, doesn't it also stand to reason that they will imitate the violence they observe in popular films, television programs, and video games?

The debate over this topic has raged on for years, with parents, educators, politicians, and movie and video game makers weighing in with their opinions on the effects of media violence on child behavior. Psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill investigated the link between video game violence and aggressive behavior and found that in lab studies, students who played a violent video game behaved more aggressively than those who had not played a violent game.

In 2005, the American Psychological Association issued a report concluding that exposure to violent interactive video games increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

He and other researchers have demonstrated that we are naturally inclined to engage in observational learning.

In fact, children as young as 21 days old have been shown to imitate facial expressions and mouth movements.

If you've ever made faces at an infant and watched them try to mimic your funny expressions, then you certainly understand how observational learning can be such a powerful force even from a very young age.