Modeling Psychology

Modeling Psychology. Psychology Fanatic article header image
Modeling Psychology. Psychology Fanatic
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Modeling in psychology refers to the process of learning through observation of others. Learning from others is an effective method of drawing from the skill and experience of someone that either fought through the difficulties of learning from scratch or learned the behavior (or group of behaviors) from someone else. In psychology, we refer to this as social learning.

Tony Robbin’s suggests that learning through identifying a model of desired behaviors is part of a growth mindset. Perhaps, we can learn from the openness of children. We tend to lock into our personalities, beliefs and biases as we grow old and limit vicarious learning to sources we believe already support our preconceived ideas.

Modeling in psychology is a process whereby learning occurs through observation, a form of vicarious learning where the observer learns simply by reciprocating the behaviour of a model without any comment or reinforcement. Children are masters of vicarious learning.

Key Definition:

Modeling in psychology refers to learning through observation and copying the behavior of someone.

Vicarious learning is not a conscious endeavor but an unconscious absorbing of information observed from watching the actions of others. Dr. Robert DeMoss warns that “many lessons imparted through social learning are absorbed…without critical analysis.” DeMoss continues, “one important corollary to being a social creature is that, while in the presence of others, if our brains are receptive as a result of our age, we cannot remain uninfluenced. When the brain is ripe for learning, learning will occur, regardless of the lesson that is presented” (DeMoss, 1999).

While we send to learn from models unconsciously, we don’t indiscriminately learn from observations. In fact, I would argue that our social learning becomes more and more filtered as we age. Biases, expectations, and narrowing window of who we hold as an adequate model refine our pool of acceptable models. This refining process is also largely accomplished unconsciously.

Social Learning

Modeling in psychology is a foundational concept of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory. In a series of papers and presentations, during the early 1960’s, Bandura formulated his theory of social learning. He theorized that “new social responses may be acquired, or the characteristics of existing response hierarchies may be considerably modified as a function of observing the behaviors of others and its response consequences without the observer’s performing any overt responses himself or receiving any direct reinforcement during the acquisition period” (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).

Bandura’s concept of vicarious reinforcement stems from a series of classic studies on learned human aggression. Most memorable are his Bobo Doll studies where observing children mimicked adult aggression on these dolls.

I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.
~Galileo Galileio

Through the process of modeling, individuals can learn not only through direct experience but also by observing the actions and outcomes of others. This concept has profound implications for education, therapy, and even advertising. Organisms do not need to relearn everything from scratch. They learn through observation largely without the presence of any intention of learning or teaching. We observe behaviors, see the consequences, and absorb the lesson.

The Learner

We are pupils in the class of life. Wise instructors surround us. We can observe life mastery from many models. This, of course, happens without effort or intention. Yet, certain factors interfere with integration of healthy information. Our prior learning may create conflict with new incoming information. Instead of improving our vision, we reinterpret the message or deny it all together to match our preexisting beliefs. Crystal Park refers to this in her meaning making model.

Another interfering element is our inability to make connections between a models beliefs and behaviors and the overall consequences associated to these beliefs and behaviors. Making these associations is necessary for vicarious reinforcement to occur. Learning from our own behaviors and consequential reward or punishment also requires making this connection. Often, instated of learning the painful lesson, we unconsciously sever the connection (defense mechanisms) between personal responsibility and unfavorable outcomes to protect our ego.

The learner must be humble, trusting and open to learn. Otherwise, internal mechanism may interfere, blocking some of life’s greatest lessons.

The Model

Model’s matter. Research found that certain model characteristics were more impactful to vicarious learning than others. Live human models impacts learning more than imaginary or non-human models. Kind accepting figures were more influential than rejecting critical models. And observed behaviors carried more weight than observed words.

They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.
~Carl W. Buehner

Whether we want to or not, we act as models. This is a tremendous responsibility. We must routinely examine ourselves to make sure the unintended lessons we teach are of value.

Other Psychological Implications of Modeling Psychology

Additionally, modeling psychology investigates various factors that influence behavior and cognition, including social influences, cultural contexts, and individual differences. By examining how external factors shape behavior and how individuals differ in their cognitive processing styles, psychologists can develop a more comprehensive understanding of human psychology. More recently, research in social learning is targeting technological influences on learning (Mayes, 2015).

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

In summary, modeling psychology is a dynamic and multidimensional field that offers valuable insights into human behavior, cognition, and learning. By studying observational learning, cognitive models, and various influencing factors, psychologists continue to expand our understanding of the complexities of the human mind, which can contribute to advancements in education, therapy, and overall well-being.

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Bandura, Albert, Ross, Dorothea; Ross, Sheila (1963). Vicarious reinforcement and imitative learning. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 67(6), 601-607. DOI: 10.1037/h0045550

DeMoss, Robert T. (1999). Brain Waves Through Time. Basic Books.

Mayes, JT (2015). Still to learn from vicarious learning. E-Learning and Digital Media, 12(3-4), 361-371. DOI: 10.1177/2042753015571839

Park, S., & Puranam, P. (2020). Learning what they think vs. learning what they do: The micro-foundations of vicarious learning. Computing Research Repository, 2023(2007). DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.2023.4842

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