General Principles

A modeling procedure focuses on the skill to be learned, its context, and its consequences. The modeled event is effective if the observer (1) absorbs the skill information, and later (2) has the opportunity, motive, and self-belief to use it (Bandura, 1997). Much research in the last 40 years has contributed to an understanding of these components.

The characteristics of the model contribute to the effectiveness of the procedure. The use of similar models, multiple models, and coping (as opposed to mastery) performances have been shown to assist effectiveness. These factors contribute to the ability of the viewer to absorb the skill information. They help to ensure that some of the skills demonstrated are attainable at an appropriate level of use by the observer.

When the model is similar, the observer will pay more attention and is more likely to be motivated to replicate the demonstrated behavior. Because the activity is important, behavioral similarity counts more than looks, social back ground, and so on, and unusual models, such as clowns, can gain attention without effective absorption of the skill information. The use of multiple models can boost the magnitude of effect and its generalization to other settings.

Coping (better called struggling) models are sometimes more effective than mastery models, who demonstrate only expert performance. High-status models can also be effective. These potentially contrary results are understood by considering how the modeled skills are relevant to the observer's ability level and how the specific model may contribute to motivation and sense of self-efficacy.

The characteristics of the observer and the setting also affect the efficacy of modeling. Sometimes observational learning must first be taught as a skill in itself—for example, young children with autism may not have learned to imitate others. Emphasizing a positive outcome or reward for the target behavior can enhance the effectiveness of a model. But it is important to note the frequent failure of negative modeling to act as a deterrent. The reverse is often the case, sometimes tragically. More than once, for example, televised dramatizations of teenage suicides, intended to be a deterrent, have been followed by increases in suicides of young people.

Modeling is well documented as a powerful intervention in its own right, but it is mostly used along with other procedures, such as opportunity to practice. It will normally take its place early in the learning sequence: basic information, modeling, practice, feedback, and feedforward. It can also be used as a sophisticated component in advanced learning applications.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Dowrick, P. W. (1999). A review of self modeling and related interventions. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 8, 23-39.

Peter W. Dowrick University of Hawaii, Manoa

See also: Self-efficacy; Video: Major Applications in Behavioral Science

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