American Psychological Association

115th Convention
San Francisco , August 17-20 2007

[Albert Bandura]
Photo by Fenichel: 12 August 2007

Up Close and Personal with Albert Bandura, Ph.D.

18 August 2007

Albert Bandura is a name known to virtually every student of introductory or social psychology, truly a legend of psychology. He was introduced by past-APA president Richard Suinn, who noted how easy it is to forget that "legends are real people" with life narratives of their own. Bandura, he noted, is the only son among 6 children of immigrant parents (Alberta CA). His father laid track for the railroad. Bandura was said (by Suinn) to have ended up studying psychology "by accident", something Bandura later elaborated upon. He followed what he thought was the Holy Grail of psychology study and went to Iowa, and got his doctorate there after finishing his undergrad study at University of BC. His "first and continuing job" was "just down the road in Palo Alto", at Stanford, beginning as a non-tenured acting instructor, and remaining there for 53 years. (Bandura commented: "It's not the miles you've traveled but the amount of tread you still have.")

Dr. Suinn began his questioning (to be followed later by audience participation) by observing how so many of us think immediately of Bobo dolls whenever Bandura's name comes up (given his seminal research on aggression, some of which he shared in a video clip). Suinn asked Bandura for his thoughts about this, and some context.

Bandura said that "when I got into this business behaviorism pretty much dominated the field. 'We only learn through direct experience'". He couldn't figure out how, in a complex society, everything could simply be derived from trial and error learning. But the alternative explanation of the time was psychoanalysis, and that was not so amenable to the empirical research which he felt was important to do. He came up with the BoBo doll paradigm as a way of studying "observational learning". And now, "the Bobo doll follows me everywhere I go", still. He shared how this had become "a stressor for my secretary" at times, especially when the Unabomber was on the loose, sending out packages to academics. He then shared a clip of the actual experiment, with some very aggressive children whacking the doll with mallets and pointing toy guns at it. A little girl was given a small doll and she used it to hit the Bobo doll.

As the study drew attention, Bandura recalled, he found himself coming under attack, and accused of "flawed research". Meanwhile the surgeon general put together a committee to explore the effects of televised violence. Now, he noted, such studies seem to come along every four years or so, timed to the political cycle. However, while "good for political purposes" it also led, as is often the case when working with public policy, to people casting aspersions on his scholarship. At the time he became a cover story on TV Guide, the article entitled "The Man in the Eye of the Storm", and he was generally attacked and berated.

Meanwhile, back in this century, Bandura - after about 50 years of exploring parameters of social aggression - has focused on emerging and mushrooming global issues, including: 1) emerging population growth; 2) raising the global status of women, respecting their dignity and reproductive rights; 3) curtailing the spread of the AIDS epidemic; and 4) abominations such as genital mutilation which is so prevalent in the Sudan. Next we were shown a video where a woman in Tanzania was interviewed about the gravity of life there, and where a man expressed reverence for "applying the social learning theory of Bandura", calling it "life saving", particularly insofar as encouraging conversations within families.

Next came the "up close and personal" interaction, with the assembled mass of psychologists here in San Francisco. Bandura fielded a question first about "free will" being the antithesis of a Skinnerian framework. Bandura responded that he's just finished a chapter specifically about free will, adding that "the notion of free will is ancient", and problematic for theologians and philosophers, often introducing other notions such as the Devil to account for some behaviors. In addition, in the real world, "paradoxically, in order to have freedom we need to surrender some of our autonomy", for example being willing to obey traffic rules. In exchange for this willingness to give up some autonomy, "we gain predictability and control". It's not a straightforward S-R paradigm, either, which we live by, but a "complex interplay of personal determinants": behavioral and environmental ("social/structural") determinants. Skinner, however, had a "unidirectional" schema where everything was environmental determination with no role at all for volition. He quipped that "most theorists exempt themselves from their notion of how people behave".

While Bandura expressed some healthy skepticism about "unidimensional" explanations for behavior (e.g., in the case of Skinner), he also confessed that he is "amused by post-modernists who argue that there is no one correct view" as well as the "physical eliminationists who credit neural networks with everything - but not their authorship".

Returning to the complexity of cognition and decision making, Bandura gave an illustration of how "we exercise 2 levels of control which involve *secondary* control." To get to San Francisco, he does not need to know about the combustion properties of his automobile engine, "the neural network of the car". But he does plan a route and make hotel reservations in advance, all requiring a great deal of (volitional) cognitive activity. Moreover, "if we get into the notion that we're reducing psychology to biology, we can't stop there." We need to start getting into chemistry, physics, etc. As far as he can tell though, "we can't go to a particle physicist and ask, 'how do we produce an efficacious teacher?"

Bandura was asked to elaborate on his current thinking regarding 'self-efficacy', to which he responded that it is essentially "belief in your abilities [but] it's NOT a decontextualized trait".

One needs to consider (as in his planning the trip to San Francisco) what impediments a person may face. In clinical practice, an example might be the issue of self-efficacy one confronts in remaining away from drinking, in which case the central issue might be "the extent to which you can refrain from a certain behavior". Similarly, there may be self-efficacy variations involved in whether one can stick to an exercise routine.

He repeated his point: we need context. Bandura looks at situations which entail  scaling efficacy in terms of the ability to refrain from a behavior given conditions which make it difficult to do that. 


Bandura was asked, how has the notion of 'self-efficacy' been misrepresented? "Self esteem is NOT the same as self-efficacy," said Bandura. "Self-esteem is a sense of self-worth. I have zero efficacy in ballroom dancing but this doesn't affect my sense of self-esteem in the least."

Audience questions:

QU: On coping, specifically after a traumatic event. What do we know about differentiating who will develop PTSD and who will not? [This is a question currently being researched by several people, and highlighted in several recent APA articles and in some of the presentations yesterday and today.]

A: Bandura mentioned research which involved a meta-analysis of numerous studies in this area and which concluded that about 80% of trauma survivors do recover: "a tremendous testimony to human resilience". He believes that "perceived efficacy that you can recover your life after the event is the best predictor" of being able to do so.

QU- Looking at all the celebrity scandals, in sports & entertainment, what do you make of this?

A: Bandura referred to the behavior of Michael Vick and "Fighting Gods", noting that  we are now experiencing an epidemic of moral disengagement [the topic about which he spoke later in the afternoon]. We have all our CEO's transgressing in ways that profoundly affect the lives of people who are retiring, and so on.  For now, a few go to jail for a short time - Martha Stewart for example - and then get out and write their books: "Atonement now brings rewards rather than punishment". One wonders what will happen within the NFL and NBA, and the message that will be sent.

QU- On "collective efficacy in children": How does it lag behind (individual) self efficacy?

A: "Efficacy is embedded in the theory of agency." Usually the focus is on *individual* factors, but here we have a group, and one issue becomes 'can we influence somebody else to get us what we want - relying on proxies?' Theories of collective efficacy have been slow in coming but there is work being done now. Stajkovic now has a meta-analysis linked to the theory that the dynamic grows where there is a lot of interdependence - like team sports." In Rome, Bandura looked at "dyadic efficacy" within families, how a child impacts the parent and vice versa, how the spouses interact and impact child and each other, etc. "On the Internet I have a paper on collective efficacy" and the last chapter in his new book is "devoted entirely to this".

QU- What was the "accident" which Dr. Suinn referred to in his introduction, which led to Bandura becoming a psychologist?

A: "We often think about transformational events bringing about an epiphany in our lives, but I think the opposite: Most of our big decisions are based on trivial factors." In his case he was playing golf one day, waiting for his start time and playing behind 2 women who were moving slowly while he was speeding up. Result: "I met my wife in the sand trap."

Meanwhile, in college he was required to take 2 sports activities. After having "almost died" from running around a field, he decided it would be best to take archery. Then he looked for an indoor sport but again found it too onerous to climb ropes and engage in other strenuous activities, so he opted for golf, and "the rest is history" since that's how he met his future wife. "Psychology cannot explain the occurrence of these events. We can exercise some measure of control over fortuity," such as having an active life and going many places, so as to maximize the possibility of meetings and events. He quoted Pasteur: "Chance favors only the prepared mind". But he also acknowledged Groucho Marx's adage (paraphrasing) that you've got to be in the right place at the right time, but when you are, you'd better have something on the ball".

QU - And the "accidental" study of psychology?

A: Bandura found himself with an academic load which began with an ungodly-early course and there was a gap in his schedule which he wanted to fill. He saw "Intro to Psychology" at the perfect time and thought "gee", ok. And so "I took it and found my calling."

QU - Of what are you most proud?

A: The NEXT book! [He doesn't dwell on the past.] I'm trying to describe the psychology of human agency." He is taking a "bottom up" neural network view: "If our behavior is determined by our neural networks, why should people be held accountable? 'My neural network made me do it!' " (Imagine this as a court defense!) Some may say, he knows, "We can't initiate it but we can control it cognitively. Others respond that the control is controlled by the neural network" and so again we have this chicken-egg argument or dilemma.

Another thing he is excited about, looking forward, is finishing a paper on "moral disengagement as an impediment to environmental sustainability". Returning to his point that he is most excited, or 'proud' of future endeavors, he explained that "if you just write what you know, that becomes a dull exercise. Often, with research and writing, it's a process of self-exploration."

QU- from Dr. Suinn: When you first arrived at Stanford, reportedly you were very intimidated by all the giants, larger than life figures. What is your coping mechanism?

A: "Don't let them wear you down! You have to have tremendous resilience." In his case he began with a one year, non-tenured appointment and had to fight for such things as a parking permit. He did flirt with leaving for another position but was courted, and in conjunction with 'risk taking and resilience' he ended up with a 3-year tenured contract.

Related to this, Bandura noted that studies of people who become successful innovators identify 2 common factors: 1) An  unshakeable belief in self-efficacy  and 2) A  tremendous belief in the worth of what they they're doing. 

QU- What were some of the sources of your own sense of self-efficacy, and how might this have impacted your theory?

A: "I grew up in a small town", with one school and only several hundred residents. By necessity he engaged in a great deal of "self-directed learning" which was not "theoretical" but oriented towards survival and coping. Meanwhile his parents encouraged him to spread his wings and see the world beyond this environment, on school breaks. Once at UBC he took on a heavy course load AND worked in a ladder company in the afternoons. He got his degree in 3 years, and figured he should then get a Ph.D. in another 2, going from high school to doctorate in 5 years. Aside from academic immersion, during one break Bandura went to the wilderness area of the Yukon where he was very impressed how "their resilience and survival were at a premium". The population included "people escaping parole officers" and alimony payments, etc - "rough characters" in the wilderness. There was even one occasion where the local mash still was invaded by 6 grizzly bears, with the result of 6 tipsy grizzlies and yet another eye-opening experience.

As time ran out, Dr. Suinn mentioned a bit more personal information about Bandura, including his being a wine connoisseur. On his birthday he was given a surprise party at a vineyard where he was presented with a bottle of wine with a vintage year matching each one of his papers, so the older papers earned him some very rare wines. There was a video of the surprise party, to end this session, as family and students and friends celebrated his birthday by singing a parody of the Beatles' "Yesterday" which began with the line, "Yesterday, I thought helplessness was here to stay...." And at the end, Bandura was simply mobbed by admirers seeking autographs and photos. He was warm, gracious, and humble, a legend for good reason and fascinating to listen to in this relatively unstructured discussion format. Albert Bandura, still going strong.

** Note
[30 July 2012] These examples of 'self-efficacy' highlight an additional aspect beyond 'social influence', in describing a 'self-efficacy' as more deeply rooted within the self. Here Bandura underscored the notion of 'restraint', as self-control in turn leads to successful outcomes and feedback.

Bandura described his efficacy scales and shared that he had posted on his website a guide for developing such scales. He'd also published his entire encyclopedic bibliography, all his papers from 1953 to 2007. Recently the website has disappeared, re-confirmed in 2012. Hoping both Dr. Bandura and his incredible library of work reappear again soon. Albert Bandura: a pioneer, legend, and trailblazer in the field of psychology.
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INDEX OF 2001 APA Convention Articles:
Behavioral Telehealth | E-biz of Mental Health | 2001: A Cyberspace Odyssey

INDEX OF 2002 APA Convention Articles:
CyberSex & Cyber-Infidelity | Beck & Ellis 2002 | Behavior Therapy | CyberPsychology | E-Ethics

2003 Convention Highlights: Full Text | Beck 2003 | Quality of Online Health Info | Sternberg's Vision

2005 Convention Highlights:   Opening Session | Pioneers of Behavior Therapy
Distinguished Elders of Psychotherapy | Legends Discuss Psychology | Online Clinical Work | Town Hall Meeting

2006 Convention Highlights:
Opening | Online Psychotherapy & Research | Psychological Vital Signs | Advances in Cognitive Therapy
Brok on Chaplin | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2006 | Dr.Phil | 21st Century Ethics | Media: Town Hall '06

2007 Convention Highlights:
Humanizing an Inhumane World | Opening Session | Albert Bandura | Linehan, on Suicide
Psychology's Future | Conversation with Aaron T. Beck - 2007 | Evil, Hate, & Horror

2008 Convention Highlights:
Grand Theft Childhood | Opening | Malcolm Gladwell | College Success, Love, Hate, More | My Life With Asperger's
My Space, You Tube, Psychotherapy, Relationships... | Aaron T. Beck - 2008 | The Mind and Brain of Voters

2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo
Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think

2010 Convention Highlights:
Online Support Groups & Applications | Evidence & Ethical Practice | Opening Ceremony | Sir Michael Rutter: Resilience
Group Memory | Psychology in the Digital Age | Steven Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have that the World Needs Now

2011 Convention Highlights:
2011: eHealth Odyssey | Googling, Twittering, Poking | Zimbardo: Reflections + Enduring Lessons from 40 Years Ago: Stanford Prison Experiment
Avatar-based Treatments | Canine Cognition: Chaser | Aaron T. Beck @90 | CCBT | Seligman: Flourish | Psychology, Technology, Virtual & Augmented Reality | Relationships 3.0
POKE ME: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids | 'Monastic' Psychology Studies | Telehealth and Telepsychology Licensure - Barriers and Possible Solutions

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