Children see. Children do.


The influence of our role models on behaviour is something of particular interest to psychologists and we study it through the entire psychology course. More specifically we look at the research conducted by Bandura and his work into Social Learning Theory (SLT) in the imitation of aggression. In a television advertisement called “Children See. Children do” which was actually aired in Australia a few year ago a powerful message is passed across to the viewer.

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The message in the video is clear: children imitate behaviour that they see around them: talking on a phone, body language … smoking, violence, so make sure that you’re setting a good example. There’s plenty of psychology behind this and it can be related to many areas that we cover: AS, crime and health behaviours, and we’ll look at how this links in to it all now.

Although SLT is a concept that you came across in the first year in relation to children and learned aggression we can apply the same theory to criminality. In the Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1961) study it was found that boys would imitate an aggressive act of a male role model showing physical aggression towards an inflatable ‘Bobo’ doll. SLT simply states that a person will imitate the behaviour of a role model, and this behaviour will continue if they receive positive reinforcement of that behaviour.

Applying this to criminality, we can ignore all of the more complex arguments that would have us believe that criminality is down to biology, genes, neurotransmitters or such else – it’s simply a learned behaviour, imitated from role models. When a person sees a role model performing a behaviour and then receives positive feedback this is remembered. If that person has the chance to imitate this behaviour they will. If they then get positive reinforcement for this imitation then the chance of them repeating this behaviour is increased.


Although this theory does seem to account for many people becoming a criminal, especially petty crime and nuisance offences, it doesn’t take into account those people who become offenders without any apparent poor role models. For example, some crimes are kept secret (white collar crimes – fraud, embezzlement) so people wouldn’t have a role model to copy. This theory also ignores the cognitive element of offending: we all have a choice when it comes to committing an offence.

We can also see the links with health promotion and how some children may ‘learn’ unhealthy behaviours such as smoking or even just eating unhealthily (think back to the parents in those ‘Jamie’s School Dinners‘ TV programmes.)

Overall, I think that the video is an excellent example of using psychology to provoke awareness of a very serious problem.

Your thoughts in the comments: what do you think about the video?

You can get a better quality version (Quicktime) here.

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8 Responses to “Children see. Children do.”

  1. Mia March 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    wow! after reading your article, I’ve learned a lot! And I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned is “make your influnece positive!”

  2. Jamie Davies March 31, 2008 at 4:20 pm #

    You’re right Mia – we have to be so aware of the influence we have over children – both positive and negative.

    Thanks for you comment. :)

  3. Jo Jason May 27, 2008 at 10:40 am #

    An alternative view of modeling:

    You Model Good Behavior. They Follow — Sometimes.
    By Jennifer Huget
    Special to The Washington Post
    Tuesday, April 15, 2008; HE01

  4. Bim June 8, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Deffinitely the video is very powerful, and I completely agree. I think its important to be a good influence, and not just for your own kids.
    I think we can also pick things up from strangers, if they’re not punished for doing ‘wrong’ things, we can think that its acceptable ourselves

    I do however disagree with the bit on white collar crimes, although they’re ‘secret’ we can still learn about them through others or learn similar behaviour (short changing someone at a shop/cheating tax’s).

    But all in all, very very good!

  5. Jamie Davies June 10, 2008 at 8:28 pm #

    @Bim: I do agree with you point about you point with cheating in tax and short changing someone. The crimes I had in mind when writing this were more of the embezzlement and other types of corporate crime. So, going back to this updated definition of ‘white collar’ crimes could it not be argued that the only real exposure we have of these show people getting caught therefore not providing the positive reinforcement that SLT would suggest is central to learning a behaviour.

    @Jo: Thanks for the links – a really interesting read.

  6. London Counselling September 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    To be a role model, it would always take a lot of truth on both sides of the model and the follower. In this case, a lot of children tend to follow what they see, on either of the good and bad. So we should always be careful on our actions in front of the youth’s for that shall not all be followed

  7. Silvana July 7, 2012 at 12:11 am #


    This blog teaches people a lot about child’s behaviour,I am very glad for found it wright now.
    Kind regard for all of you who treat the information online to us.


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