28 Oct In Memory of Our Friend, Dr. Albert Bandura
By YVP Founder, Executive Director Emeritus, and Board Member, Lynne Cherry
Dr. Albert Bandura was the most widely cited psychologist in the world after Freud, BF Skinner, and Piaget. He was Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and widely regarded as one of the greatest living psychologists. In 2016, President Obama presented him with the National Medal of Science. The American Psychological Association remembers him as “not only one of the most influential
leaders in psychology, but also one of the most important social scientists in history.” Al’s creation of soap operas with producers from many other countries were the most successful method of lowering the country’s birth rate. In this interview, he talks about how this ‘social modeling” was so successful in changing people’s behavior throughout the whole country.
Al was a brilliant intellect, an out-of the-box thinker, and someone who cared very deeply about climate change, overpopulation, the state of the world, roots of violence, the future of humanity and empowering children and youth through social modeling and developing their self-efficacy. He provided a road map of how to create a more peaceful and habitable world – if only we choose to follow it.
Al was my muse and co-creator but, more so, he was a precious and beloved friend and soul-mate with whom I spent some of the most joyful and memorable days of my life. He found delight in the small and wonderful things. When I climbed his back yard orange tree and tossed down the oranges he laughed heartily, and then we savored the fresh-squeezed orange juice.
On one of my visit’s to Al’s house, he told me that he had recently been visited by a reporter for the NY Times who wanted to write an article about him. As the interview progressed, he said, “you’re writing up my obituary, aren’t you?” and laughed. This eulogy in the Science section of the New York Times was indeed, written in 2018 when Al was 91 years old. It paints a portrait of a psychologist responsible for fundamentally changing his field.
Albert was most famous for his Bobo doll experiments that demonstrated how children, after watching an adult abuse a doll, abused the doll themselves. Conversely, if an adult treated the doll lovingly, the children mirrored that behavior. This begged the question, ‘How does televised violence determine whether a child will act out violently?” His seminal research lead to his being invited to testify before a congressional committee on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1968.
Al’s social cognitive psychology research is world-famous, especially his social learning theory – the concept of self-efficacy – detailed in his seminal book “Self-Efficacy: the Exercise of Control” a staple in most psychology courses. This important research showed how people develop self-efficacy – the belief in their own ability to make a difference in their own live and the world at large. Efficacy
is the belief in your capabilities; it is “the foundation of your aspirations and motivation.” Al studied individual and collective efficacy, how you build efficacy through guided mastery, through successes and learning to deal with failure and setbacks.
Modeling is a very powerful way of building people’s self-efficacy because “you’re modeling competencies, perseverance in the face of difficulties, values and skills”. He wrote about how a person’s belief about their ability to make change determines whether they are successful in their efforts. His research found that people with high self-efficacy view impediments as surmountable through perseverance and that “Acquiring self-efficacy is a skill that, once developed, becomes an integral part of the individual, changing the way they think of themselves for the rest of their lives.”
Al was so excited about the Young Voices for the Planet films because they model successes and competencies. They are an example of social modeling and social persuasion where young people lead other children and youth to believe in their own capabilities. See this interview with Bandura speaking about his research. He loved how the films showed young people developing self-efficacy and recognizing that they had the power to make a difference in the world. I first reached out to Al because as I produced film after film, people kept mentioning his work to me. So, when the YVFP films were being shown at the United Nations Film Festival in Palo Alto, Ca., I called to see if we could meet. What had been intended as an hour meeting stretched through the entire day. He wanted to see all the movies.. one after the other… 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner planting a million trees, Jordan Howard greening her school, Jaysa Mellers at 10 years old helping to
close down the coal fired power plant that was causing her asthma. He excitedly exclaimed, “These films exemplify my 70 years of social science research! You’ve taken my theories and put them into practice!”
Our friendship blossomed as we realized that we were both aware of the world’s problems but we were both deeply committed to fostering in young people a belief in their ability to make and how “through your actions you can influence the course of your life.” He saw the potential of the YVFP films to influence beneficial behavior through social modeling.
In 2018, during a talk at Stanford University, Al illustrated each of his concepts with clips from the YVFP films. His research had shown that the most
important influence on teens and pre-teens is their peers and he understood that the Young Voices for the Planet films provided the positive role models that young people need to develop their own self-efficacy. And, when approaching funders, his research provided us with the social science confirmation for the pedagogical and theoretical underpinnings of the films.
Earlier this year, an article we wrote together was published in American Psychologist. Al hoped that the article would encourage other psychologists to apply their expertise to address the most pressing problems of our time – climate change, violence in society, overpopulation. He hoped that his colleagues would learn from his research how to help people change, and develop agency, in ways that would make the world a kinder, gentler place. My heart was broken to learn that my dear friend Al had passed on but it was full-to-bursting to find that he had requested that donations could be made in memory of his life and legacy to Young Voices for the Planet. What an affirmation of our 13 years of work making these films, getting them shown on PBS and getting them into schools and film festivals. I will profoundly miss my monthly hours-long phone conversations with Al during covid when I, sadly, could not go visit him in person. What a gift his friendship has been and I hope that I can honor him by finding a way to bring the success stories in the YVFP films to enough children that there comes a time where every child can realize their full potential to speak out in behalf of themselves and their future.