Modeling Technique: What You Should Know

Children do what they see, not what they're told. Discover how effective the modeling technique can be in guiding kids' behavior.
Modeling Technique: What You Should Know

Last update: 22 May, 2019

The modeling technique is part of Albert Bandura’s theory of social learning. This author believed that we learn by observing the actions of other people and the results that follow.

This form of observational learning, also known as vicarious learning, is based on imitating the behavior of someone who serves as a model.

This process occurs on a daily basis, and is especially relevant during childhood. Thanks to this theory, we can understand why children do what they see, rather than what they’re told to do.

More than just a natural learning process, the modeling technique is also effective as a therapeutic method for modifying behavior.

What does the modeling technique accomplish?

The modeling technique has several functions:

  • Acquiring new behaviors that aren’t yet in the person’s behavioral repertoire. For example, the technique has been very effective in promoting the acquisition of social skills.
  • Disinhibiting behaviors that were blocked by fear or anxiety, as in the case of phobias. These conditions have been successfully treated after the subject observes how a model deals with the feared situation without experiencing negative consequences.
  • Inhibiting excessive or undesirable behaviors. A behavior is modified by exposing the person to the image of a model suffering the negative consequences of that act.
A family reading

Factors affecting the modeling technique

  • The characteristics of the model. The technique is more effective when the model resembles the subject both physically and personally. We also tend to imitate to a greater degree models we perceive as prestigious or who have a certain influence on us. In addition, with children, the parents, a sibling or a teacher can serve as the primary models.
  • The characteristics of the subject. If the subjects have some sensory deficit (such as blindness), or if they’re in a state of high anxiety, it will be more difficult for them to execute the model’s behavior.
  • The situation is also an important factor. It needs to make the subjects curious enough for them to pay attention. In addition, they’ll be more likely to resort to imitation if the situation is uncertain, unknown, or is difficult.

Types of modeling

1. Active or passive. With the former, the subject imitates the behavior after observing it. In the latter, the observer acquires the behavior at a cognitive level, but doesn’t execute it.

2. Participatory or non-participatory. This depends on whether the subjects interact with the model (as occurs in speech therapy), or if they’re limited to observing.

3. Objective behavior or intermediate behaviors. Depending on the degree of difficulty, a model can demonstrate the final behavior, or several simpler intermediate steps.

4. Positive, negative and mixed modeling. Firstly, with positive modeling, a socially appropriate behavior is taught. Similarly, with negative modeling, the subject observes a disruptive form of behavior. Finally, in mixed modeling, the subject observes both kinds of behavior.

5. Individual or group modeling. This depends on whether there are one or more subjects observing the behavior.

Mother and daughter reading

More types of modeling

6. Single or multiple. This depends on the number of models performing the behavior the subject has to acquire. Learning is greater in the second case, as the observer gets to see different behavioral alternatives.

7. Self-modeling. In this case, the observer and model are the same person. This technique has seen great success in treating selective mutism, through the use of symbolic self-modeling. For instance, the observer can watch him or herself performing the action through video montages.

8. Live, symbolic or covert modeling. The observers could be exposed to a live model (a model that is physically present), a symbolic model (the model is present indirectly; for example, in video form), or covert (the subject learned the behavior by imagining the model’s performance).

9. Command or confrontation modeling. This depends on the model’s level of competence. In the former, the model acts without making mistakes at first. In the latter, the model gradually improves his or her performance. The second kind is more efficient, as the observer is able to identify to a greater degree.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.