Observational learning has a profound impact on the psychological processes of a person. The effects are better perceived in the developmental stages of a child. Right from understanding facial expressions as a baby to picking up a spoken language, motor skills, and other cognitive abilities while growing up, children tend to learn a lot by simple observation. A lot of observation is closely followed by mimicking behavior. A child often imitates the parents or siblings and develops behavior patterns similar to them. Several studies over the years support the fact that the preliminary learning process in children is influenced by parents. Mimicking movements, repeating words or sentences are often products of observational learning. Although the synthesis of information gathered through such observation is not absolute during the early stages, but they are picked by a child anyway. For example, a word or phrase used by the parents may not be comprehensible to the child, but he or she can still learn it by mere observation and then repeat it as well. In adults, observational learning takes place in different scenarios, for example, workplaces, universities, public events, etc. The nature of the observational activity in children and adults is quite distinct and different. While for children, it is an important part of the formative years that aids in behavior, personality, and cognitive developments, in adults the effects are less far-reaching and more inclined towards social norms, behavior, customs, value-based learning, and new skill sets.
Observational learning has several stages such as attention, retention, application, and motivation. In the attention stage, a person first comes in contact with a new activity that could range from anything like language, hand gestures, problem-solving, motor skills, etc. In the next step, he or she retains whatever has been observed by them. This is followed by the reproduction of whatever has been retained and then consolidation of it through motivation from other people. Unless the observation is consolidated as an application-based output it cannot be termed as learning behavior.
Psychological processes and learning through observation:
Psychological processes encompass cognitive abilities like language, learning, perception, attention, thought, memory, emotion, and motivation. Language is the form of communication that involves complexities such as symbolism and codes, learning is the ability to acquire and synthesize knowledge and apply it appropriately, attention involves the ability to focus on one stimulus at a time, perception is the way we look and comprehend different matters and situations, thought as is understandable means our ability to think, memory is the retention of the knowledge acquired, emotion is the behavioral response to external stimuli, and motivation is assertive behavior to successfully perform a task or activity. Now when it comes to learning through observation, psychological processes that are most prominently influenced are language, perception, and thought. Observation plays a huge role in communication through languages especially when it comes to learning a new language. This is very pronounced in children who are just starting to speak or learning words. In adults, this is less prominent since the ability to learn gradually declines with age and is not as proficient as children.
Several studies have shed light on observational learning and its effect on psychological processes. For example, in 1978, Vygotsky coined the phrase “talking to understand,” stressing the role of social experiences and subsequent observations in influencing how we interpret a language and then use it to organize and articulate our thoughts. Cultural impact and mental processing have a holistic effect on a person’s linguistic expression in this sense. A child’s parents have the greatest effect on him or her. A child’s social experiences and signals are also picked up by observation and then analyzed throughout the learning process.Children also pick up on their parents’ social experiences and signals through observation, which they then process throughout their cognitive growth time. Language plays a crucial role in a person’s social integration into a cultural unit. This has a huge influence on the individual’s value system. The incorporation of these cultural behaviors affects a child’s thinking and outlook to a large degree during his or her formative years, and observational behavior influences this greatly.
For a child irrespective of culture, society, or region, the basic instinct is to watch and copy the elders. This is exemplified by the fact that in the initial years babies have a common language of expression across the world. The human brain is “hardwired with the capacity of language,” according to Noam Chomsky. Following birth, infants have access to a wide variety of languages. The child begins to learn a language based on their daily exposure to it, which is influenced in part by their cultural environment. As a result, the initial babbling patterns are remarkably consistent across languages. Furthermore, evidence from culture-based cognition research is growing that culture plays a role in cognitive abilities even in infancy. It has been found the concept of language and words spoken in a particular tongue, initiates with observation-based learning. Children learn to say small portions of a sentence and everything involved in that process comes from observing their nearby elders which are mostly the parents.
For example, in groups, it is often observed that a particular behavior or idea is mimicked by all through observation of one member in a group, something often referred to as herd mentality. It influences how an individual thinks and perceives a situation.
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