Monkey See, Monkey Do: How kids learn through observation and immitation

Have you ever watched a toddler mimic their father shaving in the mirror? Or have you seen them carrying their mom’s purse around the house as they pretend they’re busy shopping for groceries? If so, you’ve observed authentic socialization in action.

It’s easy to gloss over the terms socialize and socialization because we often use them interchangeably. Although the terms are closely related, it’s important to notice how they are distinguished in academic theories and research.

The word socialize is a verb used to describe social activities among groups of people. For example, we socialize when we play games, go to work, build relationships, engage in conversations, etc. While also a verb, the term socialization is used by sociologists to describe the process of inheriting the norms, customs, and behaviors of a larger social group.

When considering the terms in these ways, socializing is what leads to the socialization of individuals within any given society. As adults who work with children, it’s important for us to understand the social nature of child development and to question how our interactions with children are contributing to their socialization.

With these ideas in mind, it’s interesting to consider how our actions affect how children perceive the world and interact with others. In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura conducted an experiment in which children observed an adult beating up an inflatable clown. Then, the children were given the same toy and observed as they interacted with the clown. Not surprisingly, the children who observed the adult abusing the clown were likely to show aggression, too.

Bandura’s study confirmed that children can learn by observing and imitating others’ behaviors.  Since children act out the behaviors they observe from others through their interactions with other children, the adult world strongly influences the socialization process.

Want to learn more about Bendura, the Bobo Doll Experiment, and child socialization? Check out this video by Crash Course: