March 2, 2020

Lessons From Bobo

People are influenced by observing and modelling the behaviour of others, either for good or ill.

Delbert W. Baker

In this 2020 calendar year, one is reminded of the value of 20/20 eyesight. Visually we get it. But spiritually, how can Christians have the right vision for the days ahead? One of the most effective ways is to seek out and model best practices.

To illustrate, let’s revert to the 1961 Bobo doll experiment by psychologist Albert Bandura. A pioneer in the field of social psychology and self-efficacy, Bandura conducted a famous controlled experiment in which he demonstrated the power of modeling. He used the Bobo doll, a toy clown with a rounded bottom and low center of mass that rocks back and forth but always bounces back to an upright position.

Bandura demonstrated that children who saw adults beating up the Bobo doll were more likely to beat on Bobo when given opportunity. Their behavior contrasted with children who didn’t witness the violence against the clown and seemed disinclined to act aggressively toward it.

Bandura’s findings demonstrated that people are influenced by observing and modeling the behavior of others, either for good or ill. It illustrated that effective modeling can affect behavior change and accelerate the learning process.

When believers select worthy models and imitate their behavior in a spiritual context, we can observe this same principle working for good. Here are five biblical scenarios in which the modeling principle can work.

Leadership. Those who identify as Christian should be leaders of integrity, morality, and spirituality. By modeling best behavior in either personal or professional settings, believers can and do initiate positive behavior in others. And by avoiding negative behaviors, we can avoid being examples of what not to do (1 Cor. 8:9).

People are influenced by observing and modeling the behavior of others, either for good or ill.

Role Modeling. Whether we like it or not, our lives as Christians are both examples of what to embrace and what to avoid. From its beginning the Bible displays the characters, beliefs, and practices of those who demonstrated both good and evil traits. Discerning readers choose characteristics based on the most positive outcome (1 Cor. 11:1).

Trials. Trials and temptations are a fact of life—we will be affected by them. Believers can demonstrate strength and perseverance when struggling with life issues. They demonstrate how to successfully endure tribulation, trials, temptations, and tests as Christ and other heroes of faith did. While others may be tempted to give up, Spirit-led role models demonstrate exemplary growth.

Nature. The wise man wrote, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Prov. 6:6). By observing nature and the creatures of creation, sensitive Christians can gather lessons about ethics, wisdom, learning strategies, industry, and stewardship. Transformative truths and exemplary habits can be learned from the natural world around us.

Purpose. What is our calling and purpose? What is our place and role in life? The Holy Spirt uses God’s Word, prayer, and chosen illustrious models to teach us best practices, so that we can grow in grace and purpose.

With 20/20 vision we can learn from Bobo and choose well in 2020.


Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of Adventist University of Africa, near Nairobi, Kenya.

Delbert W. Baker
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