Vicarious Learning

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Academy of Management Review 1981. Vol. 6, No. 1. 105-113.

Vicarious Learning: The Influence of Modeling on Organizational Behavior CHARLES C. MANZ Auburn University HENRY P. SIMS, JR. Pennsylvania State University The social learning theory notion of vicarious learning through modeling can elucidate the phenomenon of behavioral change in organizations. Vicarious learning encompasses attentional, retention, motor reproduction, and motivational processes. If any of these processes is lacking or impaired, the learner is less likely to perform an observed behavior. Whether or not a model is attractive, competent, and successful contributes to the overall probability of that model's behavior being imitated by others. Managers need to use modeling effectively to enhance the achievement of organizational and personal goals. In particular, attention should be given to day-to-day modeling as well as to formal training to effect organizational behavior changes. Individual behavior in organizations has been attributed to many different causes. Among the more widely recognized perspectives on human work behavior is the notion of learning, which has been defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior [Kazdin, 1975]. The recognition of learning processes as an important influence on work behavior has indeed expanded the perspectives of the field of organizational behavior. Our purpose in this paper is to further expand the perspectives of organizational behavior through the examination of the modeling process as one type of learning [Bandura, 1969, 1977a]. Recently, considerable emphasis has been placed on the ideas represented by the term "behavior modification," or, more specifically, "operant theory." The essence of operant theory as applied to organizations is that work behavior is a function of its consequences [Luthans & Kreitner, 1975]. To put it simply, individuals will tend to increase the frequency of behavior that has resulted in positive consequences, and will tend to decrease the frequency of 1981 by the Academy of Management 0363-7425

behavior that has resulted in negative consequences. One invalid aspect of behavior modification theory is the viewpoint that behavioral change results only from the consequences of behavior. What is sometimes forgotten is that behavioral change can also occur as a result of a discriminative stimulus" that occurs before the behavior. This effect is sometimes called "antecedent learning" because the environmental stimulus is an antecedent to the behavior. A goal that influences subsequent employee behavior would be one example of an antecedent. A more recent perspective — social learning theory (especially as articulated by Bandura [1977a]) — emphasizes antecedent learning as well as learning by consequences. Another important element of this theory is that it actively recognizes the role of cognitive processes as an integral part of behavioral change. In particular, the role of symbolic or vicarious experience is strongly emphasized in social learning theory. Vicarious learning, or modeling, is learning through a discriminative stimulus because it occurs before the employee behavior. (See Davis and Luthans [1980] for a recent 105

discussion of social learning theory concepts as they relate to the study of organizational behavior.) Vicarious learning as a source of behavioral change in organizations is our major concern in this paper. Our discussion will bring together findings from the previous theoretical and empirical work in this area. We will examine the factors or variables that enhance or inhibit vicarious learning, and will distinguish between vicarious learning as a day-today process within organizations and vicarious learning deliberately used in managerial training. Finally, we will suggest some managerial implications of vicarious learning.

Vicarious Learning
Modeling is a type of vicarious learning that plays a prominent role in social learning theory [Bandura,...
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