What Can Inflatable Dolls Teach us About Getting Kids to Exercise?

Reinforcement is arguably the most dominant factor influencing and shaping physical activity levels in children. Positive reinforcement and encouragement from peers and authoritative figures teaches kids that physical activity in both a is not only acceptable, but preferable.

By rewarding physical activity in schools and within other younger populations, parents, teachers and coaches are increasing the attractiveness of this lifestyle. As children go out of their way to please authoritative figures, they will go out of their way to partake in physically active behaviours, as they have been taught through positive reinforcement, encouragement and reward. It is rare for physical activity to be as the results of an inbuilt human biological instinct, as our evolutionary predisposition is to conserve energy. It is much more likely that it is a behaviour that has been fostered, modified and shaped by learning and experience.

The classic experiment used to demonstrate the effect of the social learning theory is Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiment. In this study, three groups of kids watched a video of an inflatable Bobo Doll being hit by an authorative figure. The children were then separated into three groups, with one group punished, one rewarded, and one group with no consequence. It was found that 88% of children imitated the aggressive behaviour, and the children who were punished or rewarded decreased or increased their aggressive tendencies respectively.

This experiment is an effective example of the effect of the social learning theory, although there are several underlying social factors which Bandura did not take into account when designing the experiment and presenting his findings.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the Bobo Doll experiment is that the children were able to replicate a behaviour parrot fashion. It tells us nothing of the situation or context of the replication. The children are either rewarded or punished in a closed environment and it is this which affects their behaviour, not the social implications of their actions.

To truly understand the processes inside the mind of an individual when replicating a behaviour, we must understand that they do not simply replicate a behaviour or way of life, but that they make the decision to repeat the performance in a socially appropriate context, where physical activity confers them a major benefit.

By both demonstrating a favourable behaviour (exercise), and teaching children the value of this behaviour, we are able to foster a positive behaviour.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.