Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Christopher H. Skinner

Committee Members

Robert L. Williams, Sherry K. Bain, Vey M. Nordquist


Educators often use modeling as part of instructional interventions when teaching basic academic and social skills. During these interventions, small groups are frequently used to instruct students. One phenomenon that takes place during group settings is incidental learning. Incidental learning occurs when a student is placed in an environment in which they can observe others receiving instruction (McCurdy, Cundari, & Lentz, 1990; Skinner, Logan, Robinson, & Robinson, 1997). Through incidental learning, observing students display skills and knowledge gains about a task that was not explicitly demanded of them (Orlove, 1982).
During group work, teachers often convey either positive or negative feedback. While such feedback often serves as effective reinforcers, teachers may enhance reinforcement by providing tangible rewards for accurate responding. Subsequently, the question arises about the effects that either rewarding or punishing the model has on the observer. According to social learning theory, vicarious reinforcement (VR) occurs when an observer’s behavior increases as a result of seeing another be reinforced for the same behavior, and vicarious punishment (VP) occurs when an observer’s behavior decreases as a result of seeing another be punished for the same behavior (Bandura, 1977). Studies examining the effects of vicariously reinforced and vicariously punished modeled responses have found that VR and VP generally do affect observers’ imitative behavior in the appropriate direction.
The current study extends research on the effects of VR and VP in several ways: (1) the study examines the effects of vicarious consequences on learning behavior not already within the observers’ repertoire of behaviors (i.e., incidental learning of Japanese
symbols); (2) the study examines the effects of the model’s incorrect responding on learning and error responses; and (3) the study looks for further evidence of the effects of vicarious consequences by examining observers’ responding regardless of accuracy.
The current study consists of two experiments. During Experiment 1, incidental learning procedures were conducted with college students and during Experiment 2, incidental learning procedures were conducted with fourth- and fifth-grade students. Incidental learning procedures consisted of observers’ watching one of four videos (VR, VP, mixed VR and VP, or control) depicting a student and her teacher reviewing a set of flashcards. Each flashcard had a single Japanese symbol on the card. On each video, the model randomly got half of the words correct and half of the words incorrect. During the VR video, the teacher would praise and give a tangible reward for each correct word. On the VP video, the teacher would reprimand and take a tangible award away when the model responded incorrectly. During the mixed condition (M), the teacher would both praise and reward for correct responses and reprimand and take a reward away for incorrect responses. The control video (C) depicted no rewards, only corrective feedback. The observers were then tested on their learning of the Japanese symbols.
Results of the current study showed no significant differences in incidental learning or imitation (responses regardless of accuracy) across all conditions (VR, VP, M, and C). These results suggest that either rewarding correct responses and/or punishing incorrect responses had no impact on observers’ learning. From an applied perspective, these results suggest that rewards or punishment are not needed to enhance classmates’ learning. Rather, merely providing immediate feedback with respect to accuracy may enhance observers’ learning.
Findings of the current study did not support a previous researcher’s findings where observers matched the model’s incorrect responses rather than changing their response to the correct response (Cheyne, 1972). When given a symbol that the model initially responded to incorrectly, observers were unlikely to provide the same error response to that symbol. Additionally, results were inconclusive with regard to whether the model’s incorrect responding affected observers’ correct responding. Experiment 1 showed college students may have been affected by the interference of the incorrect responses, but Experiment 2 showed elementary students were not affected by incorrect responding. Future research would need to determine whether these differences were a result of differences in learning histories or methodological differences. Additional limitations of this research and implications for future research are discussed.

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