Modeling: Observational Learning in the Lion King

What is observational learning, and how does it relate to the movie The Lion King? Observational learning is known as “the process of learning by watching others and mimicking the behavior”. Children from a very young age are able to imitate adults because they are watching what they are doing almost 24/7. This term was coined by the psychologist, Albert Bandura, who cured four different processes that influence observational learning and these are: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.

To begin, in order to start this process, the beginning step is to watch someone and pay attention to what they are doing. Just watching someone perform a behavior is not enough for an individual to fully learn and absorb how to do that behavior. This is when retention comes in, where a person must try to remember how to do the behavior, through possibly a mnemonic device or a daily habit. Next, is the reproduction stage where the behavior is learned in real life and the individual can perform it on their own. The last stage is the motivation to continue to pursue that behavior again and again, either through internal or external reinforcement.

Children learn varying behaviors through observational learning from someone called a model. For example, in a negative sense a child may learn to swear or smoke cigarettes due to watching their parents engaging in those behaviors. Similarly, if children witness their parents verbally harassing or physically being abusive to one another, they are more likely to exhibit this behavior themselves when they get angry or upset at someone. Some positive behaviors that may be learned by children may be witnessing two parents apologizing to one another and reconciling after an argument. Or, modeling the importance of getting chores done before engaging in more pleasurable activities like hanging out with friends or watching TV.

All of that to say, that I believe we see a positive an healthy model within Mufasa to Simba within the movie of The Lion King. Mufasa who reigns over the pride of his territory illustrates to Simba what it means to be a leader and a father. Evening within the first quarter of the movie, we see that Mufasa teachers Simba how to pounce on his prey. Although this is more of a lesson on “how to be a lion” versus “how to grow up and be a successful adult”, they both are important aspects in recognizing the importance of parents within a child’s life. The lessons taught and learned from parents or caregivers is absolutely essential in the success of children and their future.

As Nala and Simba adventure to the elephant graveyard, they get trapped by a pack of hyenas who threaten to hurt them. Not long after, Mufasa jumps in and saves both of them from the possibility of death. In this moment, Mufasa illustrates his disappointment of Simba in choosing this action, yet takes this time as an opportunity. In this scene, Simba states, “I was just trying to be brave like you”, and Mufasa says “I only am brave when I have to be”. Here, Mufasa demonstrates to Simba that being brave occurs within instances where it is needed an essential for the protection of others. In this moment he depicts what it means to live out being a protective and sacrificial father and leader of his tribe.

Mufasa even goes on to say that he got scared and afraid because he thought he might lose Simba. Then Simba has this epiphany and says, “Wow, even kings get scared, huh”. This whole conversation sets the blueprint in Simba’s mind of what it means to be man as a leader, and understands that it’s okay to feel emotions and express those to others. Not long after this scene, Simba get’s stuck in a stampede and the most heartbreaking event happens. Mufasa jumps in to save him, and in the midst of his sacrifice, Simba lives and Mufasa dies. Despite the tragedy that this brought to Simba and the effects it had on him throughout the rest of his life, we see that he was able to demonstrate sacrificing himself for the sake of his pack later in the movie when he fights scar to the death. Simba becomes the essence of what Mufasa was, and had the ability to do so from the modeling his father demonstrated to him as a young cub.

One response to “Modeling: Observational Learning in the Lion King”

  1. Good observation. I haven’t seen that movie in so long…


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