The college years

When it came time for college, Bandura headed for the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Once there, he stumbled onto psychology by chance. Bandura was carpooling to school with a group of other students who were early risers. He signed up for an introductory psychology class just to fill the early morning time slot, but he quickly became fascinated with the subject. Within three years, in 1949, he had graduated with a prize in psychology. Years later, Bandura discussed how personal actions often place people in situations where fortunate events can then shape the future course of their lives.

For graduate school, Bandura settled on the University of Iowa. At the time, the psychology department there was a hotbed of research and scholarly activity. Among the distinguished faculty members were Kenneth Spence and Kurt Lewin. Spence was known for his research on learning and conditioning. Earlier, Spence had studied with Clark Hull, a leading figure in behaviorism, a school of psychology that posits that organisms can be trained, or conditioned, to respond in specific ways to specific stimuli. At Iowa, Spence extended Hull's theories and research in an effort to come up with a precise mathematical formula to describe the learning of behavior. The two men's research on learning became known collectively as the Hull-Spence theory.

Lewin, on the other hand, had a rather different approach to the study of human behavior—an approach he called field theory. Lewin held that a person's behavior arises from complex interactions among psychological factors inside the person, environmental factors outside the person, and the relationship between these inner and outer worlds. Lewin proposed his field theory as a method for analyzing these kinds of causal relationships.

It must have been a very exciting time and place for Bandura. As he later recalled in a book by Richard Evans:

I found Iowa to be intellectually lively, but also very supportive. . .At Iowa we were imprinted early on a model of scholarship that combined high respect for theory linked to venturesome research. It was an excellent beginning for a career.

Bandura also found time for nonacademic interests. One day, while golfing with a friend, he found himself playing behind a pair of female golfers. Eventually, he wound up in a sand trap with one of the women, Virginia Varns, who was on the teaching staff at the College of Nursing. The two struck up an acquaintance that blossomed into a lifelong romance. Bandura and Varns were married in 1952, the same year Bandura finished his PhD in clinical psychology. The couple went on to have two daughters: Mary, born in 1954, and Carol, born in 1958.

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