Social cognitive theory

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1 Definition

Social cognitive theory (Bandura) postulates that human functioning is determined by (a) personal factors in the form of cognition, affect, and biological events, (b) behavior, and (c) environmental influences.

  • According to Frank Pajares, “ With the publication of Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, Bandura (1986) advanced a view of human functioning that accords a central role to cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes in human adaptation and change. People are viewed as self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulating rather than as reactive organisms shaped and shepherded by environmental forces or driven by concealed inner impulses. From this theoretical perspective, human functioning is viewed as the product of a dynamic interplay of personal, behavioral, and environmental influences.”

An important part of social cognitive theory is self-efficacy theory.

According to Kelli McCormack Brown (1999): Social cognitive Theory has three tenets:

Tenet 1: Response consequences (such as rewards or punishments) influence the likelihood that a person will perform a particular behavior again in a given situation. Note that this principle is also shared by classical behaviorists.

Tenet 2: Humans can learn by observing others, in addition to learning by participating in an act personally. Learning by observing others is called vicarious learning. The concept of vicarious learning is not one that would be subscribed to by classical behaviorists.

Tenet 3: Individuals are most likely to model behavior observed by others they identify with. Identification with others is a function of the degree to which a person is perceived to be similar to one's self, in addition to the degree of emotional attachment that is felt toward an individual.


The processes underlying observational learning are ([1], [2], [3] [4])

  1. attention towards significant features of the modeled behavior
  2. retention, i.e. coding into long-term memory (including cognitive organization and motor rehearsal)
  3. motor reproduction (including physical capabilities, self-observation of reproduction, and accuracy of feedback)
  4. motivation, through (external and self positive) reinforcement and punishement
  5. observer characteristics (such as sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, and past reinforcement).

According to Kearsley's TIP database:

  1. The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behavior into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.
  2. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value.
  3. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.

2 Links

3 References

  • Bandura A. Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change, Psychol Rev. 1977 Mar;84(2):191-215.
  • Bandura, A. (1978a). Reflections on self-efficacy. Advances in Behavioural Research and Therapy, 1, 237-269.
  • Bandura, A. (1978b). The self system in reciprocal determinism. American Psychologist, 33, 344-358.
  • Bandura. A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.
  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Bandura A. Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educ Psychol. 1993;28:117 - 148.
  • Bandura A, Barbaranelli C, Caprara G, Pastorelli C. Multifaceted impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Dev. 1996;67:1206 - 1222.
  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
  • Bandura Albert (2001). Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic Perspective, Annu. Rev. Psychol. 52:1–26
  • Kelli McCormack Brown (1999), Social Cognitive Theory, University of South Florida Community and Family Health, on-line page HTML
  • Pajares (2002). Overview of social cognitive theory and of self-efficacy. Retreived 13:10, 18 May 2006 (MEST) from HTML