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Educational Learning Theories: Chapter 3 Required Reading

Chapter 3 Required Reading

The Origin of Social Cognitive Theory: Social Learning Theory

In 1961 and 1963 along with his students and colleagues, Bandura conducted a series of studies known as the Bobo doll experiments to find out why and when children display aggressive behaviors. These studies demonstrated the value of modeling for acquiring novel behaviors. These studies helped Bandura publish his seminal article and book in 1977 that expanded on the idea of how behavior is acquired (Evans & Bandura, 1989), thus social learning theory. In his article Bandura (1977a) claimed that Social Learning Theory shows a direct correlation between a person's perceived self-efficacy and behavioral change. Self-efficacy comes from four sources: "performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states" (Bandura, 1977a, p. 195).

Social learning is also commonly referred to as observational learning, because it comes about as a result of observing models. Bandura became interested in social aspects of learning at the beginning of his career. Early theories considered behavior to be a function of the person and their environment, or a function of the interaction between the person and their environment. Bandura believed that behavior itself influences both the person and the environment, each of which in turn affects behavior and each other. The result is a complex interplay of factors known as reciprocal determinism. Social learning theory emphasizes that behavior, personal factors, and environmental factors are all equal, interlocking determinants of each other (Bandura, 1973, 1977a; Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1 Reciprocal Determinism

Figure 3.1. Bandura proposed the idea of reciprocal determinism, in which our behavior, Personal factors, and environmental factors all influence each other.

Reciprocal determinism can be seen in everyday observations, such as those made by Bandura and others during their studies of aggression. For example, approximately 75 percent of the time, hostile behavior results in unfriendly responses, whereas friendly acts seldom result in such consequences. With little effort, it becomes easy to recognize individuals who create negative social climates (Bandura, 1973). Thus, while it may still be true that changing environmental contingencies changes behavior, it is also true that changing behavior alters the environmental contingencies. This results in a unique perspective on freedom vs. determinism. Usually we think of determinism as something that eliminates or restricts our freedom. However, Bandura believed that individuals can intentionally act as agents of change within their environment, thus altering the factors that determine their behavior. In other words, we have the freedom to influence factors that which determine our behavior:

…Given the same environmental constraints, individuals who have many behavioral options and are adept at regulating their own behavior will experience greater freedom than will individuals whose personal resources are limited. (Bandura, 1977a, p. 203)

It is important to note that learning can occur without a change in behavior. According to Ormrod's (2008) general principles of social learning, while a visible change in behavior is the most common proof of learning, it is not absolutely necessary. Social learning theorists say that because people can learn through observation alone, their learning may not necessarily be shown in their performance.

Overview of Social Cognitive Theory

In 1986, Bandura published his second book Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory, which expanded and renamed his original theory. He called the new theory Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). Bandura changed the name social learning theory to social cognitive theory to emphasize the major role cognition plays in encoding and performing behaviors. In this book, Bandura (1986) argued that human behavior is caused by personal, behavioral, and environmental influences. Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) holds that portions of an individual's knowledge acquisition can be directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences. The theory states that when people observe a model performing a behavior and the consequences of that behavior, they remember the sequence of events and use this information to guide subsequent behaviors. Observing a model can also prompt the viewer to engage in behavior they already learned (Bandura, 1986, 2002).  In other words, people do not learn new behaviors solely by trying them and either succeeding or failing, but rather, the survival of humanity is dependent upon the replication of the actions of others. Depending on whether people are rewarded or punished for their behavior and the outcome of the behavior, the observer may choose to replicate behavior modeled. Media provides models for a vast array of people in many different environmental settings.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is a learning theory based on the idea that people learn by observing others. These learned behaviors can be central to one's personality. While social psychologists agree that the environment one grows up in contributes to behavior, the individual person (and therefore cognition) is just as important. People learn by observing others, with the environment, behavior, and cognition all as the chief factors in influencing development in a reciprocal triadic relationship. For example, each behavior witnessed can change a person's way of thinking (cognition). Similarly, the environment one is raised in may influence later behaviors, just as a father's mindset (also cognition) determines the environment in which his children are raised. The reciprocal determinism was explained in the schematization of triadic reciprocal causation (Bandura, 2002). The schema shows how the reproduction of an observed behavior is influenced by the interaction of the following three determinants:

  1. Personal: Whether the individual has high or low self-efficacy toward the behavior (i.e. Get the learner to believe in his or her personal abilities to correctly complete a behavior).
  2. Behavioral: The response an individual receives after they perform a behavior (i.e. Provide chances for the learner to experience successful learning as a result of performing the behavior correctly).
  3. Environmental: Aspects of the environment or setting that influence the individual's ability to successfully complete a behavior (i.e. Make environmental conditions conducive for improved self-efficacy by providing appropriate support and materials). (Bandura, 2002)

Human Agency

Social Cognitive Theory is proposed in an agentic perspective (Bandura, 1986), which suggested that, instead of being just shaped by environments or inner forces, individuals are self-developing, self-regulating, self-reflecting and proactive:

…Social cognitive theory rejects a duality of human agency and a disembodied social structure. Social systems are the product of human activity, and social systems, in turn, help to organize, guide, and regulate human affairs. However, in the dynamic interplay within the societal rule structures, there is considerable personal variation in the interpretation of, adoption of, enforcement of, circumvention of, and opposition to societal prescriptions and sanctions…freedom is conceived not just passively as the absence of constraints, but also proactively as the exercise of self-influence…(Bandura, 2006, p. 165).

Specifically, human agency operates within three modes:

  • Individual Agency: A person’s own influence on the environment;
  • Proxy Agency: Another person’s effort on securing the individual’s interests;
  • Collective Agency: A group of people work together to achieve the common benefits. (Pajares, Prestin, Chen, & Nabi, 2009)

Human agency has four core properties:

  • Intentionality: Individuals’ active decision on engaging in certain activities;
  • Forethought: Individuals’ ability to anticipate the outcome of certain actions;
  • Self-reactiveness: Individuals’ ability to construct and regulate appropriate behaviors;
  • Self-reflectiveness: Individuals’ ability to reflect and evaluate the soundness of their cognitions and behaviors. (Pajares, Prestin, Chen, & Nabi, 2009)

Human Capability

Evolving over time, human beings are featured with advanced neutral systems, which enable individuals to acquire knowledge and skills by both direct and symbolic terms (Bandura, 2002). Four primary capabilities are addressed as important foundations of social cognitive theory: symbolizing capability, self-regulation capability, self-reflective capability, and vicarious capability:

  1. Symbolizing Capability: People are affected not only by direct experience but also indirect events. Instead of merely learning through laborious trial-and-error process, human beings are able to symbolically perceive events conveyed in messages, construct possible solutions, and evaluate the anticipated outcomes.
  1. Self-regulation Capability: Individuals can regulate their own intentions and behaviors by themselves. Self-regulation lies on both negative and positive feedback systems, in which discrepancy reduction and discrepancy production are involved. That is, individuals proactively motivate and guide their actions by setting challenging goals and then making effort to fulfill them. In doing so, individuals gain skills, resources, self-efficacy and beyond.
  1. Self-reflective Capability: Human beings can evaluate their thoughts and actions by themselves, which is identified as another distinct feature of human beings. By verifying the adequacy and soundness of their thoughts through enactive, various, social, or logical manner, individuals can generate new ideas, adjust their thoughts, and take actions accordingly.
  1. Vicarious Capability: One critical ability human beings featured is to adopt skills and knowledge from information communicated through a wide array of mediums. By vicariously observing others’ actions and their consequences, individuals can gain insights into their own activities. Vicarious capability is of great value to human beings’ cognitive development in nowadays, in which most of our information encountered in our lives derives from the mass media than trial-and-error process. (Bandura, 2002)

Core Concepts of Social Cognitive Theory

Modeling/Observational Learning

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) revolves around the process of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the observation of models. The models can be those of an interpersonal imitation or media sources. Effective modeling teaches general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations (Bandura, 1988). Modeling is the term that best describes and, therefore, is used to characterize the psychological processes that underlie matching behavior (Bandura, 1986).

Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action. (Bandura, 1977b, p. 22)

Individuals differ in the degree to which they can be influenced by models, and not all models are equally effective. According to Bandura, three factors are most influential in terms of the effectiveness of modeling situations: the characteristics of the model, the attributes of the observers, and the consequences of the model’s actions. The most relevant characteristics of an influential model are high status, competence, and power. When observers are unsure about a situation, they rely on cues to indicate what they perceive as evidence of past success by the model. Such cues include general appearance, symbols of socioeconomic success (e.g., a fancy sports car), and signs of expertise (e.g., a doctor’s lab coat). Since those models appear to have been successful themselves, it seems logical that observers might want to imitate their behavior. Individuals who are low in self-esteem, dependent, and who lack confidence are not necessarily more likely to be influenced by models. Bandura proposed that when modeling is used to explicitly develop new competencies, the ones who will benefit most from the situation are those who are more talented and more venturesome (Bandura, 1977b).

Despite the potential influence of models, the entire process of observational learning in a social learning environment would probably not be successful if not for four important component processes: attentional processes, retention processes, production (or reproduction) processes, and motivational processes (Bandura, 1977b, 1986). The fact that an observer must pay attention to a model might seem obvious, but some models are more likely to attract attention. Individuals are more likely to pay attention to models with whom they associate, even if the association is more cognitive than personal. It is also well-known that people who are admired, such as those who are physically attractive or popular athletes, make for attention-getting models. There are also certain types of media that are very good at getting people’s attention, such as television advertisements (Bandura, 1977b, 1986). It is a curious cultural phenomenon that the television advertisements presented during the National Football League’s Super Bowl have become almost as much of the excitement as the game itself (and even more exciting for those who are not football fans)!

The retention processes involve primarily an observer’s memory for the modeled behavior. The most important memory processes, according to Bandura (1977b), are visual imagery and verbal coding, with visual imagery being particularly important early in development when verbal skills are limited. Once modeled behavior has been transformed into visual and/or verbal codes, these memories can serve to guide the performance of the behavior at appropriate times. When the modeled behavior is produced by the observer, the so-called production process, the re-enactment can be broken down into the cognitive organization of the responses, their initiation, subsequent monitoring, and finally the refinement of the behavior based on informative feedback. Producing complex modeled behaviors is not always an easy task:

…A common problem in learning complex skills, such as golf or swimming, is that performers cannot fully observe their responses, and must therefore rely upon vague kinesthetic cues or verbal reports of onlookers. It is difficult to guide actions that are only partially observable or to identify the corrections needed to achieve a close match between representation and performance. (Bandura, 1977b, p. 28)

Finally, motivational processes determine whether the observer is inclined to match the modeled behavior in the first place. Individuals are most likely to model behaviors that result in an outcome they value, and if the behavior seems to be effective for the models who demonstrated the behavior. Given the complexity of the relationships between models, observers, the perceived effectiveness of modeled behavior, and the subjective value of rewards, even using prominent models does not guarantee that they will be able to create similar behavior in observers (Bandura, 1977b, 1986).

In short, for modeling /observational learning to occur, four processes exist:

  • Attention: Observers selectively give attention to specific social behavior depending on accessibility, relevance, complexity, functional value of the behavior or some observer's personal attributes such as cognitive capability, value preference, preconceptions.

  • Retention: Observe a behavior and subsequent consequences, then convert that observation to a symbol that can be accessed for future reenactments of the behavior. Note: When a positive behavior is shown a positive reinforcement should follow, this parallel is similar for negative behavior.

  • Production: refers to the symbolic representation of the original behavior being translated into action through reproduction of the observed behavior in seemingly appropriate contexts. During reproduction of the behavior, a person receives feedback from others and can adjust their representation for future references.

  • Motivation: reenacts a behavior depending on responses and consequences the observer receives when reenacting that behavior. (Bandura, 1986, 2002)

A common misconception regarding modeling is that it only leads to learning the behaviors that have been modeled. However, modeling can lead to innovative behavior patterns. Observers typically see a given behavior performed by multiple models; even in early childhood one often gets to see both parents model a given behavior. When the behavior is then matched, the observer will typically select elements from the different models, relying on only certain aspects of the behavior performed by each, and then create a unique pattern that accomplishes the final behavior. Thus, partial departures from the originally modeled behavior can be a source of new directions, especially in creative endeavors (such as composing music or creating a sculpture). In contrast, however, when simple routines prove useful, modeling can actually stifle innovation. So, the most innovative individuals appear to be those who have been exposed to innovative models, provided that the models are not so innovative as to create an unreasonably difficult challenge in modeling their creativity and innovation (Bandura, 1977b, 1986; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963).

Moreover, modeling does not limit to only live demonstrations but also verbal and written behavior can act as indirect forms of modeling. Modeling not only allows students to learn behavior that they should repeat but also to inhibit certain behaviors. For instance, if a teacher glares at one student who is talking out of turn, other students may suppress this behavior to avoid a similar reaction. Teachers model both material objectives and underlying curriculum of virtuous living. Teachers should also be dedicated to the building of high self-efficacy levels in their students by recognizing their accomplishments.

Outcome Expectancies

To learn a particular behavior, people must understand what the potential outcome is if they repeat that behavior. The observer does not expect the actual rewards or punishments incurred by the model, but anticipates similar outcomes when imitating the behavior (called outcome expectancies), which is why modeling impacts cognition and behavior. These expectancies are heavily influenced by the environment that the observer grows up in; for example, the expected consequences for a DUI in the United States of America are a fine, with possible jail time, whereas the same charge in another country might lead to the infliction of the death penalty. For example, in the case of a student, the instructions the teacher provides help students see what outcome a particular behavior leads to. It is the duty of the teacher to teach a student that when a behavior is successfully learned, the outcomes are meaningful and valuable to the students.


Social Cognitive Theory posits that learning most likely occurs if there is a close identification between the observer and the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the extent to which an individual believes that they can master a particular skill. Self-efficacy beliefs function as an important set of proximal determinants of human motivation, affect, and action-which operate on action through motivational, cognitive, and affective intervening processes (Bandura, 1989).

According to Bandura (1995), self-efficacy is "the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations" (p. 2). Bandura and other researchers have found an individual's self-efficacy plays a major role in how goals, tasks, and challenges are approached. Individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to believe they can master challenging problems and they can recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments. Individuals with low self-efficacy tend to be less confident and don't believe they can perform well, which leads them to avoid challenging tasks. Therefore, self-efficacy plays a central role in behavior performance. Observers who have high level of self-efficacy are more likely to adopt observational learning behaviors. Self-efficacy can be developed or increased by:

  • Mastery experience: which is a process that helps an individual achieve simple tasks that lead to more complex objectives.
  • Social modeling: provides an identifiable model that shows the processes that accomplish a behavior.
  • Improving physical and emotional states: refers to ensuring a person is rested and relaxed prior to attempting a new behavior. The less relaxed, the less patient, the more likely they won't attain the goal behavior.
  • Verbal persuasion: is providing encouragement for a person to complete a task or achieve a certain behavior. (McAlister, Perry, & Parcel, 2008)

For example, students become more effortful, active, pay attention, highly motivated and better learners when they perceive that they have mastered a particular task (Bandura, 1993). It is the duty of the teacher to allow student to develop and perceive their efficacy by providing feedback to understand their level of proficiency. Teachers should ensure that the students have the knowledge and strategies they need to complete the tasks. Self-efficacy development is an exploring human agency and human capability process. Young children have little understanding of what they can and cannot do, so the development of realistic self-efficacy is a very important process:

…Very young children lack knowledge of their own capabilities and the demands and potential hazards of different courses of action. They would repeatedly get themselves into dangerous predicaments were it not for the guidance of others. They can climb to high places, wander into rivers or deep pools, and wield sharp knives before they develop the necessary skills for managing such situations safely…Adult watchfulness and guidance see young children through this early formative period until they gain sufficient knowledge of what they can do and what different situations require in the way of skills. (Bandura, 1986, p. 414)

During infancy, the development of perceived causal efficacy, in other words the perception that one has affected the world by one’s own actions, appears to be an important aspect of developing a sense of self. As the infant interacts with its environment, the infant is able to cause predictable events, such as the sound that accompanies shaking a rattle. The understanding that one’s own actions can influence the environment is something Bandura refers to as personal agency, the ability to act as an agent of change in one’s own world. The infant also begins to experience that certain events affect models differently than the child. For example, if a model touches a hot stove it does not hurt the infant, so the infant begins to recognize their uniqueness, their actual existence as an individual. During this period, interactions with the physical environment may be more important than social interactions, since the physical environment is more predictable, and therefore easier to learn about (Bandura, 1986, 1997). Quickly, however, social interaction becomes highly influential.

Not only does the child learn a great deal from the family, but as they grow peers become increasingly important. As the child’s world expands, peers bring with them a broadening of self-efficacy experiences. This can have both positive and negative consequences. Peers who are most experienced and competent can become important models of behavior. However, if a child perceives themselves as socially inefficacious, but does develop self-efficacy in coercive, aggressive behavior, then that child is likely to become a bully. In the midst of this effort to learn socially acceptable behavior, most children also begin attending school, where the primary focus is on the development of cognitive efficacy. For many children, unfortunately, the academic environment of school is a challenge. Children quickly learn to rank themselves (grades help, both good and bad), and children who do poorly can lose the sense of self-efficacy that is necessary for continued effort at school. According to Bandura, it is important that educational practices focus not only on the content they provide, but also on what they do to children’s beliefs about their abilities (Bandura, 1986, 1997).

As children continue through adolescence toward adulthood, they need to assume responsibility for themselves in all aspects of life. They must master many new skills, and a sense of confidence in working toward the future is dependent on a developing sense of self-efficacy supported by past experiences of mastery. In adulthood, a healthy and realistic sense of self-efficacy provides the motivation necessary to pursue success in one’s life. Poorly equipped adults, wracked with self-doubt, often find life stressful and depressing. Even psychologically healthy adults must eventually face the realities of aging, and the inevitable decline in physical status. There is little evidence, however, for significant declines in mental states until very advanced old age. In cultures that admire youth, there may well be a tendency for the aged to lose their sense of self-efficacy and begin an inexorable decline toward death. But in societies that promote self-growth throughout life, and who admire elders for their wisdom and experience, there is potential for aged individuals to continue living productive and self-fulfilling lives (Bandura, 1986, 1997).

In summary, as we learned more about our world and how it works, we also learned that we can have a significant impact on it. Most importantly, we can have a direct effect on our immediate personal environment, especially with regard to personal relationships, behaviors, and goals. What motivates us to try influencing our environment is specific ways in which we believe, indeed, we can make a difference in a direction we want in life. Thus, research has focused largely on what people think about their efficacy, rather than on their actual ability to achieve their goals (Bandura, 1997).


Self-regulation and self-efficacy are two elements of Bandura’s theory that rely heavily on cognitive processes. They represent an individual’s ability to control their behavior through internal reward or punishment in the case of self-regulation, and their beliefs in their ability to achieve desired goals as a result of their own actions, in the case of self-efficacy. Bandura never rejects the influence of external rewards or punishments, but he proposes that including internal, self-reinforcement and self-punishment expands the potential for learning:

…Theories that explain human behavior as solely the product of external rewards and punishments present a truncated image of people because they possess self-reactive capacities that enable them to exercise some control over their own feelings, thoughts, and actions. Behavior is therefore regulated by the interplay of self-generated and external sources of influence… (Bandura, 1977b, p. 129).

Self-regulation is a general term that includes both self-reinforcement and self-punishment. Self-reinforcement works primarily through its motivational effects. When an individual sets a standard of performance for themselves, they judge their behavior and determine whether or not it meets the self-determined criteria for reward. Since many activities do not have absolute measures of success, the individual often sets their standards in relative ways. For example, a weight-lifter might keep track of how much total weight they lift in each training session, and then monitor their improvement over time or as each competition arrives. Although competitions offer the potential for external reward, the individual might still set a personal standard for success, such as being satisfied only if they win at least one of the individual lifts. The standards that individuals set for themselves can be learned through modeling. This can create problems when models are highly competent, much more so than the observer is capable of performing (such as learning the standards of a world-class athlete). Children, however, seem to be more inclined to model the standards of low-achieving or moderately competent models, setting standards that are reasonably within their own reach (Bandura, 1977b). According to Bandura, the cumulative effect of setting standards and regulating one’s own performance in terms of those standards can lead to judgments about one’s self. Within a social learning context, negative self-concepts arise when one is prone to devalue oneself, whereas positive self-concepts arise from a tendency to judge oneself favorably (Bandura, 1977b). Overall, the complexity of this process makes predicting the behavior of an individual rather difficult, and behavior often deviates from social norms in ways that would not ordinarily be expected. However, this appears to be the case in a variety of cultures, suggesting that it is indeed a natural process for people (Bandura & Walters, 1963).

Impact of Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) has influenced many areas of inquiry including media, health education, and morality. Social cognitive theory is often applied as a theoretical framework of studies pertained to media representation regarding race, gender, age and beyond (Aubrey, 2004; Mastro & Stern, 2003; Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2008). Social cognitive theory suggested heavily repeated images presented in mass media can be potentially processed and encoded by the viewers (Bandura, 2011). Media content analytic studies examine the substratum of media messages that viewers are exposed to, which could provide an opportunity to uncover the social values attached to these media representations (Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2008). Although media contents studies cannot directly test the cognitive process, findings can offer an avenue to predict potential media effects from modeling certain contents, which provides evidence and guidelines for designing subsequent empirical work (Nabi & Clark, 2008; Raman, Harwood, Weis, Anderson, & Miller, 2008). Social cognitive theory is pervasively employed in studies examining attitude or behavior changes triggered by the mass media. As Bandura suggested, people can learn how to perform behaviors through media modeling (Bandura, 2002).

Social Cognitive theory has been widely applied in media studies pertained to sports, health, education and beyond. For instance, Hardin and Greer (2009) examined the gender-typing of sports within the theoretical framework of social cognitive theory, suggesting that sports media consumption and gender-role socialization significantly related with gender perception of sports in American college students. In series TV programming, according to social cognitive theory, the awarded behaviors of liked characters are supposed to be followed by viewers, while punished behaviors are supposed to be avoided by media consumers. However, in most cases, protagonists in TV shows are less likely to experience the long-term suffering and negative consequences caused by their risky behaviors, which could potentially undermine the punishments conveyed by the media, leading to a modeling of the risky behaviors. Nabi and Clark (2008) conducted experiments about individual’s attitudes and intentions consuming various portrayals of one-night stand sex-unsafe and risky sexual behavior, finding that individuals who had not previously experience one-night stand sex, consuming media portrayals of this behavior could significantly increase their expectations of having a one-night stand sex in the future, although negative outcomes were represented in TV shows.  

In health communication, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) has been applied in research related to smoking quit, HIV prevention, safe sex behaviors, and so on (Bandura 1994, 2004). For example, Martino, Collins, Kanouse, Elliott, and Berry (2005) examined the relationship between the exposure to television’s sexual content and adolescents’ sexual behavior through the lens of social cognitive theory, confirming the significant relationship between the two variables among white and African American groups; however, no significant correlation was found between the two variables in the ethic group of Hispanics, indicating that peer norm could possibly serve as a mediator of the two examined variables.

In public health, Miller's (2005) study found that choosing the proper gender, age, and ethnicity for models ensured the success of an AIDS campaign to inner city teenagers. This occurred because participants could identify with a recognizable peer, have a greater sense of self-efficacy, and then imitate the actions to learn the proper preventions and actions. A study by Ahmed (2009) looked to see if there would be an increase in breastfeeding by mothers of preterm infants when exposed to a breastfeeding educational program guided by SCT. Sixty mothers were randomly assigned to either participate in the program or they were given routine care. The program consisted of SCT strategies that touched on all three SCT determinants: personal-showing models performing breastfeeding correctly to improve self-efficacy, behavioral -weekly check-ins for three months reinforced participants' skills, environmental-mothers were given an observational checklist to make sure they successfully completed the behavior. The author found that mothers exposed to the program showed significant improvement in their breastfeeding skills, were more likely to exclusively breastfeed, and had fewer problems then the mothers who were not exposed to the educational program.

In morality development, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) emphasizes a large difference between an individual's ability to be morally competent and morally performing. Moral competence involves having the ability to perform a moral behavior, whereas moral performance indicates actually following one's idea of moral behavior in a specific situation (Santrock, 2008). Moral competencies include:

  • what an individual is capable of
  • what an individual knows
  • what an individual's skills are
  • an individual's awareness of moral rules and regulations
  • an individual's cognitive ability to construct behaviors

As far as an individual's development is concerned, moral competence is the growth of cognitive-sensory processes; simply put, being aware of what is considered right and wrong. By comparison, moral performance is influenced by the possible rewards and incentives to act a certain way (Santrock, 2008). For example, a person's moral competence might tell them that stealing is wrong and frowned upon by society; however, if the reward for stealing is a substantial sum, their moral performance might indicate a different line of thought. Therein lies the core of social cognitive theory.

For the most part, social cognitive theory remains the same for various cultures. Since the concepts of moral behavior did not vary much between cultures (as crimes like murder, theft, and unwarranted violence are illegal in virtually every society), there is not much room for people to have different views on what is morally right or wrong. The main reason that social cognitive theory applies to all nations is because it does not say what is moral and immoral; it simply states that we can acknowledge these two concepts. Our actions in real-life scenarios are based on whether we believe the action is moral and whether the reward for violating our morals is significant enough, and nothing else (Santrock, 2008).

Continued Impact of Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura is still influencing the world with expansions of Social Cognitive Theory (SCT). SCT has been applied to many areas of human functioning such as career choice and organizational behavior as well as in understanding classroom motivation, learning, and achievement (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Bandura (2001) brought SCT to mass communication in his journal article that stated the theory could be used to analyze how "symbolic communication influences human thought, affect and action" (p. 3). The theory shows how new behavior diffuses through society by psychosocial factors governing acquisition and adoption of the behavior. Bandura’s (2011) book chapter “The Social and Policy Impact of Social Cognitive Theory” to extend SCT's application in health promotion and urgent global issues, which provides insight into addressing global problems through a macro social lens, aiming at improving equality of individuals' lives under the umbrellas of SCT. This work focuses on how SCT impacts areas of both health and population effects in relation to climate change. He proposes that these problems could be solved through television serial dramas that show models similar to viewers performing the desired behavior. On health, Bandura (2011) writes that currently there is little incentive for doctors to write prescriptions for healthy behavior, but he believes the cost of fixing health problems start to outweigh the benefits of being healthy. Bandura argues that we are on the cusp of moving from a disease model (focusing on people with problems) to a health model (focusing on people being healthy) and SCT is the theory that should be used to further a healthy society. On Population, Bandura (2011) states population growth is a global crisis because of its correlation with depletion and degradation of our planet's resources. Bandura argues that SCT should be used to get people to use birth control, reduce gender inequality through education, and to model environmental conservation to improve the state of the planet. Green and Peil (2009) reported he has tried to use cognitive theory to solve a number of global problems such as environmental conservation, poverty, soaring population growth, etc.

Criticism of Social Cognitive Theory

One of the main criticisms of the social cognitive theory is that it is not a unified theory. This means that the different aspects of the theory may not be connected. For example, researchers currently cannot find a connection between observational learning and self-efficacy within the social-cognitive perspective. The theory is so broad that not all of its component parts are fully understood and integrated into a single explanation of learning. The findings associated with this theory are still, for the most part, preliminary. The theory is limited in that not all social learning can be directly observed. Because of this, it can be difficult to quantify the effect that social cognition has on development. Finally, this theory tends to ignore maturation throughout the lifespan. Because of this, the understanding of how a child learns through observation and how an adult learns through observation are not differentiated, and factors of development are not included.

Educational Implications of Social Cognitive Theory

An important assumption of Social Cognitive Theory is that personal determinants, such as self-reflection and self-regulation, do not have to reside unconsciously within individuals. People can consciously change and develop their cognitive functioning. This is important to the proposition that self-efficacy too can be changed, or enhanced. From this perspective, people are capable of influencing their own motivation and performance according to the model of triadic reciprocality in which personal determinants (such as self-efficacy), environmental conditions (such as treatment conditions), and action (such as practice) are mutually interactive influences. Improving performance, therefore, depends on changing some of these influences. In teaching and learning, the challenge upfront is to 1) get the learner to believe in his or her personal capabilities to successfully perform a designated task; 2) provide environmental conditions, such as instructional strategies and appropriate technology, that improve the strategies and self-efficacy of the learner; and 3) provide opportunities for the learner to experience successful learning as a result of appropriate action (Self-efficacy Theory, n.d.). Accordingly, the theory itself has numerous implications in classroom teaching and learning practices:

  1. Students learn a great deal simply by observing others;
  2. Describing the consequences of behavior increases appropriate behaviors, decreasing inappropriate ones; this includes discussing the rewards of various positive behaviors in the classroom;
  3. Modeling provides an alternative to teaching new behaviors. To promote effective modeling, teachers must ensure the four essential conditions exist: attention, retention, production, and motivation (reinforcement and punishment);
  4. Instead of using shaping, an operant conditioning strategy, teachers will find modeling is a faster and more efficient means of teaching new knowledge, skills, and dispositions;
  5. Teachers must model appropriate behaviors and they do not model inappropriate behaviors;
  6. Teachers should expose students to a variety of models including peers and other adult models; this is important to break down stereotypes;
  7. Modeling also includes modeling of interest, thinking process, attitudes, instructional materials, media (TV and advertisement), academic work achievement and progress, encouragement, emotions, etc. in the physical, mental and emotional aspects of development.
  8. Students must believe that they are capable of accomplishing a task; it is important for students to develop a sense of self-efficacy. Teachers can promote such self-efficacy by having students receive confidence-building messages, watch others be successful, and experience success on themselves;
  9. Teachers should help students set realistic expectations ensuring that expectations are realistically challenging. Sometimes a task is beyond a student's ability;
  10. Self-regulation techniques provide an effective method for improving student behaviors.


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