Home » Bandura: Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura: Social Cognitive Theory


Assumptions of the Social-Cognitive Approach:

Behavior occurs as the result of a complex interplay between inner processes (cognitions, motivations, personality factors) and environmental influences

Triadic reciprocal determinism: belief that cognition, behavior, and the environment operate interactively as determinants of one another

  • Assumes that we represent external events symbolically

Verbal representation: word that signifies an object in the environment

  • The word cat is a verbal representation of a purring quadruped that exists in the environment

Imaginal representation: image conjured up by a person that resembles an object in the environment

  • Assumes that most of our behavior is not controlled by immediate external reinforcement

Much of our behavior is controlled by:

  • Anticipated outcomes: person’s expectancy that the performance of certain behaviors will secure certain reinforcers
  • Modeling: type of learning in which individuals learn new behavior by observing others

Modeling Theory:

Whether or not the person imitates observed behavior of a model depends on three factors:

  • Characteristics of the observer
  • Characteristics of the model
  • Rewards and punishments associated with the model’s behavior

Vicarious reinforcement: willingness to imitate the behavior of a model after observing that the model was reinforced for the behavior

Aggression and Violence in Films, Television, and Video Games:

Research evidence for aggression and violence in our society:

  • Observers who watch models being rewarded for certain behaviors tend to repeat them, whereas observers who watch models being punished for their actions tend not to repeat those actions
  • Observers are more likely to imitate aggressive models who receive no punishment for their behavior

Even when models are punished for their actions, observers can and will imitate them if given strong incentives.

  • Observers will imitate even a disliked model who has been rewarded for his aggression if they believe his actions are exciting and fun
  • Observers will imitate aggressive behavior performed by models if the aggression is justified
  • Observers are more apt to behave aggressively if they are low on impulse control
  • Observers behave more aggressively if they identify with the aggressor
  • Observers are more apt to be aggressive if they can dehumanize the victim, or when the injuries suffered by the victim are minimized or sanitized

Recommendations to reduce violence in the media:

  • Media executives need to be encouraged by members of the public to create more constructive shows and video games
  • Parents need to limit their children’s exposure to media violence by monitoring the content of programs in advance, modeling nonaggressive behavior for their children, and rewarding nonviolent behavior

Efficacy Expectations:

Efficacy expectations: individuals’ convictions or beliefs that they can execute the behaviors required to produce certain response consequences

Efficacy expectations depend on four factors:

  • Performance accomplishments
  • Vicarious experiences
  • Verbal persuasion
  • Emotional arousal

Research on self-efficacy:

  • Academic development and achievement
  • Career choices and job performance
  • Physical and mental health

Personality Development:

Social-cognitive experiences play a crucial role in the development and modification of behavior.  Parents can have a positive or negative impact on their children’s development, on the plus side, imitation of parents’ behaviors often meets with reward, however, on the minus side, parents who severely punish their children or are cold and impersonal are likely to have children with behavioral problems.

Multiple models: learning is more difficult when models are performing behaviors that conflict with one another, but children eventually learn to apply self-reinforcers and self- punishers to their own behavior.

Assessment Techniques:

  • No use of traditional techniques (free association, dream analysis, and transference)
  • Heavy reliance on experimentation to assess personality functioning and change

Theory’s Implications for Therapy:

Modeling used to reduce or eliminate undesirable behavior and to teach new, more desirable behavior

  • Guided participation modeling: procedure in which models first show study participants how to successfully tolerate increasingly threatening interactions with dreaded objects, and then guide the participants through these threatening activities until they are finally able to master their fears
  • Self-modeling: type of learning in which individuals watch themselves behave in a situationally-appropriate manner via videotape and then show the same behaviors later on
  • Elimination of fears by raising efficacy expectations

Evaluative Comments:

  • Comprehensiveness: broad in scope
  • Precision and testability: precise and testable
  • Parsimony: parsimonious
  • Empirical validity: strong empirical support
  • Heuristic value: high heuristic value, proving stimulating to researchers in clinical psychology, social psychology, health psychology, and vocational counseling
  • Applied value: strong applied value, especially in the areas of education and psychopathology

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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