Social Cognitive Theory



The Social Cognitive Theory

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The Social Cognitive Theory is accredited to Psychologist Albert Bandura and is an improvement of the social learning theory. It is classified as a learning theory and is very significant in understanding how people interact with their environment in the process of learning (Bandura, 2001). In short, this theory proposes that the learning process occurs in a social context. Thus, to expound on this, people do not simply learn new and non-existent behavior, rather they learn already existent behavior through processes such as observation and implement such behaviors through various processes as discussed here.

Rather than simply focus on the process of initiating behavior, this theory also puts an emphasis on how such behavior is maintained. To further explain this, the theory is made up of five different constructs developed in the previous Social learning theory and a Sixth one that is an improvement. These constructs are crucial in explaining the process of social learning. They include Reciprocal Determinism, behavioral capability, observational learning, reinforcements, expectations, and finally self-efficacy (Bandura, 2003).


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Reciprocal Determinism

The central concept of the Social Cognitive Theory is built around the first concept of Reciprocal Determinism. This construct is composed of three factors including the individual, their environment, and the behavior. These are the factors that constantly and continually interact to influence a person’s behavior. Similarly, a person’s behavior also influences their environment. Thus unlike in earlier theories, the individual in this model is not simply a passive recipient of behavior but rather an active one (Bandura, 2001). For instance, when it comes to learning, a child does not simply behave as impacted by the parents but rather as a result of their interactions with the world.

Behavioral Capability

The next construct is that of Behavioral capability. This refers to the ability of a person’s ability to perform a given act. For this to occur, one requires to have knowledge of a certain behavior including what to do and also how to do it (Bandura, 2001). For example, a child who speaks a curse word must have knowledge of such a word and even how to say it. Also, a person who consumes alcohol must know what alcohol is and how to drink it. On a positive note, a child who says a prayer every night must know what a prayer is and how to say such a prayer. The capacity to behave in a certain way is thus an important stage in the learning process.

Observational Learning

Thirdly is observational learning. This is where an individual observes a successful act by another and replicates that action. There are four processes of learning under this construct. They include the processes of attention, retention, production, and motivation (Bandura, 2003).

Attentional Processes

Attentional processes involve the behavior that is selected for observation. This behavior can either be observed through media or through real life. Thus put in other words, this is the process where a certain action or event captures the attention of a person.

Retentional Processes

Retention opens the door for the next process where an individual may retain that action in their memory or simply forget it. If they can recall it, then this process is known as the retention process, however, if they forget it, then the learning process involving that particular behavior is halted (Bandura, 2001). For instance, in our case where a child witnesses a person praying, the child might recall that action and move on to the next learning process or they may simply be uninterested and not recall it. The next process is the production process.

Production Process

This is where an individual attempts to recall and reconstruct the behavior that they retained from the previous step. In other words, they attempt to copy the behavior that they already observed (Bandura, 2003). A good example is where a child attempts to say a word that they heard another person speak. This process, however, explains that the behavior may not be copied exactly as observed by the person but rather, it is modified to fit within the required context.

Motivational Process

Finally is the motivational process. This is the process that determines whether the individual will keep the behavior learning through observation. Thus according to Bandura, not every observed behavior is retained but rather it depends whether such behavior is rewarded. For instance, when a child is punished for certain behavior, they are not likely to do it again. However, if they are positively rewarded, then they are likely to continue with the said behavior. This concludes the observational construct of Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (Allan, 2017).


The fourth construct is the Reinforcements which are closely related to Reciprocal Determinism. It insists on the interaction between an individual’s action and their environment (Bandura, 2003). Therefore, a person’s behavior triggers a response from their environment. This response plays a major role in whether that person will continue with such a behavior i.e. the environment may either reinforce such behavior or not.


The next important construct of the Social Cognitive Theory is Expectations. In this construct, Bandura proposed that a person’s behavior is influenced by their expectations (Bandura, 2003). This may be as a result of their past experiences and are therefore in most occasions very subjective. Depending on how the expectations or outcomes are, a person is able to place value on their behavior.


Finally is the construct that is very unique to the social cognitive theory, referred to as self-efficacy. Basing on self-efficacy, a person’s behavior is also influenced by their level of confidence. Thus, a person’s behavior also depends on how one believes that they can accomplish a given activity (Allan, 2017).


This is the process of social learning according to Bandura’s Social Cognitive theory. It has been preferred over many other learning theories due to its various strengths. For one, it is easily applicable to a large number of behaviors as it is broad enough. It is also able to incorporate both cognitive theories and social to come up with an accurate description. It also lacks the complexities that are associated with many other related theories and is thus relatively easy to understand. It was also backed by extensive research hence very concrete. Despite all the strengths, this theory also has certain shortcomings. One of the reasons why it is criticized is that it lacks to account for emotional and biological aspects in its explanation of the learning behavior. It is also found not to be clearly unified and some critics find it disorganized (Allan, 2017). It also neglects to state that children learn through certain stages as proposed in various other theories.


Allan, J. (2017). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Macat Library.

Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of psychology52(1), 1-26.

Bandura, A. (2003). Social cognitive theory for personal and social change by enabling media. In Entertainment-education and social change (pp. 97-118). Routledge.


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