Social Cognitive Theory


Social Learning Theory

Chapter 3

Traditional Learning Theory

History of the Theory



•Little Albert

•“It should come as no surprise that children learned faster than rats but more slowly than college sophomores” (Miller, 2002, p. 168-169).

–Social Learning

•Theorists trained by Clark Hull, but inspired by Freud combined learning theory and psychoanalytic theory.

•Socialization was emphasized.

•Imitation was also a focus and was viewed in its relationship to identification with the same-sex parent.

History of the Theory

•Albert Bandura

–Research began in the early 1960’s


–Bobo doll

–Less concerned about literal imitation and more concerned about what can be learned from observing others.

–Observational learning.

General Orientation to the Theory

•Emphasis on Learning

–Traditional Learning Theory

•Environmental, nonbiological behavioral influences are emphasized.

•Classical conditioning and Operant conditioning

–Social Learning Theory

•Animal behavior does not generalize to human behavior.

•Interested in social behavior and social context.

•Broadened the types of learning to observational.

–Explain how novel, complex behaviors can “suddenly” emerge.

–Explain how behaviors can be learned in situations where mistakes can be costly or life-threatening.

–Abstract modeling

–Feedback is an incentive, but reinforcement and punishment are not necessary for observational learning to occur.

General Orientation to the Theory

•Social Learning Theory


•Teach new behaviors.

•Strengthen or weaken inhibitions.

•Draw attention to particular objects, thereby increasing their use in a variety of ways.

•Increase emotional arousal.

General Orientation to the Theory

•Causal Model Includes Environment

–Traditional Learning Theory

•Sinner posited that “a person does not act upon the world, the world acts upon him” (1971, p. 211).

–Social Learning Theory

•Triadic reciprocal causation.

•Imposed environments.

•Selected environments.

•Created environments.


Triadic Reciprocal Causation

General Orientation to the Theory

•Acquired Behavior Can Be Simple     

–Traditional learning Theory

•Reductionist strategy is utilized to break behavior down to its simplest units or associations.

•In contrast to Freud and Piaget in which behavior can only be understood in terms of its structural context.

–Social Learning Theory

•“Acquiring large chunks of behavior by observation is a very efficient way to learn” (Miller, 2002, p. 185)



General Orientation to the Theory

•Focus on Observable Behavior

–Traditional Learning Theory

•Only observable behavior can be studied in a scientific manner.

•Over time, expectations, concepts, and rules became more accepted.

–Social Learning Theory

•Focus is on overt, imitative behaviors.

•Focus is also on underlying cognitive processes.

General Orientation to the Theory

•Focus on Underlying Cognitive Processing

–Social Learning Theory

•Analogy to a computer program.

•“Cognitive factors influence what is observed, how that person or event is perceived how this new information is organized for the future, whether the observational learning has a lasting effect, and what this effect is” (Miller, 2002, p. 187).

Subprocesses Underlying Observational Learning

Subprocesses Underlying Observational Learning

•Attentional Processes

–Modeled events


•Affective valence




•Retention Processes

–Symbolic coding

–Cognitive organization

–Cognitive rehearsal

–Enactive rehearsal

Subprocesses Underlying Observational Learning

•Production Processes

–Cognitive representation

–Observation of enactments

–Feedback information

–Conception matching

•Motivational Processes

–External incentives





–Vicarious Incentives




General Orientation to the Theory


–Social Learning Theory

•“Perceived self-efficacy is a judgment of one’s ability to organize and execute given types of performances, whereas an outcome expectation is a judgment of the likely consequence such performances will produce” (Bandura, 1997, p. 21).

•Self efficacy develops via

–Mastery experiences

–Observational Learning

–Praise and encouragement

–Physiological and affective states

General Orientation to the Theory

•Self Efficacy

–Social Learning Theory

•Self-efficacy is domain specific

•Slight overestimations in motivate individuals to attempt challenging tasks.

•Self-efficacy is responsible for persistence in the face of rejection.

–Collective efficacy

•Refers to the efficacy of a group.

•Click here for more information on Self-Efficacy provided by Frank Pajares.

General Orientation to the Theory


–Traditional Learning Theory

•Physical sciences model (“physics envy”)

•Tightly controlled, small-scale laboratory experiments were preferred.

•Behavior modification A-B-A design

–Social Learning Theory

•Consistent with TLT, rigorous experimental designs.

Mechanisms of Development

•The focus is on processes of change and not structural change.

•Development occurs because

–Individuals physically mature.

–Individuals experience the social world.

–Individuals develop cognitively.


Position on Developmental Issues

•Human Nature

–Although traditional learning theory is often considered a mechanistic (passive) view of human nature, social learning theory takes more of a contextualist view, but with little attention to historical-cultural influences.

–The role of illogical, irrational thought is more important for Bandura than Piaget.

•Because children acquire styles of processing from others, they may utilize illogical problem-solving models.

Position on Developmental Issues

•Qualitative Versus Quantitative Development

–Change is predominately quantitative.

•Nature Versus Nurture

–“Children are malleable, but within limits” (Miller, 2002, p. 200).

–Triadic reciprocal causation.


Position on Developmental Issues

•What Develops

–Process is more important than content. As a result, identifying what develops is more difficult, with culture/ environment playing an important role.

–“In other words, there is no universal goal or endpoint to development” (Miller, 2002, p. 201).

–The ability to use observing or listening to others, or attending to symbolic characters, to learn is what develops.


•Vicarious learning



•Ability to see future consequences of present behaviors

Evaluation of the Theory


–Focus on situational influences on behavior.



–Inadequate account of cognitive development.

–Inadequate description in natural settings.