Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory

What influences human behavior? Do our surroundings have any influence on our behavior or are we the sole determinants of our behavior? What methods can we use to enhance particular behavior and discourage other behavior? Albert Bandura’s studies on human behavior and its influences resulted in the development of Social cognitive theory which answers the above questions.

Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory puts emphasis on the social origins of behavior as well as the cognitive processes that influence the behavior and functioning of humans. He emphasizes that learning can simply occur through observation and direct reinforcement is not necessary for learning to occur. He further states that reinforcement is only necessary to enhance performance and is not a key factor in behavior acquisition process. Therefore people can learn a lot by observing what others are doing, studying on what others are doing and observing their environment.

Four key steps guide the observational learning process. To begin with in order to acquire a particular behavior one must pay close attention. The modeled event must also be unique and complex in order to arouse the observer’s interest or make it be attended to. (Bandura, A.1997).The observer must also possess sensory capabilities and must be interested and motivated by the event.

The second step involves the individual’s ability to internalize or encode the behavior, remember it and get the sense of it. This can be achieved through practice.

The third step involves doing what one has been observing or what is commonly referred to as motoring. For this to happen one must have the physical ability to do what he or she observes. (Bandura, A.1997). For instance toddlers may observe something but   they cannot do what they observe due to a limitation in their physical abilities.

The final step is the motivational process. This may come from the individual or be instilled by external forces. For one to take on a particular behavior one must motivated to continue doing it.

In order to take on a behavior it is necessary an individual believes he is capable of performing it well. In other words they must have confidence in themselves. This is what Bandura refers to as self-efficacy. He defines self efficacy as a person’s belief that he or she can successfully carry “courses of action required to deal with prospective situations containing many ambiguous, unpredictable, and often stressful elements” (Bandura & Schunk, 1981: p.587).

Self efficacy is acquired through a number of ways. First, past experiences of success and failure can influence an individual’s self efficacy. Secondly others’ experiences of failure and success can also influence one’s self efficacy. Through this an individual can gauge his or her chances of success in similar situations. This is referred to as vicarious experiences. (Bandura, A.1997).

Other peoples’ opinions can enhance or decrease self efficacy. People are likely to engage in an activity if other people encourage them to do so. On the contrary people are less likely to engage in events which other people believe they are not capable of accomplishing successfully.

Finally the emotions generated when one engages in a particular behavior are likely to decrease or enhance self-efficacy. If engaging in an activity brings a lot of joy, a person is likely to be more confident while doing it. For instance if a student enjoys doing math, he will definitely have more self-efficacy than his fellow student who does not enjoy doing math.

Alex Bandura suggests that self-efficacy affects human behavior. People tend to frequently engage in activities that give them happiness. People will also direct a lot of their energies in activities they can successfully accomplish. People with high self efficacy are likely to be more successful in what the engage in as opposed to be people with low self-efficacy who are likely to be less successful.

This may explain why some people engage in certain behavior more often than while others do not have interest in the same behavior. For instance a student who excels in sports as opposed to class work will exert most of his efforts to sports and minimal effort to class work.

Behavior can also be learned through modeling. Aggression is most often learned through modeling. Children from homes where their parents fight frequently are more likely to be aggressive in school. Therefore in addition to observation, Bandura suggests that modeling has an impact on human behavior.

There are different types of models. There is the live model where a person actually demonstrates a certain behavior. The other type of model is symbolic model. This is where a person or action is shown in another medium for example television, video tape or over the internet.

Modeling like observation is learnt through a number of steps. The first is attention where an observer pays attention to the model. The second step is retention where the observer is able to retain what he has observed. In this case most adults undermine a child’s ability of what he has been observing. This how children learn abusive words and parents are shocked to here them churn out obscenities. The third step is referred to as motoring where the observer is able to replicate what he has observed the model doing. The final step is motivation where learners must exhibit the willingness to do what they have been observing.

Modeling has effect on human behavior as it may increase the frequency of learned behavior, encourage forbidden behavior or increase the frequency of similar behavior (Bandura, A. & Walters, R. 1963). For instance if a student excels in football, his fellow student who does not have the physique to play football may start playing table tennis in order to try and excel like his fellow student.

Modeling can also provide a more effective and efficient way of teaching new behavior. By rewarding good behavior, teachers can encourage other students to engage in good behavior and thus also get rewarded. However care must be taken in that students must only be modeled on good behavior. Models who encourage bad behavior like stealing; lying among others must shunned by teachers.

According to modern theories, people are often reinforced for modeling others behavior. However even the environment can play a crucial role in modeling. An observer can be reinforced by the model. For instance an individual may take a certain drink so as to fit in a particular group. As a result the behavior is reinforced by the group.

An observer can also be reinforced by a third person who is modeling another person’s actions. For example someone may emulate another person’s behavior who may be prominent member of society. People may take notice and applaud the behavior. This reinforces the behavior as more people in society may want to emulate this behavior. Behaviors we learn from others may produce satisfying results or a punishment and this goes a long way in reinforcing the behavior.

There is also vicarious reinforcement where the model is reinforced to produce a particular result which is turn replicated by others. For instance f someone does something as a result of reinforcement and is praised for doing it, more people are likely to do it whether good or bad. This can be seen in movies where violent scenes are likely to be emulated by children as they are taken as something normal in the movie.

Social learning theory also puts emphasis on self regulation. Self regulation occurs when one develops his or her own standards of behavior. He or she chooses what is good and bad for hi or her and acts accordingly. Self regulation involves setting standards and goals, self observation, self judge and self reaction.

Self regulation can also involve rewards. For instance if an individual quits taking alcohol, he can buy himself a gift after abstaining for a particular period like a month or two. This act of rewarding oneself reinforces the newly acquired behavior.

Self instruction is another aspect of social learning. It is an effective way to teach learners how to give themselves instructions with regards to behavior. There are five key steps to this process which include: cognitive modeling, overt external guidance, overt self guidance, faded overt self guidance and self instruction.

People can also control their behavior through self monitoring and self reinforcement. This involves first monitoring and observing their behavior and then evaluating how much progress they are making. They can also put in place measures that reinforce their behavior.

Bandura also suggests that behavior has influence on both the person and the environment. Consequently the person, the behavior and the environment influence each other. The behavior begins with one person who might influence another person and in no time the behavior penetrates a society. New members of this society take on the new behavior without knowledge of its origins and significance. It is very common to find people doing something yet they cannot explain why they do it.

Social learning theory has its foundations on certain basic principles. People can learn a behavior by simply observing others behavior and the outcomes of their behavior. Learning can also occur without a change of behavior (Bandura, A. 1986). This is contrary to behaviorists who tend to suggest that learning involves a permanent change in behavior. However according to social learning theory, learning can take place only by observation and therefore performance is not necessary for learning. Cognition is also vital in the learning process. Social learning theory has over the years taken a cognitive approach in its interpretation of human learning.

Contemporary theory suggests that reinforcement also affect the learning process. This contrary to what Bandura suggests that learning can take place in the absence of pleasure and pain. In fact according to Bandura reinforcement and punishment are only important if one wants to improve or enhance on an individual’s performance.

Reinforcement refers to those activities include in the learning process which are geared towards promoting and instilling certain behavior. An example is when a teacher gives his students a test at the end of a course. This tests them on how much they have understood the course and serves to enhance their knowledge in the area of study. Punishment refers to the consequences one has to face for engaging or not engaging in certain behavior. For instance a child who engages in forbidden behavior may be punished so as to prevent him from engaging in that behavior I future.

Reinforcement and punishment influence the extent to which a learned behavior is practiced by an individual. The expectation of reinforcement or (and) punishment influences cognitive processes that enhance learning.

Contemporary theory just like Bandura’s theory attests to the fact that attention is vital in the learning process. If reinforcement is expected then the attention levels go up. A course that is not likely to be tested will have low attendance among college students as opposed to a course which is likely to be tested.

Social learning theory is important in the study of human behavior and has resulted in useful practical examples in certain areas of human behavior. Bandura’s theory is based on research with very clear terms which have been successfully used over the years. For instance social learning theory has been greatly used in the study of aggression (Bandura 1973). Social learning theory is greatly used in the study of psychological disorders and behavior modeling. It also forms the theoretical basis for behavior modeling manuals that are used in training.

A common example of social learning situations is television commercials. Commercials imply that taking a particular product which is highly popular makes us also become popular and thus fit in the society. Most consumers if asked would say that their preference for a particular product is influenced by an advertisement rather than their personal tastes.

Social learning theory can successfully be applied in practical situations for instance, the classroom. Students from a tender age use observation as a means of learning. Discussing with students the consequences of certain behavior can enhance or prevent certain behavior. Modeling also provides a more effective and efficient way of teaching new behavior. Rewarding good behavior exhibited by a student may challenge other students to behave likewise. However care must be taken in that students must only be modeled on good behavior. Student’s self efficacy can also be enhanced by teachers verbally expressing contentment with their students and rewarding them accordingly.

Self regulation, self monitoring and reinforcement are effective tools for improving human behavior (Ormrod, J.E. (1999). Social learning theory is practical and although other scholars have enhanced or criticized Bandura’s theories, most of his work is still used effectively in modern day psychology.

Another theory used to explain the learning process is constructivism. Constructivism is a way of learning that is based on the belief that by reflecting on our own experiences, we come up with our own understanding of the world we live in. Every individual constructs their own rules and mental pictures which they use to make sense of their experiences. Learning can therefore be summed up as the process of adjusting our mental models in view of our experiences.

Constructivism has an impact on learning. Constructivism supports the eradication of a standard curriculum. Instead it calls for curricula that are based on students’ prior knowledge. It also calls for hands on approach in solving problems.

Under the theory of constructivism, teachers are encouraged to tailor their teaching methods in accordance with students’ needs and encourage students to analyze, interpret and predict information. They also encouraged to use open ended  questions and promote interaction among students. Constructivism calls for assessment to become part of the learning process so that students can evaluate their own progress.

Constructivism is based on several principles. Learning entails searching for meaning in what ever one whatever one is learning. Therefore, for learning to be meaningful, it must be based on the issues which students are constantly trying to construct meaning.

The learning process must be focused on basic concepts, not isolated facts. Students must understand the whole concept and not just parts of the concept. Therefore, In order for learning to be meaningful, mental models that students use to view the world and the assumptions they make to support those models must be understood and put into use in the learning process.

The purpose of learning is to enable an individual to create his or her own meaning. Cramming or memorizing answers and duplicating them on an answer sheet do not entail learning. Learning can only be properly evaluated by making assessment part of the learning process and ensuring it provides students with information on the quality of their learning.

Constructivist teaching is developed to help learners enhance their mental models. This can be achieved adding detail and experience to learning. It also entails challenging current world views and enhances new, more sophisticated mental structures.

An important element of constructivism is that learning should be practical. Practically applying knowledge brings to reality mental pictures the students has been harboring and promotes better understanding. According to constructivist  theory, assignments and activities should surpass tests. Learners need to practice the things they learn for the learning process to be meaningful.

Motivation is another key element in the learning process. Without proper motivation student may become indifferent to the learning process. Motivation in the learning context can simply defined as efforts which learners put into the learning process as a consequence of their desire to learn.

There exist two main types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. can affect the learning process. Intrinsic motivation is an inherent interest in the learning process that bears no external influence. On the other hand extrinsic motivation refers to the external factors which a learner’s interest for example influences from teachers and parents.

Some students may have their own intrinsic motivation while other students need to be motivated to learn. Students are more likely to be interested in learning when they appreciate the value of learning. Students are also motivated to learn if they believe that their efforts will be rewarded accordingly.

Some strategies can be employed to motivate students and increase the students’ interest in the learning process. Such measures include supporting students  and establish a good rapport with the students. Learning should also be balanced. It should not be too easy or too difficult. This will challenge the student’s intellect and make them more attentive in class. Remember that according to the social learning process, attention is vital in the learning process.


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