Theory Assignment

Theory Assignment

Theories are abstractions from the real world to give and show the existing relationship between or among a variables or a given phenomenon. Thus, they are like map used in showing the direction of the known from the unknown. In social sciences, scholars had propounded diverse theories in explaining different social different situations.

Thus, there are theories for individual behaviors; why they behave in a certain way at a given situation, social psychologists have theories in explaining how an individual behavior is influenced by the group he belongs to; i.e., how he / she tend to behave in a group setting. Hence, varieties of theories are abstracted from the real world situation to give explanation to a particular need in a given social setting.

This write- up tends to study the Social Cognitive theory and the Social learning Theory. Here, the historical background, key components, application and the limitation of the theories would be discussed.


The Social learning Theory precede the social Cognitive Theory. In fact, the Social Cognitive Theory is generated from the Social learning Theory. The Social learning Theory has a rich historical background darting back to the late 1800’s. Social Psychologists made immense contribution to the development of the theory. According to Crosbie- Brunnett and Lewis (1993), the earliest contribution of learning theory was from William James in 1890 whose notion of ‘social self’ laid the foundation for the modern social learning theory tenet of the interaction between personal factors and the environment.

Kurt Lewis (1890- 1947) further developed the work by extending Gestaltist’s field theory and initiating a shift in psychology from a focus on the individual to a focus on processes between individuals. Miller and Dollards’s publication of Social Learning and Imitation in 1941 officially launched the unit of the study in the behavioral field. Here, Social Learning Theory principles were incorporated into reinforcement, punishment, and extinction and imitation model. The book give an explanation on how humans and animals model observed behaviors, which then became learned through environmental reinforcements.

In addition, the publication has it that human behavior was motivated by drives, and one organism’s responses could serve as stimuli for other organisms. The work of Miller and Dollard expanded on the reciprocal relationship between environment and behavior, while incorporating the beginnings of internal mediating variables. Thus, the work came with flood of different versions of Social Learning Theory. Subsequently work on the behaviorist field changed from a focus on the development of theoretical models, to an emphasis on conducting empirical studies (Woodward, 1982)

As already mentioned Social Cognitive Theory stemmed from the social learning theory. According to Stone (1998), the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) has its origins in the discipline of psychology, with its early foundation being laid by behavioral and social psychologists. Albert Bandura, a social psychologist has contributed immensely to the development of Social Cognitive Theory. In fact he officially launched the Social Cognitive Theory in 1986 with his book ‘Social Foundation of Thought and action: a social cognitive theory’.

To Stone (1998), “Bandura’s Social learning theory places a heavy focus on cognitive concepts. His theory focuses on how children and adults operate cognitively on their social experiences and how these cognitions then influence behavior and development. His theory was the first to incorporate the notion of modeling, or vicarious learning as a form of social learning.

“Bandura also introduced several other important concepts, including reciprocal determinism, self- efficacy, and the idea that there can be significant temporal variation in time lapse between cause and effect. “ Bandura renamed his Social Learning Theory (SLT), Social Cognitive Theory (SCT)…. This name change was also likely the result of an effort to further distance himself and his theory from the behaviorist approach”.


The social learning theory explains human behavior ion terms of continues reciprocal interaction between cognitive behavioral, an environmental influences (Bandura, 1977). “The Social Learning Theory evolves under the umbrella of behaviorism, which is a cluster of psychological theories intended to explain why people and animals behave the way that they do”. (Stone, 1998). The component processes underlying observational learning are:
Attention, including modeled events ( distinctiveness, affective valence, complexity, prevalence, functional values) and observer characteristics ( sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement)
Retention , including symbolic coding, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal,
Motor reproduction, including physical capabilities, self- observation of reproduction, accuracy of feedback, and
Motivation, including external, vicarious and self reinforcement. (Bandura, 1977).

Social Learning Theory, because it encompasses attention, memory and motivation, spans both cognitive and behavioral frameworks. The Social Learning Theory emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. “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 being behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others form of idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action” ( ibid: 22)

Currently, the social learning principles place emphases on cognitive variables. Whereas strict behaviorism supports a direct and unidirectional pathway between stimulus and response, representing human behavior as a simple reaction to external stimuli. The Social Learning Theory asserts that there is a mediator (human cognition) between stimulus and response, placing individual control over behavioral responses to stimuli.

To Stone (1998), there are several versions of the Social Learning Theory, currently researchers subscribe and share three basic tenets:

Tenet 1: response consequences (such as rewards and punishments) influence the likelihood that a person will perform a particular behavior again in a given situation

Tenet 2: Humans can learn by observing others, in addition to learning by participating in an act personally (learning by observing others is called Vicarious learning),

Tenet 3: individuals are most likely to model behavior observed by others they identify with.

Looking at the Social Cognitive Theory, Sternberg (1994), defines it as “ it studies the individual within a social or cultural context and focuses on how people perceives and interpret information they generate themselves ( intrapersonal) and from others (interpersonal). Allport (1985), has it that Social Cognitive Theory attempts “ to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others”.

Social Cognitive Theory defines human behavior as a triadic, dynamic, and reciprocal interaction of personal factors, behavior, and the environment. ( Bandura, 1989). It is thus, inferred according to this theory that individual’s behavior is uniquely determined by each of these three factors.

While the Social Cognitive Theory upholds the behaviorist notion that response consequences mediate behavior, it contends that behavior is largely regulated antecedently through cognitive processes. Therefore, response consequences of a behavior are used to form expectations of behavioral outcomes. It is the ability to form these expectations that give humans the capability to predict the outcomes of their behavior, before the behavior performed. In addition the Social Cognitive Theory submit that most behavior is learned vicariously (Stone, 1998).

The ‘reciprocal determinism’, a vital aspect of Bandura’s work on Social Cognitive Theory, has it that a person’s behavior is both influenced by and is influencing a person’s personal factors and the environment. (Bandura, 1986).

The diagram below illustrate how personal factors such as cognitive skills or attitudes and behavior, and the environment impact on each other.

SOURCE: Huitt, 2002.


Theories are propounded to act as a means for solving an identified problem. Thus, theorizing the social learning theory and the social cognitive theory, it is seen that both theories stand to meet and proffer solution to an identified social need. For the social learning theory, it has been applied extensively to the understanding of aggression and psychological disorders, particularly in the context of behavior modification. Also, it is theoretical foundation for the technique of behavior modeling which is widely used in training programs. ( Bandura, 1969, 1973).

Example of social learning situation is illustrated when viewers of television commercials on product adverts tries to imitate the looks of the actors in the advertisement, by buying the advertised product, in order to look like the actor(s).

The Social Cognitive Theory has being used to study a wide range of health problems, from medical therapy compliance, to alcohol abuse, to immunizations. One particular fruitful area of investigation to which the SCT has been employed is the study of moral and value internalization among children; it is argued that the greatest contribution of the Social Cognitive Theory is its aid in understanding how children are socialized to accept the standards and values of their society. (Johnston, et al., 1997, as quoted by Stone, 1998).


The Social Cognitive Theory and the Social Learning Theory has been criticized for its comprehensiveness and complexity which makes it difficult to operationalize. Also, many application of the Social Cognitive Theory focus on one or two constructs, such as self- efficacy, while ignoring the others (Stone, 1998).


Allport, A. (1985), “The historical background of social psychology” in G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.) Handbook of social psychology ( Vol.1, 3rd ed., pp 1- 46).

Banduras, A. (1969), principles of Behavior Modification. New York : Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Banduras, A. (1973), Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice- hall.

Bandura, A. (1977), Social learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Banduras, A. (1989), “Social Cognitive Theory” in Annuals of child Development (Vol. 6, pp 1-60)

Crobie – Brunnett M. and Lewis E.A. (1993), “Theoretical contribution from social and cognitive behavioral psychology” in Sourcebook of Family Theories and methods: A Contextual Approach Boss P.G., et al (Eds.) Plenum Press: new York.

Huitt, W. (2002), Social Cognitive. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University (

Sternberg, R. (1994), In search of the human mind. Forth Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Stone, Danice (1998), “ Social Cognitive Theory” ( ( 12tthNovember, 2005)

Woodward, W. R. (1982), The discovery of social behaviorism and social learning theory, 1870-1980. American psychologist, Vol.37, no 4, pp 396-410.

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