WHAT IS SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY?
• Social cognitive theory is a learning theory based on the idea that people learn by watching what others do and will not do, these processes are central to understanding personality.
• While social cognitivists agree that there is a fair amount of influence on development generated by learned behavior displayed in the environment in which one grows up, they believe that the individual person (and therefore cognition) is just as important in determining moral development.
• People learn by observing others, with the environment, behavior, and cognition all as the chief factors in influencing development.
• These three factors are not static or independent; rather, they are all reciprocal. For example, each behavior witnessed can change a person’s way of thinking (cognition). Similarly, the environment one is raised in may influence later behaviors, just as a father’s mindset (also cognition) will determine the environment in which his children are raised.
• Social cognitive theory stemmed out of work in the area of social learning theory proposed by N.E. Miller and J. Dollard in 1941.
• Their proposition posits that if one were motivated to learn a particular behavior, then that particular behavior would be learned through clear observations.
• By imitating these observed actions the individual observer would solidify that learned action and would be rewarded with positive reinforcement.
• The proposition of social learning was expanded upon and theorized by Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura from 1962 onwards.The theorists most commonly associated with social cognitive theory are Albert Bandura and Walter Mischel.
Social cognitive theory emphasizes a large difference between an individual’s ability to be morally competent and morally performing. Moral competence involves having the ability to perform a moral behavior, whereas moral performance indicates actually following one’s idea of moral behavior in a specific situation. Moral competencies include:
• what an individual is capable of
• what an individual knows
• what an individual’s skills are
• an individual’s awareness of moral rules and regulations
• an individual’s cognitive ability to construct behaviors
As far as an individual’s development is concerned, moral competence is the growth of cognitive-sensory processes; simply put, being aware of what is considered right and wrong. By comparison, moral performance is influenced by the possible rewards and incentives to act a certain way. For example, a person’s moral competence might tell them that stealing is wrong and frowned upon by society; however, if the reward for stealing is a substantial sum, their moral performance might indicate a different line of thought. Therein lies the core of social cognitive theory.
Observation of models:
• Social cognitive theory revolves around the process of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the observation of models.
• The models can be those of an interpersonal imitation or media sources.
• Effective modeling teaches general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations.
Bobo Doll Behavior: A Study of Aggression
• To illustrate that people learn from watching others, Albert Bandura constructed an experiment entitled “Bobo Doll Behavior: A Study of Aggression.”
• In this experiment Bandura exposed a group of children to a video featuring violent and aggressive action.
• After making them watch the video he then placed the children in a room with a Bobo doll to see how they behaved with it.
• Through this experiment, Bandura discovered that children who had watched the violent video subjected the dolls to more aggressive and violent behavior, while children not exposed to the video did not.
• This experiment displays the social cognitive theory because it depicts how people reenact behaviors they see in the media.
• In this case, the children in this experiment reenacted the model of violence they directly learned from the video.
• As a result of the observations the reinforcement explains that the observer does not expect actual rewards or punishments but anticipates similar outcomes to his/her imitated behaviors and allows for these effects to work.
• All these variations allowed Bandura to establish that there were certain steps involved in the modeling process:
Attention. If you are going to learn anything, you have to be paying attention. Likewise, anything that puts a damper on attention is going to decrease learning, including observational learning.
Some of the things that influence attention involve characteristics of the model. If the model is colorful and dramatic, for example, we pay more attention. If the model is attractive, or prestigious, or appears to be particularly competent, you will pay more attention. And if the model seems more like yourself, you pay more attention. These kinds of variables directed Bandura towards an examination of television and its effects on kids!
Retention. Second, you must be able to retain — remember — what you have paid attention to. This is where imagery and language come in: we store what we have seen the model doing in the form of mental images or verbal descriptions. When so stored, you can later “bring up” the image or description, so that you can reproduce it with your own behavior.
Reproduction. At this point, you’re just sitting there daydreaming. You have to translate the images or descriptions into actual behavior. So you have to have the ability to reproduce the behavior in the first place. I can watch Olympic ice skaters all day long, yet not be able to reproduce their jumps, because I can’t ice skate at all! On the other hand, if I could skate, my performance would in fact improve if I watch skaters who are better than I am.
Another important tidbit about reproduction is that our ability to imitate improves with practice at the behaviors involved. And one more tidbit: Our abilities improve even when we just imagine ourselves performing! Many athletes, for example, imagine their performance in their mind’s eye prior to actually performing.
Motivation. And yet, with all this, you’re still not going to do anything unless you are motivated to imitate, i.e. until you have some reason for doing it. Bandura mentions a number of motives:
a. past reinforcement, ala traditional behaviorism.
b. promised reinforcements (incentives) that we can imagine.
c. vicarious reinforcement — seeing and recalling the model being reinforced.
Notice that these are, traditionally, considered to be the things that “cause” learning. Bandura is saying that they don’t so much cause learning as cause us to demonstrate what we have learned. That is, he sees them as motives.
Of course, the negative motivations are there as well, giving you reasons not to imitate someone:
d. past punishment.
e. promised punishment (threats).
d. vicarious punishment.
Like most traditional behaviorists, Bandura says that punishment in whatever form does not work as well as reinforcement and, in fact, has a tendency to “backfire” on us.
Self-regulation — controlling our own behavior — is the other “workhorse” of human personality. Here Bandura suggests three steps:
1. Self-observation. We look at ourselves, our behavior, and keep tabs on it.
2. Judgment. We compare what we see with a standard. For example, we can compare our performance with traditional standards, such as “rules of etiquette.” Or we can create arbitrary ones, like “I’ll read a book a week.” Or we can compete with others, or with ourselves.
3. Self-response. If you did well in comparison with your standard, you give yourself rewarding self-responses. If you did poorly, you give yourself punishing self-responses. These self-responses can range from the obvious (treating yourself to a sundae or working late) to the more covert (feelings of pride or shame).
A very important concept in psychology that can be understood well with self-regulation is self-concept (better known as self-esteem). If, over the years, you find yourself meeting your standards and life loaded with self-praise and self-reward, you will have a pleasant self-concept (high self-esteem). If, on the other hand, you find yourself forever failing to meet your standards and punishing yourself, you will have a poor self-concept (low self-esteem).
Recall that behaviorists generally view reinforcement as effective, and punishment as fraught with problems. The same goes for self-punishment. Bandura sees three likely results of excessive self-punishment:
a. compensation — a superiority complex, for example, and delusions of grandeur.
b. inactivity — apathy, boredom, depression.
c. escape — drugs and alcohol, television fantasies or even the ultimate escape, suicide.
These have some resemblance to the unhealthy personalities Adler and Horney talk about: an aggressive type, a compliant type, and an avoidant type respectively.
Bandura’s recommendations to those who suffer from poor self-concepts come straight from the three steps of self-regulation:
1. Regarding self-observation — know thyself! Make sure you have an accurate picture of your behavior.
2. Regarding standards — make sure your standards aren’t set too high. Don’t set yourself up for failure! Standards that are too low, on the other hand, are meaningless.
3. Regarding self-response — use self-rewards, not self-punishments. Celebrate your victories, don’t dwell on your failures.
• In education, teachers play the role as model in a child’s learning acquisition.
• Teachers model both material objectives and underlying curriculum of virtuous living.
• Teachers should also be dedicated to the building of high self-efficacy levels in their students by recognizing their accomplishments.
• Identification, self-efficacy, and vicarious learning: Albert Bandura also stressed that the easiest way to display moral development would be via the consideration of multiple factors, be they social, cognitive, or environmental.
• The relationship between the aforementioned three factors provides even more insight into the complex concept that is morality.
• Further development in social cognitive theory posits that learning will most likely occur if there is a close identification between the observer and the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy.
• Identification allows the observer to feel a one-to-one connection with the individual being imitated and will be more likely to achieve those imitations if the observer feels that they have the ability to follow through with the imitated action.
• Self-efficacy has also been used to predict behavior in various health related situations such as weight loss, quitting smoking, and recovery from heart attack.
• In relation to exercise science, self-efficacy has produced some of the most consistent results revealing an increase in participation in exercise as self-efficacy increases.
• Vicarious learning, or the process of learning from other people’s behavior, is a central idea of social cognitive theory and self-efficacy.
• This idea asserts that individuals can witness observed behaviors of others and then reproduce the same actions. As a result of this, individuals refrain from making mistakes and can perform behaviors better if they see individuals complete them successfully.
• Vicarious learning is a part of social modeling which is one of the four means to increase self-efficacy.
• Social modeling refers not just observing behavior but also receiving instruction and guidance of how to complete a behavior. The other three methods include, mastery experience, improving physical and emotional states and verbal persuasion.
• Mastery experience is a process in which the therapist or interventionist facilitates the success of an individual by achieving simple incremental goals. With the achievement of simple tasks, more complex objectives are introduced. The person essentially masters a behavior step by step.
• Improving physical and emotional states refers to ensuring a person is rested and relaxed prior to attempting a new behavior.
• The less relaxed, the less patient, the more likely the goal behavior will not be attained.
• Finally, verbal persuasion is providing encouragement for a person to complete a task or achieve a certain behavior.