The Social Cognitive Perspective is a psychological theory on personality founded by Albert Bandura that paved the way for Behaviorism. In short, the perspective basically states that we learn by observing others or conditioning and model our behaviors after those situations. Mental processes are also emphasized in this theory, hence the “cognitive” aspect. Bandura’s perspective focuses on how we interact with our environments and the events we experience. Several other theorists’ helped shape this theory into what is studied today.
Like every theory, it has it’s own strengths and weaknesses; however, it is widely respected and regarded in the psychological community.
One of the basic concepts of the Social Cognitive theory is observational learning. Basically, we learn by observing others. We don’t simply copy the behaviors we see displayed by others; however, we do use our observations to learn and understand how certain behaviors will help or hurt us in regards to reaching a goal or the outcome of a situation.
Bandura did not necessarily believe that reinforcement or punishment were necessary for one to learn and that we can learn by simply observing and drawing our own conclusions on the situation.
This theory believes that our personality is molded by reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism is the interacting influences of behavior, internal cognition and environment. David G. Myers (2009) suggests that we are both products and architects of our environment. The way we feel about something influences the way we act regarding that situation. For instance, a person who enjoys playing tennis most likely associates with other tennis players, causing them to talk and think about playing tennis, which usually leads them back to the courts.
It’s a cycle that comes from our environments, thoughts, and influences. All of these factors shape our personality.
Self-efficacy is a term that was coined by Bandura to describe one’s belief that they are able to, behaviorally, handle themselves in a certain
situation. It is ultimately self-confidence in one’s ability to achieve a goal or perform a task. The way we have previously performed in situations, whether we succeeded or failed, are the most important regulators of self-efficacy (Hartman, 2001). People also use other people’s successes and failures in certain situations as a comparative tool to measure their own personal abilities in certain situations. This is referred to as vicarious experience. Verbal persuasion is another source of self-efficacy and basically states that when others express their opinion on one’s capability of performing a behavior, it can affect our self-efficacy. For instance, if someone were to tell a person they didn’t believe they could achieve the goal they had set, it is going to decrease that person’s self-efficacy. The person’s emotional arousal during a behavior can influence one’s level of self-efficacy.
Several other theorists expanded upon Bandura’s original ideas. Julian Rotter was born in Brooklyn, NY and received his Ph.D. from Indiana University. Ohio State University offered him a position after World War II where he was able to develop his own theories. His ideas believe that our behaviors are based mainly on our interaction with our meaningful environments (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and that while our personality can change, it will not change due to minor experiences. Rotter also stated that people typically choose the behaviors and actions that will move them towards achieving their goal. Walter Mischel is an Austrian born psychologist whose family fled Vienna during the Nazi occupation. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University, where he studied under Rotter. He believed many of the same things as Bandura and his mentor, Rotter. Rotter and Mischel see people as goal directed, cognitive animals whose perceptions of events are more important than the events themselves. (McGraw-Hill, 2002)
The Social Cognitive Perspective, like all theories, has its strengths and weaknesses. Unlike the Freudians and Humanists who focus on clinical observations, the Social Cognitive Theory focuses on experimental findings. Clinical observations can’t always predict behavior, but the social cognitive approach relies on scientific data that can, in fact, predict behavior. For instance, someone who’s self-efficacy is heightened is more
likely to find a new job after losing their previous one. (lanecc.edu, 2004) On the opposing side, researchers have claimed that the social cognitive perspective does not include complex, outside factors that are not present in the situations simulated in the laboratory. Some have claimed that Bandura’s theory lacks attention to the biological or hormonal process. Lack of unity within the theory itself is probably the most significant criticism of the Social Cognitive Theory. While the concepts and processes of this perspective have been intensely researched, little explanation as to the relationships of the concepts has ever been defined or given. (Hartman, 2001)
Personally, I believe this theory makes a lot of sense. I think generally, people take assessment of the environment and people around them, and shape the way they react accordingly. We watch how others react to certain situations and react similarly or oppositely based on the outcome of their behavior. I believe this theory could explain a lot of why we act differently in different situations; we have learned how to react in those situations by observing how others handle them and have adjusted our behaviors accordingly.
The Social Cognitive Theory is not lacking in applied value, making it a significant contribution to psychology and behaviorism today. It’s basis in research and clearly defined terms make it easy to apply to other research.