Social Learning Theory


Of the many cues that influence behavior, at any point in time, none is more common than the actions of others. (Bandura, 1986, p.206)

Based on a belief that important psychological processes and issues had not been completely dealt with by earlier theorists, Bandura & Walters (1963) began to present another view, originally referred to as observational learning. This theory discussed the human learning that takes place as individuals abstract information from observing the behavior of others, abstracting information from these observations, make decisions about which of these behaviors to adopt, and later perform the selected behaviors. The theory lists several social cognitive factors that influence learning such as the capacity to use symbols and engage in firm and intentional actions. Through the use of symbols, an individual can translate observations into internal models that can guide future actions and can be used to test out possible courses of action before actual performance.

As Bandura began to build his theory of social learning, he identified three areas of weakness in Behaviorism. These were (1) the limited range of the behaviors possible for research in a laboratory type setting (2) the fact that these theories were unable to account for the acquisition of new responses to situations and (3) that it dealt with only one type of learning, direct learning, where the learner performs a response and experiences the consequences. Bandura referred to this type learning as instantaneous matching Bandura went on to discuss indirect learning, referred to as delayed matching where the learner observes reinforced behavior and then later enacts the same type behavior.

Bandura bases his theory on the acquisition of complex behaviors on a triangular diagram illustrating the interactive effect of various factors. These three factors are behavior (B), the environment (E), and the internal events that influences perceptions and actions (P). The relationship between these three factors is known as reciprocal determinism.

A major difference between Bandura's social-cognitive theory of learning and earlier theories is his definition of learning. He noted that persons acquire internal codes of behavior that they may or may not act upon later. Therefore, he divided learning and performance as two separate events. Learning was the acquisition on the internal symbolic representations in the form of fverbal or visual codes, which could serve as guidelines for future behavior. These memory codes of observed behaviors are referred to as representational systems and divided into two types of systems, visual (imarginal) and verbal-conceptual. The first is concerned with abstractions of distinctive features of events instead of just mental copies, the second would be the verbal form of details for a particular procedure.

The modeled behavior serves to convey information to the observer in one of three different ways. One is by serving as a social prompt to initiate similar behavior in others. The second is by acting to strengthen or weaken the exiting restraints of the learner against performance of particular behaviors. The third influence is to transmit new patterns of behavior.

Bandura describes three types of modeling stimuli, which are live models, symbolic models, and verbal descriptions or instructions. Of these three, in American society , the greatest range of exposure is in the form of symbolic models through mass media.

The characteristics of models is an important factor in determining the degree to which the attention is paid to the model by the learner. The response of the learner to the modeling behavior is largely determined by three sets of factors. These are the particular attributes of the model, such as relevance and credibility for the observer; the prestige of the model, and the satisfaction already present in the situation where the behavior is being modeled. A second determinant of the models success is the nature of the observer. Those who lack self esteem and self confidence are more prone to adopt the behavior of models.

Bandura identified three types of reinforcers of behavior. These were direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement, and self reinforcement. Direct reinforcement would be directly experienced by the learner. Vicarious reinforcement would be observed to be consequences of the behavior of the model. Self reinforcement would be feelings of satisfaction or displeasure for behavior gauged by personal performance standards.

An important point in the social cognitive theory is that the learners behavior is guided by cognitive processes rather than formed or shaped by reinforced practice. Four component parts are responsible for the learning and performance acquisition. These are:

I. Attentional processes

II. Retentional processes III. Motor reproduction processes IV. Motivational processes

In Bandura's later work he introduces two other aspects to his Social Learning Theory. These are his work on the self regulatory system and self efficacy. In the area of self regulatory system/self evaluative behaviors he said that this system is based upon cognitive subprocesses that:

These processes are based upon the standards for one's behavior and capabilities of cognitive structures that provide referents for behavior and its outcomes. These standards are based upon one's:

The third area of Dr. Bandura's work deals with the area of ones perception of one's self efficacy in dealing with a situation. Perceived self efficacy is the belief that one can execute behavior to produce outcome. It influences behavior in three ways:

Dr. Bandura's definition of aptitude, itself, illustrates the importance he places on self-efficacy in his learning theory. He says that the concept of ability is not a fixed attribute in our repertoire, rather it is a generative capability which cognitive, motivational, emotional and behavioral skills must be organized and effectively orchestrated to serve diverse purposes

Self efficacy-activated processes are based on four areas:

People with weak belief in their self efficacy

People with strong belief in their efficacy

Perceived self efficacy is visible in schools as it sets up a cue in the intellectual process:

The sources of perceived self efficacy are:

The 3 types of cognitive motivators around which theories have been built:

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Last Updated on May 3, 1996 by the P540 Bandura Group