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Overview of Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura's social cognitive theory takes an agentic perspective, meaning that humans have some limited
ability to control their lives. In contrast to Skinner, Bandura (1) recognizes that chance encounters and
fortuitous events often shape one's behavior; (2) places more emphasis on observational learning; (3)
stresses the importance of cognitive factors in learning; (4) suggests that human activity is a function of
behavior and person variables, as well as the environment; and (5) believes that reinforcement is mediated
by cognition.
II. Biography of Albert Bandura
Albert Bandura was born in Canada in 1925, but he has spent his entire professional life in the United
States. He completed a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Iowa in 1951 and since then has
worked almost entirely at Stanford University, where he continues to be the most active of all personality
theorists in investigating his own hypotheses.
III. Human Agency
Bandura believes that human agency is the essence of humanness; that is, humans are defined by their
ability to organize, regulate, and enact behaviors that they believe will produce desirable consequences.
Human agency has four core features:
(1) intentionality, or a proactive commitment to actions that may bring about desired outcomes; (2)
foresight, or the ability to set goals; (3) self-reactiveness, which includes people monitoring their progress
toward fulfilling their choices; and
(4) self-reflectiveness, which allows people to think about and evaluate their motives, values, and life goals.
IV. Reciprocal Determinism
Social cognitive theory holds that human functioning is molded by the reciprocal interaction of (1) behavior;
(2) person variables, including cognition; and (3) environmental events-a model Bandura calls reciprocal
A. Differential Contributions
Bandura does not suggest that the three factors in the reciprocal determinism
model make equal contributions to behavior. The relative influence of
behavior, environment, and person depends on which factor is strongest
at any particular moment.
B. Chance Encounters and Fortuitous Events
The lives of many people have been fundamentally changed by a chance meeting with another person or by
a fortuitous, unexpected event. Chance encounters
and fortuitous events enter the reciprocal determinism paradigm at the
environment point, after which they influence behavior in much the same
way as do planned events.

V. Self System
The self system gives some consistency to personality by allowing people to observe and symbolize their
own behavior and to evaluate it on the basis of anticipated future consequences. The self system includes
both self-efficacy and self-regulation.
A. Self-Efficacy
How people behave in a particular situation depends in part on their self-efficacy-that is, their beliefs that
they can or cannot exercise those behaviors necessary to bring about a desired consequence. Efficacy
expectations differ from outcome expectations, which refer to people's prediction of the likely consequences
of their behavior. Self-efficacy combines with environmental variables, previous behaviors, and other
personal variables to predict behavior. It is acquired, enhanced, or decreased by any one or combination of
four sources: (1) mastery experiences or performance, (2) social modeling, or observing someone of equal
ability succeed or fail at a task; (3) social persuasion, or listening to a trusted person's encouraging words;
and (4) physical and emotional states, such as anxiety or fear, which usually lowers self-efficacy. High selfefficacy and a responsive environment are the best predictors of successful outcomes.

B. Proxy Agency
Bandura has recently recognized the influence of proxy agency through which people exercise some partial
control over everyday living. Successful living in the 21st century requires people to seeks proxies to supply
their food, deliver information, provide transportation, etc. Without the use of proxies, modern people would
be forced to spend most of their time securing the necessities of survival.
C. Collective Efficacy
Collective efficacy is the level of confidence that people have that their combined efforts will produce social
change. At least four factors can lower collective efficacy. First, events in other parts of the world can leave
people with a sense of helplessness; second, complex technology can decrease people's perceptions of
control over their environment; third, entrenched bureaucracies discourage people from attempting to bring
about social change; and fourth, the size and scope of world-wide problems contribute to people's sense of
D. Self-Regulation
By using reflective thought, humans can manipulate their environments and produce consequences of their
actions, giving them some ability to regulate their own behavior. Bandura believes that behavior stems from
a reciprocal influence of external and internal factors. Two external factors contribute to self-regulation: (1)
standards of evaluation, and (2) external reinforcement. External factors affect self-regulation by providing
people with standards for evaluating their own behavior. Internal requirements for self-regulation include:
(1) self-observation of performance; (2) judging or evaluating performance; (3) and self-reactions, including
self-reinforcement or self-punishment. Internalized self-sanctions prevent people from violating their own
moral standards either through selective activation or disengagement of internal control. Selective activation
refers to the notion that self-regulatory influences are not automatic but operate only if activated. It also
means that people react differently in different situations, depending on their evaluation of the situation.
Disengagement of internal control means that people are capable of separating themselves from the
negative consequences of their behavior. People in ambiguous moral situations-who are uncertain that their
behavior is consistent with their own social and moral standards of conduct-may separate their conduct from
its injurious consequences through four general techniques of disengagement of internal standards or
selective activation. First is redefining behavior, or justifying otherwise reprehensible actions by cognitively
restructuring them. People can use redefinition of behavior to disengage themselves from reprehensible
conduct by: (1) justifying otherwise culpable behavior on moral grounds; (2) making advantageous
comparisons between their behavior and the even more reprehensible behavior of others; and (3) using
euphemistic labels to change the moral tone of their behavior. A second method of disengagement from
internal standards is to distort or obscure the relationship between behavior and its injurious consequences.
People can do this by minimizing, disregarding, or distorting the consequences of their behavior. A third set
of disengagement procedures involves blaming the victims. Finally, people can disengage their behavior from
its consequences by displacing or diffusing responsibility.
VI. Learning
People learn through observing others and by attending to the consequences of their own actions. Although
Bandura believes that reinforcement aids learning, he contends that people can learn in the absence of
reinforcement and even of a response.
A. Observational Learning
The heart of observational learning is modeling, which is more than simple imitation, because it involves
adding and subtracting from observed behavior. At least three principles influence modeling: (1) people are
most likely to model high-status people, (2) people who lack skill, power, or status are most likely to model,
and (3) people tend to model behavior that they see as being rewarding to the model. Bandura recognized
four processes that govern observational learning: (1) attention, or noticing what a model does; (2)
representation, or symbolically representing new response patterns in memory; (3) behavior production, or
producing the behavior that one observes; and (4) motivation; that is, the observer must be motivated to
perform the observed behavior.
B. Enactive Learning
All behavior is followed by some consequence, but whether that consequence reinforces the behavior
depends on the person's cognitive evaluation of the situation.

VII. Dysfunctional Behavior

Dysfunctional behavior is learned through the mutual interaction of the person (including cognitive and
neurophysiological processes), the environment (including interpersonal relations), and behavioral factors
(especially previous experiences
with reinforcement).
A. Depression
People who develop depressive reactions often (1) underestimate their successes and overestimate their
failures, (2) set personal standards too high, or (3) treat themselves badly for their faults.
B. Phobias
Phobias are learned by (1) direct contact, (2) inappropriate generalization, and (3) observational
experiences. Once learned they are maintained by negative reinforcement, as the person is reinforced for
avoiding fear-producing situations.
C. Aggressive Behaviors
When carried to extremes, aggressive behaviors can become dysfunctional. In a study of children observing
live and filmed models being aggressive, Bandura and his associates found that aggression tends to foster
more aggression.
VIII. Therapy
The goal of social cognitive therapy is self-regulation. Bandura noted three levels of treatment: (1) induction
of change, (2) generalization of change to other appropriate situations, and (3) maintenance of newly
acquired functional behaviors. Social cognitive therapists sometimes use systematic desensitization, a
technique aimed at diminishing phobias through relaxation.

IX. Related Research

Bandura's concept of self-efficacy has generated a great deal of research demonstrating that people's beliefs
are related to their ability to enact a wide
variety of performances, including stopping smoking and academic performance.
A. Self-Efficacy and Smoking Cessation
Saul Shiffman and his colleagues studied the effects of daily fluctuations in self-efficacy on smoking lapses
and relapses among ex-smokers who had quit on their own for at least 24 hours. They found that when
these participants smoked even a single cigarette, their daily self-efficacy became more variable, leading to
future lapses and, with some ex-smokers, a complete relapse. Ex-smokers who believed in their ability to
quit smoking were able to maintain high self-efficacy and to avoid lapses
and relapse.
B. Self-Efficacy and Academic Performance
Bandura and a group of Italian researchers studied levels of self-efficacy and their relation to academic
performance in middle-school children living near Rome. They found that children who believed that their
parents had confidence in their academic ability were likely to have high academic aspirations, high
academic self-efficacy, and high self-regulatory efficacy, and that each of these factors related either directly
or indirectly to high academic performance.
X. Critique of Bandura
Bandura's theory receives the highest marks of any in the text largely because it was constructed through a
careful balance of innovative speculation and data from rigorous research. In summary, the theory rates
very high on its ability to generate research and on its internal consistency. In addition, it rates high on
parsimony and on its ability to be falsified, organize knowledge, and guide the practitioner.
XI. Concept of Humanity
Bandura sees humans as being relatively fluid and flexible. People can store past experiences and then use
this information to chart future actions. Bandura's theory rates near the middle on teleology versus causality
and high on free choice, optimism, conscious influences, and uniqueness. As a social cognitive theory, it
rates very high on social determinants of personality.