Social Cognitive Theory

Topic: Theories Of Attitude And Behavior Change

Social-cognitive theories of personality emphasize the role of cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging, in the development of personality.

The social-cognitive theory describes how individuals think and react in social situations. How the mind works in a social setting is hugely complicated—emotions, social desirability factors, and unconscious thoughts can all interact and affect social cognition in many ways. The most significant figure in social cognitive-theory is behaviorist Albert Bandura.

Albert Bandura is a behavioral psychologist credited with creating social learning theory. Bandura proposed the concept of reciprocal determinism, in which cognitive processes, behavior, and context all interact, each factor simultaneously influencing and being influenced by the others. Cognitive processes refer to all characteristics previously learned, including beliefs, expectations, and personality characteristics. Behavior refers to anything that we do that may be rewarded or punished. Finally, the context in which the behavior occurs refers to the environment or situation, which includes rewarding/punishing stimuli.

This theory was significant because it moved away from the idea that environment alone affects an individual’s behavior. Instead, Bandura hypothesized that the relationship between behavior and environment was bi-directional, meaning that both factors can influence each other. In this theory, humans are actively involved in molding the environment that influences their own development and growth.

Practice Questions

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MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Sample Test P/S Section Passage 7 Question 37

Practice Exam 2 P/S Section Passage 4 Question 20

Key Points

• Social- cognitive theories of personality emphasize the role of cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging, in the development of personality.

• Albert Bandura is a behavioral psychologist who came up with the concept of reciprocal determinism, in which cognitive processes, behavior, and context all interact with and influence each other.

• One of the main criticisms of social-cognitive theory is that it is not a unified theory—that the different aspects of the theory do not tie together to create a cohesive explanation of behavior.

Key Terms

social cognitive theory: a theory of personality that emphasizes cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging.

self-efficacy: the term used to describe how one judges one’s competence to complete tasks and reach goals.

social learning theory: a theory that assumes people learn certain behaviors through observing and imitating the behaviors of others, and then being rewarded or punished for behaving that way

reciprocal determinism: states that a person’s behavior both influences and is influenced by personal factors and the social environment

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