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Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura's concern with socially relevent topics such as aggresive behavior is the hallmark of his work, and has led to a great deal of current research on topics relating to social issues. As such, the work of Bandura seems to have been initially motivated by a desire to provide a more rigorous and behavioral explanation for agressive behavior than was available from psychodynamic theories such as Freud's, and to offer an explanation for the development of novel behavior that was not easily explained by the more traditional Radical Behaviorism of Skinner. (Goldhaber)
Probably the most profound distinction of Bandura's work, in the realm of Learning Theory, was the recognition of imitative learning. Bandura felt that Skinner's operant conditioning couldn't offer a consistent explanation for the expression of novel behaviors. As a result, Bandura offered a new and distinct set of conditions under which new behaviors can be aquired and existing ones modified. (Goldhaber)
In operant conditioning, direct reinforcement of the individual's behavior is necessary if an association is to be made between the response and its consequence. Bandura argued that for humans, this association need not be direct. Rather, modeling can also provide both a means of aquiring novel behaviors and a more efficient means of shaping current behaviors without the use of direct reinforcement. He reffered to this type of learning as observational learning and suggested that the modeling of new behaviors might actually be more dependent on the child's observation of the response consequences to a model, than on direct experience of those consequences. He referred to such indirect consequences as vicarious reinforcement. By introducing the concept of vicarious reinforcement, Bandura was stating explicitly that human learning was primarily a social experience. Thus, for Bandura, Learning Theory became Social Learning Theory. (Goldhaber)
Throughout the evolution of Bandura's theory, there has been a growing acceptance of mentalistic concepts such as the concept of self within explanations of behavior and behavioral change.
Bandura's theory adopts an explanation of psychological functioning in terms of Triadic Reciprocal Causation.   This system assumes that human action is a result of an interaction amoung three variables - environment, behavior, and person. By person, Bandura means largely, but not exclusively, such cognitive factors as memory, anticipation, planning, and judging. (Feist)
Thus, what began as "Social Learning Theory" in 1963 had become "Social Cognitive Theory" by 1986. (Goldhaber)
Social Cognitive Theory rests on several basic assumptions. (Feist)
1) Plasticity: Humans have the flexibility to learn a variety of behaviors in diverse situations.
2) Triadic Reciprocal Causation Model: Humans can transform temporary events into relatively consistent ways of evaluating and regulating their social and cultural environments.
3)Agentic Perspective: Humans have the capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of their lives. People are producers as well as products of social systems.
4) People regulate their coduct through both external and internal factors.
5) Moral Agency: People regulate their actions through moral standards of conduct.

 Related Terms
Imitative Learning: learning through copying the actions of another.
Modeling: Involves the observation of others, and thus learning from their actions. More than simple imitation, Modeling entails the addition and subtraction of specific acts and the observation of the consequences of others' actions.
Observational Learning: Learning derived from an intentional examination of the actions and resulting consequences of others.
Vicarious Reinforcement: Reinforcement associated to a particular behavior, obtained through the observation of another behavior resulting in a particular consequence.
Chaplin, J.P. (1985). Dictionary of Psychology. Dell Publishing: New York, NY.
Feist, J. & Feist, G. (2006). Theories of Personality (6th ed.).  McGraw Hill: New York, NY.
Goldhaber, D. (2000). Theories of Human Development: Integrative Perspectives. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA.

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