Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is a psychological model of behavior that emerged in the 1960s, largely through the work of psychologist Albert Bandura. SCT postulates that learning occurs in a social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment, and behavior. This approach to understanding behavior emphasizes the importance of observational learning, imitation, and modeling.

Purpose and Role

The SCT aims to explain how people regulate their behavior through control and reinforcement to achieve goal-directed behavior that can be maintained over time. The theory provides a framework for understanding, predicting, and changing human behavior. It has been applied extensively to the understanding of aggression (Bandura, 1973) and psychological disorders, particularly in the context of behavior modification (Bandura, 1969).


The three main components of SCT include:

  1. Observational Learning: Learning by observing the behavior of others and the outcomes of those behaviors. For example, a child might learn to behave aggressively by observing aggressive behavior in their peers or media.
  2. Self-Efficacy: Belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the actions required to manage prospective situations. In other words, self-efficacy is a person's belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. Bandura described these beliefs as determinants of how people think, behave, and feel.
  3. Reciprocal Determinism: This concept explains how a person's behavior, environment, and personal factors interact and influence each other. It asserts that individuals function due to this interaction of internal characteristics, behaviors, and environment.


SCT is important because it addresses the complex interplay between internal personal factors, environment, and behavior in shaping one's behaviors. This helps in understanding and predicting individual and group behavior and identifying methods in which behavior can be modified or changed.


SCT has its roots in the Social Learning Theory (SLT), which Bandura proposed in the 1960s. Bandura updated the theory in the 1980s and renamed it Social Cognitive Theory to emphasize the role of cognition in encoding and performing behaviors.


  1. Provides a comprehensive framework that considers a range of human cognitive processes, including attention, perception, memory, and motivation.
  2. Emphasizes the importance of observational learning, enabling learning without performance, and acknowledging that people can control their own behavior without external reinforcement.
  3. Recognizes the influence of the environment on behavior, which can help in creating interventions that modify the environment to change behavior.


  1. Some critics argue that SCT focuses too much on the situation and does not pay enough attention to the influence of biological factors on behavior.
  2. It is not always clear how to apply the principles of SCT in real-world situations, which may limit its practical usefulness.


An example of SCT could be a student learning how to solve mathematical problems by observing a teacher or peer solve the problem. They observe the steps, encode the information, and later recall and replicate the behavior.

See Also

  1. Observational Learning: A key component of SCT where learning occurs through observing the behavior of others.
  2. Self-Efficacy: Another key component of SCT, representing the belief in one's capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome.
  3. Reciprocal Determinism: A central concept in SCT, suggesting that a person's behavior, personal factors, and environment continually interact and influence each other.
  4. Modeling: In SCT, learning can occur by observing and then modeling a behavior.
  5. Behavior Modification: SCT has been applied in behavior modification, a treatment approach that replaces undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones using the conditioning principles.