I.      Overview of Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory

       Bandura’s social cognitive theory assumes an agentic perspective, meaning that humans have some capacity to exercise control over events that shape their lives. Bandura believes that (1) human activity is a function of behavior, person variables, and the environment; (2) people have the capacity for language and self-reflectiveness; (3) people can learn in the absence of a response; (4) humans have the ability to see the connection between their actions and the consequences of their actions; and (5) people are quite flexible and can learn a wide variety
of responses.


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 hypotheses generated by his social cognitive theory.


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 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

       Bandura holds that human functioning is molded by the reciprocal interaction of
(1) behavior; (2) personal factors, including cognition; and (3) the environment—a model he calls reciprocal determinism. Bandura sees no incompatibility between human agency and determinism. Behavior is influenced by external forces, but people retain the capacity to choose to behave in ways that influence their environment, which then helps shape their future behavior.

      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

       Bandura views the self system as a set of cognitive structures that gives some degree of consistency to peoples’ behavior. The self system allows people to observe and symbolize their own behavior and to regulate it on the basis of how they see the future. Bandura believes that people are not so flexible as to react to every environmental change, but he also rejects the idea that people are motivated by a small number of traits or personal dispositions. An important part of the self system is self-efficacy.

       A.      Self-Efficacy

       How people behave in a particular situation depends in part on their self-efficacy. Self-efficacy combines with environmental variables, prior behavior, and other personal variables to predict behavior.

       1.      What Is Self-Efficacy?

       Self-efficacy refers to people’s beliefs about their ability to exercise some control over their own functioning. Efficacy expectations differ from outcome expectations, which refer to people’s prediction of the likely consequences of their behavior. Self-efficacy differs from self-esteem in that self-efficacy is specific to a given situation, whereas self-esteem is more global.

       2.      What Contributes to Self-Efficacy?

       Self-efficacy is acquired, enhanced, or decreased by any one or combination of four sources: (1) enactive attainments, or mastery experiences, which ordinarily are the most powerful source; (2) social modeling, or observing someone else 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, which usually lowers self-efficacy.

       3.      Does Self-Efficacy Predict Performance?

       High and low self-efficacy combine with responsive and unresponsive environments to produce four possible predictive variables. High efficacy and a responsive environment is the best predictor of successful outcomes; low efficacy and a responsive environment may produce depression as people see that others can do what they cannot; high efficacy and an unresponsive environment may result in people intensifying their efforts, or, if that fails, giving up; and low efficacy and an unresponsive environment often leads to apathy and learned helplessness.

       B.      Proxy Agency

       Bandura recognizes the influence of proxy agency through which people exercise partial control over everyday living by relying on the efforts of others. Successful living in the 21st century requires people to seek proxies to supply their food, deliver information, provide transportation, and so forth. Without the use of proxies, modern people would be forced to spend most of their time seeking the necessities of survival.

       C.     Collective Efficacy

       Collective efficacy refers to the level of confidence that people have that their combined efforts will produce social change. Personal efficacy, proxy agency, and collective efficacy complement each another to shape people’s lifestyles. 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 reduce people’s collective confidence; third, entrenched bureaucracies discourage change; and fourth, the scope and magnitude of problems such as wars, famine, overpopulation, and crime contribute to a sense of powerlessness.

       D.      Self-Regulation

       By using reflective thought, humans can manipulate their environments and produce desired consequences of their actions, which gives them some ability to regulate their own behavior. People use both reactive and proactive strategies for self-regulation; that is, they reactively attempt to reduce the gap between accomplishment and goals, and they proactively set newer and higher goals. People have the capacity to manipulate external factors that influence their future behavior, but they also have the ability to regulate internal factors by monitoring their behavior and evaluating it in terms of their personal goals.

       1.      External Factors in Self-Regulation

       Two external factors contribute to self-regulation. First, standards of evaluation provide people with an external standard, such as par in golf or grades in a college course. Second, external reinforcement helps regulate the behavior of those people who are not satisfied with internal rewards. External factors in self-regulation include rules learned from others, observation of others, praise, money, food, and so forth.

       2.      Internal Factors in Self-Regulation

       Bandura recognizes three internal requirements for self-regulation: (1) self-observation, (2) judgmental process, and (3) self reaction. Self-observation suggests that we must monitor our own performance and have some awareness of what we are doing. Judgmental processes imply that we judge our performance according to our goals, our personal standards, standards of reference, our evaluation of our behavior, and our level of belief that success is due to our own efforts. Self-reaction means that we respond positively or negatively to our behavior depending on how it measures up to our personal standards.

       3.      Self-Regulation Through Moral Agency

       Internalized self-sanctions prevent people from violating personal 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 suggests 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 disengagement of internal standards. Ambiguous moral behavior can be disengaged or selectively activated through four techniques.

       a.      Redefine the Behavior

       With redefinition of behavior, people justify otherwise reprehensible actions by cognitively restructuring them, a manipulation that allows people to minimize or escape responsibility. People can use redefinition of behavior to disengage themselves from reprehensible conduct in three ways: (1) moral justification, as when otherwise unacceptable behavior is transformed into desirable or even noble behavior; (2) making advantageous, or palliative comparisons between their behavior and the even more reprehensible behavior of others; (3) using euphemistic labels to change the moral tone of their behavior.

      b.      Disregard or Distort the Consequences of Behavior

       Second, people can 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.

       c.      Dehumanize or Blame the Victims

       Third, people can blur responsibility for their actions either by dehumanizing their victims or by attributing blame to them.

       d.      Displace or Diffuse Responsibility

       Fourth, people can disengage themselves from personal responsibility by displacing responsibility onto others or by diffusing it among a number of other people.


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 in the absence of a response.

       A.      Observational Learning

       Bandura believes that reinforcement is not always necessary for learning, as when we learn from observing others. Observational learning is more efficient than learning through direct experience.

       1.      Modeling

       The core of observational learning is modeling, which is more than simple imitation; it involves adding and subtracting from observed behavior. Modeling also calls for generalizing from one observation to another. 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 important to themselves, and they are more likely to model behavior they see as being rewarding to the model.

       2.      Processes Governing Observational Learning

       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, or being 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. Learning is enhanced when people (1) notice the effects of their actions, retain this information, and use it as a guide for future actions; (2) think about the future consequences of their actions; and (3) attend to the present consequences of their actions.


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.


VIII.  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 smoking cessation and academic performance.

       A.      Self-Efficacy and Smoking Cessation

      Saul Shiffman and his colleagues (2000) 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 relapses among ex-smokers. 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 (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996) studied level of self-efficacy and its 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. Moreover, they found that each of these factors related either directly or indirectly to high academic performance.


X.     Critique of Bandura

       Bandura’s theory is one of the highest rated of any in the text largely because it was constructed through a careful balance of innovative speculation and accurate observations, which were based on rigorous research. In summary, Bandura’s theory rates very high on its ability to generate research as well as on internal consistency and parsimony. In addition, it rates high on its ability to be falsified, to organize knowledge, and to 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. Although people are goal-directed, they are also influenced by previous experiences. Thus, Bandura rates in the middle on teleology versus causality and on free choice versus determinism. His theory rates high on optimism, conscious influences, and uniqueness, and very high on social determinants of personality.