Albert Bandura and Social Cognitive Theory

Bandura's Biographical Information
  • Born in Alberta, Canada in 1925
  • Received undergraduate degree from University of British Columbia, and his Masters and Ph.D from University of Iowa
  • Joined the faculty at Stanford University in 1953 (and he still works there today!)
  • Wrote his first book, Adolescent Aggression, in 1959
  • Other published books include Social Learning and Personality Development (1963) Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis (1973), Social Learning Theory (1977) and Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (1997), to name a few.

Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory
  • Learning is a product of personal, behavioral, and environmental influences (a three-way interaction referred to as reciprocal determinism)
    • We are products of our environment, whether those influences are based on sex, race, social status, or other characteristics that help to mold who we are. Our behavior is influenced by those factors as well as by how are environment responds to our actions. If the behavior we choose is altered and we are given reinforcement for those actions, we may tend to repeat those behaviors. Of course, if the behaviors are viewed as normal and we are given reinforcement for such, then we will tend to perform the correct behaviors.

  • Information is stored in representational systems, or easily stored memory codes, that are either verbal or visual
    • Our verbal information is stored as our language symbols (alphabet), numbers, and musical notes. We store images, whether they have been seen personally or through pictures, of activities, places, and objects.
  • The cognitive process is a major factor in imitative learning
    • Learner makes decisions about the behaviors they observe before they choose to carry them out
  • Learning and performance are two separate events

    Below, Albert Bandura discusses his theory.

    Below, Albert Bandura demonstrates his famous BoBo Doll experiment:

    The Components of Learning
    Bandura cites four major components of learning in the naturalistic setting: the behavioral model, the consequences of behavior, the learner's internal process, and self-efficacy.

    1. The Behavioral Model

    Certain situations may influence the observer’s reactions to models: such as the type and amount of reinforcement in the presentation of behavior, the model’s attributes, the observer's characteristics, and the observer’s uncertainty about the outcome of the action.

    There are many concerns about the symbolic models found in media and how they affect the observer. The quantity of violence and sexual objectification of females are two of these concerns.

    2. The Consequences of Behavior

    There are three types of consequences that affect the observer’s behavior.
    • Vicarious Consequences (Observed behaviors of others)
      • The observer learns the outcome by seeing the model's consequence
      • This evokes an emotional response in the observer
      • Helps, ultimately, the observer decide if he/she will perform the behavior
    • Direct Consequences
      • The observer's immediate response when imitating the model's demonstrated behavior
    • Self-administered Consequences
      • The observer's personal standards impact the outcome of the behavior

Example of vicarious reinforcement
  • TV Commercials - “I lost 50 pounds with Nutri-System, and so can you!”
  • 3rd grade Classroom - The students that finish on time, get the correct answers, and master the subject earn time for fun activities

Example of vicarious punishment
  • Hollywood celebrity mishaps (public displays of the effects of substance abuse)

Example of direct consequence
  • Teacher reinforcement - “I like how Johnny is sitting criss-cross applesauce on the carpet” leads to all children sitting properly

Example of self-administered consequence
  • A person rewards their personal weight loss by going shopping for new clothes
  • A student rewards themselves for finshing their homework early by givng themselves 30 extra minutes to read that night

3. The Learner’s Internal Processes
The learner stores observed behavior and hypothesizes possible outcomes, which is essential to modification of behavior. The components for learning and performance are:
      • Attention
        • The model’s behavior must be relevant and attainable to the observer in order for new information to be learned.
          • Complexity of the skill
          • Arousal level of the observer
      • Retention
        • Responsible for behavioral symbolic coding (visual and verbal)
        • Mental and motor rehearsal help these codes be retained in the memory of the learner
        • Dependent on learner's development
      • Motor Production
        • Performance of the selected behavior
      • Motivational Processes
        • Direct (external) reinforcement
        • Vicarious reinforcement
        • Self-reinforcement
4. Self-Efficacy
  • Self-efficacy is one of Bandura’s most widely publicized constructs.

You just can't get more adorable than that.
You just can't get more adorable than that.

external image efficacy2.gif

  • Four sources influence self-efficacy
    • Mastery Experiences
      • Experiences that requires more than easy successes
      • Learn cognitive and behavioral capabilites for executing courses of action
    • Vicarious Experiences
      • Observing the successes of others similar to themselves
      • Influential when have had little or no experience in a situation
    • Verbal Persuasion
      • Can help counter one's self-doubt
      • Need to be accompanied by other experiences to develop high beliefs
    • Physiological and emotional states.
      • Tension can vary on physiological state
        • Negative feelings can lead to vulnerability of poor performance
        • Positive self-efficacy may energize efforts when their is tension

  • Self-efficacy is NOT self-concept, and it is NOT response-outcome expectations.
  • Self-efficacy is the belief in one's capabilities and that these beliefs motivate the learner to perform a specific task.
  • Self-concept is more of a general appraisal of oneself. It is one's overall self-esteem.
  • A response-outcome expectancy is how an action will directly result in a particular outcome. Self-efficacy has to do with one executing the action with success.
  • Individuals can have varying levels of self-efficacy.
    • Some students may have high self-efficacy in certain academic subjects while maintaining low self-efficacy in others.

An example of low self-efficacy due to verbal persuasion
external image effVerbalPersuasion.jpg

The Self-Regulatory System

Bandura believes that an essential component to complex learning is an individual's self-regulatory system. The system is a process in which one has to be proactive in order to set and obtain high learning goals. Complex learners set goals for themselves and accurately monitor their progress. They also are skilled in selecting correct learning strategies. As Zimmerman (2000) has stated, "Students become masters of their own learning processes." Self-regulation is "the self-directive process through which learners transform their mental abilities into task-related academic skills." (Zimmerman, 2000)

  • The self-regulatory system consists of three key subprocesses.
    • Self-observation
      • If working with a friend and not completing much work then you stop studying with that friend
    • Self-judgment
      • Comparing one's present performance with established goals
    • Self-reaction
      • If goals are not being met then the learner begins to work harder
  • Self-efficacy clearly plays an important role.
  • Goal setting and self-evaluation are also important.

How Bandura’s Theory Applies to the Classroom

We already know that social-cognitive theory requires a model, the reinforcement applied to the model, and the observer’s processing what they see. Therefore, it is important in the classroom to do the following:
  • Point out the appropriate models to the students
    • Live
      • Family, friends, or associates
      • Indivuals with direct contact
    • Symbolic
      • Pictorial representation for behavior
      • TV, films
        • Portray environment and situations beyond direct contact
  • Use common sense when choosing the model(s)
  • Make certain students understand the value of the demonstrated behaviors
  • Improve attention to the model by expecting positive, not negative outcomes
  • Nurture the learner
  • Guide the cognitive processing of the observer - engage their self-efficacy!

It is important that teacher consider learners' characteristics such as:

  • Differences in individuals
  • Individual's readiness
  • Individual's motivation for learning

Bandura’s theory mainly applies to learning in the natural setting, but can also be used for teaching more complex skills. Strategies include:
  • Teaching and encouraging self-regulation skills
  • Attempting to make learning material relevant to the student
  • Motivating and teaching self-motivation to the learners

Bandura's theory does have a diadvantage and that is it is difficult to put into effect all of the requirements for self-regulation and self-efficacy as well as all of the other needs into a classroom setting. It does let us know that self-efficacy is important in learning and that mass media does have an effect on students' attitudes and behaviors. It also provides us with a description of the way reinforcement and punishment work in a group setting.

Comparing Bandura’s Theory to Other Learning Theories

Skinner's Operant Conditioning theory, like Bandura's Social-Cognitive Theory, includes reinforcement. However, Skinner's theory does not include vicarious reinforcement.

Gagne's Condition of Learning is similar to Bandura's in that there is a cognitive process, but Gagne's theory is much more detailed about the learner's internal state.

Constructivist Theory differs in that it is more community-based, whereas Bandura's theory is more teacher-guided.

Quotes That Reflect Social-Cognitive Theory

"If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." ~ Mahatma Gandhi ~

"Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings." ~ Samuel Johnson ~

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re usually right.” ~ Henry Ford ~


Grendler, Margaret E. Learning and Instruction: Theory Into Practice. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009.