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Social cognitive theory is rooted in an agentic perspective of human behavior (Bandura 1986, 2006). To be an agent is to influence one’s own functioning and events that affect one’s life. In this view people are contributors to their life circumstances, not just products of them.
Human behavior has often been explained in terms of unidirectional causation. In the environmental deterministic view, behavior is shaped and controlled by environmental forces. In the dispositional deterministic view, behavior is driven by internal drives and dispositions. Social cognitive theory explains human functioning in terms of triadic reciprocal determination. In this transactional view of self and society, personal factors in the form of cognitive, emotional, and biological processes, the way one behaves, and environmental forces all operate as interacting determinants that influence each other.
Humans are endowed with an extraordinary capacity for symbolization that provides them with a powerful tool for comprehending their environment and altering it in ways that touch virtually every aspect of their lives. Most environmental influences operate through cognitive processes. Cognitive factors partly determine which environmental events will be observed, what meaning will be conferred on them, whether they leave any lasting effects, what emotional impact and motivating power they will have, and how the information they convey will be organized for future use. The remarkable flexibility of symbolization enables people to create ideas that transcend their sensory experiences. Through the medium of symbols they can communicate with others at any distance in time and space. With the aid of symbols, people give structure, meaning, and continuity to their lives.
There are two basic modes of learning. Learning by experiencing the effects of one’s actions is not only an exceedingly tedious process, but a hazardous one when mistakes have costly or injurious consequences. Fortunately, this process can be cut short by the second mode, ‘social modeling.’ Humans have an advanced capacity for observational learning that enables them to expand their knowledge and competencies rapidly through the information conveyed by a rich variety of models (Rosenthal & Zimmerman 1978). The models upon whom people pattern their behavior involve behavioral modeling in informal everyday activities. With the revolutionary advances in communications technology, lifestyles are now being modeled and rapidly diffused worldwide by symbolic modeling.
- Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Bandura, A. (2006). Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 164–180.
- Bandura, A. (2011). Social cognitive theory. In P. A. M. van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (eds.), Handbook of social psychological theories. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 349–373.
- Rosenthal, T. L. & Zimmerman, B. J. (1978). Social learning and cognition. New York: Academic Press.