Social cognitive learning theory focuses on the idea that people can learn through observation of others around them. This learning can occur without the stimulation of reinforcement, but can occur through imitation as well. However, this theory indicates that imitation is a somewhat complex mechanism, and involves the internal cognition of whether or not an action is desirable to imitate. Albert Bandura, the champion of the social cognitive theory, indicates that experience of different behaviors helps people to develop a sense of self-efficacy, which helps the person to determine their own abilities and then allow them to choose which behaviors to imitate accordingly (Vail & Cavanaugh, 2010).
Social cognitive learning theory mainly addresses the sociocultural aspect of human development, with outside influences playing the chief role in determining what is learned by the person involved. However, this theory of human development also addresses psychological factors, as the person has to actively interpret the events going on around them in order to learn through observation and imitation, as well as to determine which actions to imitate (Bee, 2000).
Social cognitive theory emphasizes nurture as prevailing over nature in the recurring issue of nature vs. nurture. Involved within this theory is the belief that it is outside influences that determine what is learned through observation (Hockenbury, 2002). This is the embodiment of nurture, and does not have much to do with the idea of nature as it pertains to human development through observational learning and imitation.
One strength of the social cognitive theory is that it is scientifically testable, with results that can be operationally measured (Hockenbury, 2002). Another strength of the social cognitive theory is that it is practical in its ability to be applied. Based on the conclusions attained by the experiment, adults can create an environment desirable to be imitated, and foster positive growth in nearby children.
On the other hand, the social cognitive theory has its weaknesses. One weakness of the social cognitive theory is that it tends to focus too much on a limited number of specific variables, when in actuality there may be a whole host of different influences on behavior other than those observed (Hockenbury, 2002). Another weakness of the social cognitive theory is that it does not take into account the individual differences inherent in children, and thus cannot be applied universally (Bee, 2000).
Social cognitive theory can be used to address several research questions. One such research question is posed as follows: Will a person surrounded day in and day out by other people who all have similar education and career goals to each other be predisposed to pursue a similar education and career pathway to those said individuals? This research question focuses on the influences of imitation and the recurring issue of nurture as it pertains to human development, and in this case, educational and career goals. Based on the premises of the social cognitive theory, it can be hypothesized that a person will be predisposed to pursue similar goals to those which they are surrounded by.
Bee, H. (2000). The Developing Child (8th edition). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Hockenbury, S. E. (2002). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Vail, R. V., & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2010). Human Development: A Life-Span View. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.