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Social Cognitive Theory of Personality

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Social Cognitive Theory of Personality

Are you outgoing because that's simply who you are, or are you outgoing because you came from an outgoing family and spent your whole life observing their behavior? Social-cognitive theory of personality explore these questions.

  • What is the definition of the social-cognitive theory of personality?
  • What is Albert Bandura's social-cognitive theory?
  • What are some social-cognitive theories of personality examples?
  • What are some applications of the social-cognitive theory?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of the social-cognitive theory?

Social-Cognitive Theory of Personality Definition

The behaviorism theory of personality believes all behavior and traits are learned through classical and (mostly) operant conditioning. If we behave in a way that reaps the rewards, we are more likely to repeat them. If, however, those behaviors are punished or perhaps ignored, they are weakened, and we are less likely to repeat them. The social-cognitive theory stems from the behaviorist view that behaviors and traits are learned but takes it one step further.

The social-cognitive theory of personality states that our traits and social environments interact with one another, and those traits are learned through observation or imitation.

Behaviorism theories of personality believe learning traits is a one-way street - environment affects behavior. However, the social-cognitive theory of personality is similar to the gene-environment interaction in that it is a two-way street. Just as our genes and environment interact to where one can affect the other, so do our personality and social contexts.

Social-cognitive theories of personality also emphasize that our mental processes (how we think) impact our behavior. Our expectations, memories, and schemes can all affect our behavior.

Internal-external locus of control is a term used to describe the degree of personal control we believe we have over our lives.

If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that your abilities can impact outcomes in your life. If you work hard, you believe that it will help you achieve your goals. On the other hand, if you have an external locus of control, you believe you have very little control over the outcomes in your life. You see no reason to work hard or give your best effort because you do not think it would make any difference.

Social Cognitive Theory of Personality, man working late at desk with the lights off, StudySmarterHard work pays off, Freepik.com

Albert Bandura: Social-Cognitive Theory

Albert Bandura pioneered the social-cognitive theory of personality. He agreed with behaviorist B.F. Skinner's view that humans learn behaviors and personality traits by operant conditioning. However, he believed that it is also influenced by observational learning.

B.F. Skinner may say that a person is shy because perhaps their parents were controlling, and they were punished any time they spoke out of turn. Albert Bandura may say that a person is shy because their parents were also shy, and they observed this as a child.

There is a basic process that is required for observational learning to occur. First, you must pay attention to someone else’s behavior as well as the consequences. You must be able to retain what you observed in your memories as you may not need to use it right away. Next, you must be able to reproduce the observed behavior. And finally, you must be motivated to copy the behavior. If you are not motivated, it is unlikely for you to reproduce that behavior.

Reciprocal Determinism

As mentioned earlier, social-cognitive theories emphasize the interaction between personality and social contexts. Bandura expanded this idea with the concept of reciprocal determinism.

Reciprocal determinism states that internal factors, environment, and behavior intertwine to determine our behavior and traits.

This means that we are both products and manufacturers of our environment. Our behavior can impact our social contexts, which can affect our personality traits, our behavior, and so on. Reciprocal determinism says these three factors occur in a loop. Here are some ways reciprocal determinism can occur.

  1. Behavior - We all have different interests, ideas, and passions, and therefore, we will all choose different environments. Our choices, actions, statements, or achievements all shape our personalities. For example, someone who likes a challenge could be drawn to CrossFit, or someone artistic could be drawn to a calligraphy class. The different environments we choose shape who we are.

  2. Personal factors - Our goals, values, beliefs, cultures, or expectations can all influence and shape the way we interpret our social environment. For example, people prone to anxiety may perceive the world as dangerous and actively look out for threats and notice them more than others.

  3. Environment - The feedback, reinforcement, or instruction we receive from others can also impact our personality traits. And our personality traits can influence how we see others and how we believe we are being perceived. This, in turn, can impact how we react to a situation. For example, if you perceive that your friends think you don't talk enough, you may try to start talking more.

Jane loves a good challenge (personal factor), so she decided to take CrossFit (behavior). She spends six days a week at her gym, and most of her closest friends train with her. Jane has a huge following on their CrossFit account on Instagram (environmental factor), so she has to create content at the gym continually.

Social Cognitive Theory of Personality, crossfit trainer using ropes, StudySmarter

Crossfit training, Freepik.com

Social-Cognitive Theories of Personality: Examples

Bandura and a team of researchers conducted a study called the "Bobo Doll Experiment" to test the impact of observational learning in the absence of direct reinforcement. In this study, children ages 3 to 6 were asked to observe an adult act aggressively either in person, in a live film, or a cartoon.

The children are then prompted to play after a researcher removes the first toy the child picks up. Then, they observed the children's behavior. Children who observed aggressive behavior were more likely to imitate it than the control group. Additionally, the more remote the model for aggression is from reality, the less total and imitative aggression was displayed by the children.

Regardless, the fact that children still imitated aggressive behavior after viewing a live film or cartoon raises implications about the effect of violence in the media. Repeated exposure to aggression and violence can cause a desensitization effect.

The desensitization effect is the phenomenon in which emotional responsiveness to negative or aversive stimuli diminishes after repeated exposure.

This can lead to cognitive, behavioral, and affective consequences. We may notice that our aggression has increased or our desire to help has decreased.

Social Cognitive Theory of Personality, two kids watching tv, StudySmarterKids watching tv, Freepik.com

Social-Cognitive Theory: Applications

The social-cognitive theory can be applied to understand and predict behavior in various settings, from education to the workplace. Another side to the social-cognitive theory we have not yet discussed is what it says about predicting behavior. According to the social-cognitive theory of personality, a person's behavior and past traits are the greatest predictors of their future behavior or traits in similar situations. So if a friend consistently makes plans to hang out but bails at the last minute, this is the greatest predictor of whether or not this will happen again. However, this is not to say that people never change and will always continue the same behavior.

While our past behaviors can predict how well we do in the future, this phenomenon can also impact our self-efficacy or beliefs about ourselves and our ability to achieve the desired outcome.

If your self-efficacy is high, you may not be phased by the fact that you failed in the past and will do what it takes to overcome obstacles. However, if self-efficacy is low, we can be significantly impacted by the outcome of past experiences. Still, self-efficacy is not only made up of our past performance experiences but also observational learning, verbal persuasion (encouraging/discouraging messages from others and ourselves), and emotional arousal.

Social-Cognitive Theory: Advantages and Disadvantages

There are several advantages to the social-cognitive theory. For one, it is grounded in scientific research and study. This comes as no surprise as it combines two of the most scientifically-based fields of study in psychology -- behavior and cognition. Social-cognitive theory research can be measured, defined, and researched with a fair amount of precision. It has revealed how personality can be both stable and fluid due to our ever-changing social contexts and environments.

However, the social-cognitive theory is not without its shortcomings. For example, some critics say that it focuses too much on the situation or social context and fails to acknowledge one's innermost, innate traits. While our environment can influence our behavior and personality traits, the social-cognitive theory downplays our unconscious emotions, motives, and traits that cannot help but shine through.

Social Cognitive Theory of Personality - Key takeaways

  • The social-cognitive theory of personality states that our traits and social environments interact with one another, and those traits are learned through observation or imitation.
    • The social-cognitive theory of personality is similar to the gene-environment interaction in that it is a two-way street. Just as our genes and environment interact to where one can affect the other, so do our personality and social contexts.
  • Internal-external locus of control is a term used to describe the degree of personal control we believe we have over our lives.
  • For observational learning to occur, one must pay attention, retain what was learned, can reproduce the behavior, and finally, the motivation to learn.
  • Reciprocal determinism states that internal factors, environment, and behavior intertwine to determine our behavior and traits.
  • Bandura and a team of researchers conducted a study called the "Bobo Doll Experiment" to test the impact of observational learning in the absence of direct reinforcement.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Cognitive Theory of Personality

The social-cognitive theory of personality states that our traits and social environments interact with one another, and those traits are learned through observation or imitation.

Key concepts of social-cognitive theory are observational learning, reciprocal determinism, and desensitization effect. 

Jane loves a good challenge (personal factor), so she decided to take CrossFit (behavior). She spends six days a week at her gym, and most of her closest friends train with her. Jane has a huge following on their CrossFit account on Instagram (environmental factor), so she has to create content at the gym continually.

B.F. Skinner may say that a person is shy because perhaps their parents were controlling, and they were punished any time they spoke out of turn. Albert Bandura may say that a person is shy because their parents were also shy, and they observed this as a child.

Albert Bandura developed the social cognitive theory of personality. 

Final Social Cognitive Theory of Personality Quiz

Question

The social-cognitive theory of personality states that our traits and social environments interact with one another and those traits are learned through _________ or _______.

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Answer

observation ; imitation

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Question

__________________ is a term used to describe the degree of personal control we believe we have over our lives.

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Answer

Internal-external locus of control

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Question

What is a basic process that is required for observational learning to occur?


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Answer

A person must pay attention, retain the information, reproduce the behavior, and remain motivated

Show question

Question

_____________ states that internal factors, environment, and behavior all intertwine to determine our behavior and traits.


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Answer

Reciprocal determinism

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Question

True or False?  We are both products and manufacturers of our environment 


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Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is the desensitization effect?

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Answer

The desensitization effect is the phenomenon in which emotional responsiveness to negative or aversive stimuli diminishes after repeated exposure.

Show question

Question

True or False? A person's behavior and past traits are the worst predictors of their future behavior. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Lexi is giving up on learning the guitar because she doesn't think her efforts will make a difference. Does Lexi have an internal or external locus of control?

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Answer

Internal

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Question

What are the three ways reciprocal determinism can occur?


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Answer

Behavior

Personal Factors 

Environment

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Question

What did the Bobo Doll Experiment test? 

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Answer

The impact of observational learning in the absence of direct reinforcement

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Question

True or False? With a fair amount of precision, social-cognitive theory research can be measured, defined, and researched.

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

The beliefs we hold about ourselves and our ability to achieve the desired outcome is called __________.

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Answer

Self-efficacy

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Question

True or False? One criticism of social-cognitive theories of personality is that it focuses too little on the situation or social context at hand.


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Answer

False, it's criticized for focusing too much on the situation or social context.

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Question

Who pioneered the social-cognitive theory of personality?

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Answer

Albert Bandura

Show question

Question

True or False? Behaviorism theories believe learning is a one-way street and that environment affects behavior. 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or False: The behaviorism theory of personality believes all behavior and traits are learned through classical and (mostly) operant conditioning. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: The social-cognitive theory stems from the behaviorist view that behaviors and traits are ________.  

Show answer

Answer

learned 

Show question

Question

True or False: If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that your abilities can impact outcomes in your life. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: If your self-efficacy is ____, you may not be phased by the fact that you failed in the past and will do what it takes to overcome obstacles. 

Show answer

Answer

high

Show question

Question

Select the four components of observational learning. 

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Answer

Attention - One must pay attention 

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Question

Fill in the blank: Reciprocal determinism states that internal factors, ____________, and behavior intertwine to determine our behavior and traits. 

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Answer

environment 

Show question

Question

Which psychologist created the Bobo Doll experiment? 

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Answer

Albert Bandura 

Show question

Question

True or False: Social-cognitive theories of personality also emphasize that our mental processes (how we think) impact our behavior. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Allison believes that she has very little control over the outcomes of her life. Which locus of control does Allison have? 

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Answer

External Locus of Control 

Show question

Question

Select the three factors that reciprocal determinism says occur in a loop. 

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Answer

Behavior 

Show question

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