Social Cognitive Theory

Theory Summary: 

1. "Two major factors influencing the likelihood that one will take preventive action:

First, like the Health Belief Model, a person must believe that the benefits of performing the behavior outweigh the costs (i.e. a person should have more positive than negative outcome expectancies)

Second, and perhaps most important, the person must have a sense of personal agency, or self-efficacy with respect to performing the preventive behaviour....must believe that he or she has the skills and abilities necessary for performing the behavior under a variety of circumstances."

2. Social Cognitive Theory defines human behavior as a triadic, dynamic, and reciprocal interaction of personal factors, behaviour, and the environment. According to this theory, an individual's behaviour is uniquely determined by each of these three factors. While Social Cognitive Theory upholds the behaviourist notion that response consequences mediate behaviour, it contends that behaviour is largely regulated antecedently through cognitive processes. Therefore, response consequences of a behaviour are used to form expectations of behavioural outcomes. It is the ability to form these expectations that give humans the capability to predict the outcomes of their behaviour, before the behaviour is performed. In addition, Social Cognitive Theory posits that most behaviour is learned vicariously.

Social Cognitive Theory's strong emphasis on one's cognitions suggests that the mind is an active force that constructs one's reality, selectively encodes information, performs behaviour on the basis of values and expectations, and imposes structure on its own actions. Through feedback and reciprocity, a person's own reality is formed by the interaction of the environment and one's cognitions. In addition, cognitions change over time as a function of maturation and experience (i.e. attention span, memory, ability to form symbols, reasoning skills). It is through an understanding of the processes involved in one's construction of reality that enables human behaviour to be understood, predicted, and changed.

3. In the early 1960's, when many learning and instruction theories were being developed, Albert Bandura and his researchers recognised that many overlooked an important aspect of learning, the observation of others. From this analysis began the social-cognitive theory.

Many cognitive theories assume that learning results from interaction with the environment. However, Bandura points to this as an incomplete cycle. In addition to the learner and the environment, Bandura adds the learners internal events which influence their perceptions and actions. This three-way relationship is described as reciprocal determination.

Through the observations of models, an individual's perceptions and actions influence their cognitive development. There are three types of models, live (family members, teachers, peers, etc.), iconic or symbolic (pictorial representations of behavio r), and text or verbal instructions (non-performance models). Responsiveness to these models may depend on several of characteristics. Attention and responsiveness of the learner may be influenced by the model's believability and credibility. Performance models utilise appearance, speech, age, expertise, and status. In addition, models may offer a reward of intrinsic value. This reward acts as a direct reinforcement. However, when the model is rewarded, the learner experiences vicarious reinforcement.

Models, their characteristics; learners, attentiveness and responsivenessand rewards, direct and vicarious; comprise only two of the factors which effect cognitive development. The final factor, which completes the cycle, is the learners' sense of self-efficacy. This is the learners' belief that they can execute complex skills successfully. This perception often provides the learner with an ability of self-direction. When this is true, learners will often seek out activities which reinforce their efficacy, avoiding those that do not.

Unlike other cognitive development theories, the social-cognitive theory incorporates a complex, three-way relationship between learners, their environment, and their self-regulating process of efficacy. Through the use of models which influence the learner's self-systems, cognitive development becomes an interdependent process of observational learning.


1. Fishbein summarising Bandura [1986, 1989, 19991, page 3 in Developing Effective Behavior Change Interventions, Fishbein M, Univ Of Illinois.

2. University of South Florida Community & Family Health website Social Cognitive Theory page.

3. "Social Cognitive Theory" by Kevin J. Galbraith [apologies - no longer available online].

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What are the limitations for these three theories?

There are few examples on this page, some more would be useful for overall understanding, but otherwise good.

its a well presented finding whch will help the needful.
ramalakshmi das
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I wish there had been some links for further information, but it was a good beginning to a research study...

Editors note: The link to the Health Belief Model was temporarily down. This has now been fixed and there are 3 links to further information on this page.

strength and weaknesses


succint and easy to comprehend

Extremely relevant to the course on educational psychology that I am studying. Right to the point!

Very useful. Keep it up. I will announce this window of opportunity to my University students.
Dr. Augustin Hatar Tanzania

I am doing research for my bsn on Change Theories and I found this very helpful. Thank You

it contains good information

Yours is the only page that compares and includes the Health Belief Model. The references with links were extremely helpful. Thank you for helping to make my research easier.

I'm working on an oral health promotion activity and I wanted to approach it from the social cognitive theory. This page was very useful. Thanks

Just exactly what I needed to explicate a lesson module for my health curriculum grad school sourse. Thanks! D Lynch

This is a good source for me.

A clear and concise overview of a deceptively simple theory. The application of SCT in the design of public health interventions, is a complex and subtle task, but meta-analyses of the literature demonstrate the unique effectiveness of enhancing self-efficacy beliefs.
David Evans Research Fellow Peninsula Medical School. UK

social cognitive theories ar same by the theories of Bandura

great overview


very useful and informative. More of this is highly needed

thanks for providing such a valuable and very useful information about SCT in a very simple way.