What is Social Cognitive Theory?
Social cognitive theory is a learning theory which states that a person’s knowledge is directly related to observing others around them. Social Cognitive Theory provides an explanation for human behaviour- an interaction of a person’s thoughts, behaviour and their environment. An individual’s learning is also influenced by the environment, behaviour and cognition (person’s thoughts). This concept is known as reciprocal determinism (see diagram below) where the person, behaviour and environment create interactions that result in triadic reciprocality.

Social Cognitive Theory is based on the existing theory of social learning which states that if an individual is motivated to learn a particular behaviour, it will be achieved through observation of others. Bandura expanded on social learning theory and adapted it to create the social cognitive theory. According to Bandura, people’s behaviour is not determined by inner forces or controlled by external stimuli. Behaviour is a result of triadic reciprocality, where each factor operates as an interacting determinant of each other.
Social cognitive theory also states that learning will most likely occur if there is a close identification between the observer and the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy.

Reciprocal Determinism Diagram

What are Personal Factors?
The individual’s thoughts, emotions and biological variables. Bandura states that an individual’s thoughts affect their behaviour and their thoughts influence their present environment. For example if an individual hates opera they are unlikely to go to the opera ( thoughts influencing the environment).
What are Behavioural Factors?
These factors can affect an individual’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. If an individual tries a new activity for the first time and find that they are skilled at it. From this, the individual gains confidence in their skill and this can determine whether they will repeat the activity in the future. In this example it is clear that an individual’s behaviour can affect their thoughts feelings and emotions.
What are Environmental Factors?
These can affect an individual’s behavioural choices. If, for example an individual dislikes smoking, they are likely to avoid environments where they know smoking is prominent, i.e. particular bars.

How can Social Cognitive Theory be applied?
Social Cognitive Theory can be applied in many different areas in everyday situations, for example; marketing, media, health and education settings. An application of the theory could be the use of a celebrity figure promoting a certain campaign or product. Through this, the target audience would identify with the celebrity, want to imitate the celebrity and alter their actions according to the campaign.

Social Cognitive Theory In Action (Example from Glanz, Rimer, & Lewis,2002)
‘’A project was started to prevent and reduce alcohol use among students in grades 6 till 12 (ages 11-13). The program took three years and was based on behavioral health curricula, parental involvement and community task force activities. The conclusion was that students were less likely to say they drank alcohol than others who did not join the program. With observational learning, negative expectancies about alcohol use and increased behavioral capability to communicate with parents the results were obtained. However, at the end of the 10th grade the differences were no longer significant. A new program in the 11th grade was started in which reduced access to alcohol and the change of community norms to alcohol use for high-school age students were key elements. With (1) community attention (2) parental education (3) support of alcohol free events (4) media projects to don’t provide alcohol and (5) classroom discussions the program started.
After the 12th grade a significant result showed that the alcohol use decreased. Furthermore, the access to alcohol was reduced and the parental norms were less accepting of teen alcohol use at the end of the study. The outcomes of the SCT show that actions of the community level to change these constructs resulted in less drinking among teens. The community level appears to have success in changing the environment and expectancies to alcohol use by reducing teen access to alcohol, changing norms and reducing alcohol use among high school students. ‘’
(p176-177, summarised)

Social Cognitive Theory, narrated by Bandura