Social Learning Theory


Social Learning Theory




Social Learning Theory

Concept Definition

The Social learning theory states that attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are learned from observation of admirable models within a person environment. Albert Bandura, the primary theorist of the concept, agreed with the propositions of his predecessors in regards to the effect of classical and conditional reinforcement. The main distinction between the reinforcement theories and social learning theory is the latter’s acknowledgment of the importance cognition in replicating behavior (Myers & Twenge, 2016). Bandura stresses that there are mediating processes before the stimuli trigger a response. The concept is centered on vicarious reinforcement that claims that before person imitates the behavior of models in their environment they analyze the consequences that accompany the action. If the model is punished, the behavior is less likely to be replicated. When an older brother goes to jail for stealing, the younger sibling may conclude, the money is not worth the risk. On the other hand, when the model is rewarded, the observer is motivated to imitate the action. This analysis and subsequent action or lack thereof is called vicarious reinforcement. The cognitive aspects introduced by Bandura, mediating processes, come into play here. The mediating processes are mainly attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Upon replication of the action, the imitator requires further reinforcement to permanently adopt the behavior. There is external reinforcement where the individual requires approval from an outside person and internal reinforcement, the emotion the person feels after receiving the approval.


The bobo doll experiment was utilized to test the hypotheses of the social learning theory. Bandura took children from Stanford University nursery aged between 3 and 6 to measure their tendency to imitate a violent behavior after witnessing it in an adult (Myers & Twenge, 2016). The young students were the ideal subjects as they were untainted by years of social influences like their grownup counterparts. The children were divided into three groups. The first group was placed in a room with an adult who was violent towards the bobo doll. The second group shared a room with a passive adult who peacefully played with some toys. The third was a control group hence had no adult present. Subsequently, they were transferred to another room with the bobo doll where their behavior was observed. Each child was tested individually to prevent them from the influence of their peers. The findings revealed that the subjects in groups one and two imitated the behavior of the adult model in regards to their aggression towards the bobo doll.

Choice and Example

The choice of the social learning theory is informed by its importance in causing behavior change. It opposes claims that a person is a helpless victim of their social environment as individuals have a level of responsibility for their actions (Myers & Twenge, 2016). At the same time, it divides the blame or praise equally between the actor and the people in the surrounding. Before assimilating a cultural practice or any behavior from people in one’s surrounding the person undertakes a cost-benefit analysis and imitates the behavior if the perceived merits outweigh the demerits. The theory explains that providing a good example is critical in correcting bad behavior. The theory is instrumental in stimulating behavior change within the society as it is a choice it is lasting. My younger sibling is three and half years, yet he imitates my actions when I do my prayers, as he believes it is the normal thing to do. Rewarding this behavior as he grows will ensure he matures into a god-fearing man.



Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2016). Social psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 12th edition.

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