Social Cognitive Theories are theories of personality that emphasize cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging. Social cognition is basically social thought, or how the mind processes social information; Social Cognitive Theory describes how individuals think and react in social situations. How the mind works in a social setting is extremely complicated. Emotions, social desirability factors, and unconscious thoughts can all interact and affect social cognition in many ways.
Two major figures in Social Cognitive Theory are behaviorist Albert Bandura and clinical psychologist Julian Rotter.
Albert Bandura (1925-Present)
Albert Bandura is a behavioral psychologist who is credited with creating Social Learning Theory. This theory posits that individuals can learn from merely observing the behavior of others. This contradicted the strict behaviorist view that an individual must personally experience reward or punishment (conditioning) for learning to occur. Bandura believed that humans are cognitive beings who, unlike animals, are likely to think about the links between their behavior and its consequences. Therefore, they are more likely to be influenced about what they believe will happen than by actual experience. In this way, social interactions can directly influence learning. This type of social cognition was supported by Bandura's famous Bobo Doll study done in 1965 (Figure 1). After watching adults interact with a Bobo doll (a weighted inflatable clown toy), the children proceeded to imitate the behavior they witnessed, especially if it was rewarded. However, if they witnessed the behavior being punished, they were less likely to imitate it.
Bandura also proposed the concept of reciprocal determinism to describe the idea that human development reflects the interaction among an active person, their behavior, and the environment. This theory was significant because it moved away from the idea that environment alone affected an individual's behavior. Instead, Bandura hypothesized that the relationship between behavior and environment was bi-directional, meaning that both factors can influence each other. In this theory, humans are actively involved in molding the environment that influences their own development and growth.
Julian Rotter (1916-Present)
Julian Rotter is a clinical psychologist who was influenced by Social Learning Theory after rejecting a strict behavioralist approach. Rotter expanded upon Bandura's ideas of reciprocal determinism, and he developed the term locus of control to describe how an individual viewed his or her relationship to the environment. Locus of control refers to an individual's beliefs about what determines his or her rewards or outcomes in life. Locus of control can be classified along a spectrum from internal to external; where an individual falls along the spectrum determines the extent to which they believe they can affect the events around them (Figure 2).
Internal Locus of Control
A person with an internal locus of control believes that their rewards in life are guided by their own decisions and efforts. If they do not succeed, they believe it is due to their own lack of effort. An internal locus of control has been shown to develop with the development of self-regulatory abilities. Many factors have been associated with an internal locus of control. Males tend to be more internal than females when it comes to personal successes. This is likely due to cultural norms that emphasize aggressive behavior in males and submissive behavior in females. As societal structures change, this difference may become minimized. As people get older, they tend to become more internal as well. This may be due to the fact that as children, individuals do not have much control over their lives. Additionally, people higher up in organizational structures tend to be more internal. Rotter theorized that this trait was most closely associated with motivation to succeed.
External Locus of Control
A person with an external locus of control believes that rewards or outcomes are determined by either luck or others with more power than them. If they do not succeed, they believe it is due to forces outside of their control. Individuals who grow up in circumstances where they do not see hard work pay off, as well as individuals who are socially disempowered (for example, people from lower socioeconomic statuses), may develop an external locus of control. An external locus of control may relate to learned helplessness in a responsive environment. Evidence has supported the theory that locus of control is learned and can be modified. However, in a non-responsive environment, where an individual actually does not have much control, an external locus of control is associated with a greater sense of satisfaction.
Attribution training concentrates on strengthening an individual's internal locus of control and can be helpful in increasing motivation. Part of attribution training is encouraging individuals to say positive things about themselves, such as "I can do this". Another aspect of attribution training is teaching individuals to associate their behavior with the outcomes they experience and increasing their self-efficacy. By teaching students that they influence their own outcomes through their behaviors and choices and encouraging them that they are capable, unmotivated students can train themselves into believing that they do have the power to control and change their situations.