Social Cognitive Theory
The social cognitive theory of personality posits that portions of an individual's knowledge acquisition can be directly related to observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences and outside media influences. This means that an individual can learn from observing others as opposed to only being able to learn from their own experiences. This approach emphasizes both environment and the individual's own traits as important factors in personality development. It is a theory that emphasizes cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging, in the development of personality. These cognitive processes contribute to learned behaviors that are central to one's personality . By observing an admired role model, an individual may choose to adopt and emphasize particular traits and behaviors.
One of the strengths of social cognitive theory is that it has allowed for growth in the fields of learning and personality. This theory established that operant conditioning is not the only method of learning. In personality research, this theory has underscored the importance of the relationship between behavior and environment for the development of personality. Rather than being a product of strictly internal processes, personality is also subject to influence from an individual's social environment.
Social cognitive theory is also an open theory and is thus able to evolve and change to fit with the increasingly large amount of research and experimental support it receives. This theory focuses on a variety of factors, and the relationships between these factors, to explain the development of personality. Many of these relationships can be observed and applied to real life situations.
The work with self-efficacy in social cognitive theory has also led to interventional methods for helping those with an external locus of control (or the belief that one cannot effectively control the events around them) become more empowered and more successful in a competitive environment.
One of the main criticisms of social cognitive theory is that it is not a unified theory. This means that the different aspects of the theory may not be connected. For example, researchers currently cannot find a connection between observational learning and self-efficacy within the social cognitive perspective. The theory is so broad that not all of its component parts are fully understood and integrated into a single explanation or learning and personality.
The findings associated with this theory are still, for the most part, preliminary. It does not provide a full explanation or description of how social cognition, behavior, environment, and personality are related, although there are several hypotheses.
Another limitation is that not all social learning can be directly observed. Because of this, it can be difficult to quantify the effect that social cognition has on development. Similarly, many aspects of personality are subjective and can be equally hard to measure and quantify.
Finally, this theory tends to ignore maturation throughout the lifespan. Because of this, the understanding of how a child learns through observation and how an adult might learn in the same manner are not differentiated and factors of development are not included.