Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is based on the ideas that people learn by watching what others do and that human thought processes are important in understanding personality. It focuses on how children and adults operate cognitively on their social experiences and how these cognitions then influence behaviour and development ( Bandura, 1986). SCT which posits that individuals can learn by observing and imitating or modelling others in real life or television programme. Bandura introduced several other important concepts, including reciprocal determinism, self-efficacy, and the idea that there can be a significant temporal variation in time-lapse between cause and effect.
The SCT ‘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 (Jones, 1989). 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.
Albert Bandura, the father of SCT, was born in Mundare, Canada in 1925. He was raised in a small farming community in Canada. Bandura was educated from elementary school through high school in the one and only school house in town.
He received his from the University of the British Columbia in 1949. In 1952, he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While studying at Iowa, Bandura’s interest in childhood aggression began. And the idea of social learning theory is established while pursuing his Ph.D in clinical psychology at University of Iowa 1953.He then became a professor of psychology at Stanford University, where he has been since (Evans, 1989).
The SCT can be considered deductive in origin because it was developed from another theory. The SCT stemmed from the Social Learning Theory (SLT). The SCT has its origins in the discipline of psychology, with its early foundation being laid by behavioral and social psychologists.
In 1941, the original SLT by Miller and Dollard incorporated the principles of learning: reinforcement, punishment, extinction, and limitation of models. In 1963, Bandura and Walters wrote Social Learning and Personality Development, broadening the frontiers of SLT with the now familiar principles of observational learning and vicarious reinforcement. By the 1970s, Bandura was becoming aware that a key element was missing not only from the prevalent learning theories of the day but from his own social learning theory. In 1977, with the publication of “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” he identified the important piece of that missing element—self-beliefs (Stone, 1999). Bandura has led the efforts on cognitive SLT development. Bandura’s SLT places a heavy focus on cognitive concepts. In 1986, Bandura renamed his SLT as SCT for a better description of what he had been advocating since the 1960’s. Bandura and Schunk demonstrated how the enhancement of perceived self-efficacy could improve children’s cognitive skill development and their intrinsic interest in academic subjects (Bandura & Schunk, 1981)..
The SCT explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns, while also providing the basis for intervention strategies (Bandura, 1986, 1999, 2001). The primary and most commonly known concept of social cognitive theory is that of observational learning, where a change in behavior happens by watching others and the reinforcement or punishment associated with their actions. People learn by modeling or copying the behavior of others. Bandura proposed that the following four components were critical in the process of observational learning: attention (observe action in environment), retention (remember what was seen), reproduction (ability to repeat action) and motivation (probability of behavior happening again).
acquisition of complex behaviours on a triangular diagram illustrating the interactive effect of various factors. Evaluating behavioral change depends on the factors environment, person and behaviour. Personal factors are any cognitive, personality or demographic aspect characterizing an individual. Environment refers to the factors that can affect a person’s behaviour. There are social and physical environments. Social environment include family members, friends and colleagues. Physical environment is the size of a room, the ambient temperature or the availability of certain foods. Environment and situation provide the framework for understanding behaviour (Parraga, 1990). The situation refers to the cognitive or mental representations of the environment that may affect a person’s behaviour. The situation is a person’s perception of the place, time, physical features and activity (Glanz et al., 2002). These three factors are constantly influencing each other. Behaviour is not simply the result of the environment and the person, just as the environment is not simply the result of the person and behaviour (Glanz et al, 2002). The environment provides models for behaviour. In addition, Bandura posits the importance of a second individual factor that is closely inter-related to self-efficacy : outcome expectations defined as the extent an individual will undertake a certain behavior only if he or she perceives that it will lead to some valued outcomes or else favorable consequences.
Moreover, on the SCT built, five underlying assumptions are identified: a) learn from observing, b) learning is an internal process that may or may not result in a behaviour change, c) behaviour is goal-directed, d) behaviour becomes self-regulated, e) reinforcement and punishment have indirect effects on learning and behaviour. These underlying assumptions are important to interpretation and when considering the usefulness of the SCT.
The statements of the SCT make explicitly about relationships among the major concepts.
1. The highest level of observational learning is achieved by first organizing and rehearsing the modeled behavior symbolically and then enacting it overtly. Coding modeled behaviour into words, labels or images results in better retention than simply observing.
2. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behavior if it results in outcomes they value.
3. Individuals are more likely to adopt a modeled behaviour if the model is similar to the observer and has admired status and the behavior has functional value.
Both intended and unintended media effects stem from the Social Cognitive Theory because they illustrates the influence the media possesses in shaping audience behaviors and actions. Intended media effect stress positive behaviors and actions from audiences and can be achieved through education-based entertainment and health campaigns. Through these the media can educate people on dangerous behaviors that are typically not displayed with consequences or punishment in the media. Unlike intended media effects, unintended media effects are typically negative as consequences and punishments for risky behaviors are not displayed. As a result of this, audiences might be more willing to engage risky behaviors they witness in the media, such as smoking. When unhealthy actions are displayed with no consequences it can also reinforce these unhealthy behaviors.
SCT is used in many fields today—mass media, marketing and education are some of the fields applying the theory. Because SCT is based on understanding an individual’s reality construct, it is especially useful when applied to interventions aimed at personality development, behaviour pathology, and health promotion. This theory also explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioural patterns. The theory can also be used for providing the basis for intervention strategies
A famous example of the usage of SCT on media and children socialization is the BOBO doll experiment, in which Bandura exposed a group of children to a video featuring violent and aggressive action and after the video he then placed the children in a room with a Bobo doll to see how they behaved with it. Through this experiment, Bandura discovered that children who had watched the violent video subjected the dolls to more aggressive and violent behaviour, while children not exposed to the video did not. This experiment displays the Social Cognitive Theory because it depicts how people reenact behaviours they see in the media. In this case, the children in this experiment reenacted the model of violence they directly learned from the video.
Social cognitive theory has very important indication for the future of our education and child development in general. If children learn vicariously through others and the reinforcement sequence, then adult-child interaction methods and strategies can be manipulated to create the most preferred outcomes. Teachers can employ this theory to encourage certain behaviours in the social classroom, and parents can surround children with positive role models to help influence behaviour. Because social cognitive theory includes the notion that an individual does have a great deal of internal and personal control over her own behaviour, it is important that others acknowledge and favour individual choice, free will, motivation and self-regulation over more deterministic views of human behaviour.( J.J Robinson, 2009)
Feshbach and R.D. Singer believed that television actually decreases the amount of aggression in children (Feshbach: 1971). They conducted a study within a six-week study on juvenile boys who regularly watched television violence compared to juvenile boys who were exposed to non-violent shows. After the six-week period, Feshback and R.D. Singer found out that the juvenile boys that viewed the non-violent shows were more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour than the juvenile boys that witnessed the violent shows. “The study show that the violence on television allows the viewer to relate with the characters involved in the violent act (Feshback & Singer, 1971).
A content analysis of one week of prime-time programming, conducted by George Gerbner reported that eight out of ten prime-time shows contained violence. The conclusion s of Television and Social Behavior did not make a direct connection between TV programming and violent behavior. However, there was a “tentative” indication that television viewing cause aggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior affected only some children who were already classified as aggressive children and only in some environments. (Biagi, 2005)
Cooke believed that individuals tend to support the theory that television violence causes aggression because the public needs to justify the aggression they see in others. He also believed television was a form of education and positive role models. “If violence in television causes people to be more aggressive, then shouldn’t the good-hearted qualities in television cause its audience to be kinder to others. (Cooke,1993) Therefore, television can serve as deterrence if individuals focus on the positive qualities. Despite these criticisms, SCT has maintained an important place in the study of aggression and criminal behaviour. In order to control aggression, he believed family members and the mass media should provide positive role models for their children and the general public. (Bandura, 1976)
Van Erva (1998) identified that cognitive and emotional maturity of the child may influence the tendency toward violent behavior after being exposed to violence content. Younger children may be more affected by the violence they see than older children because of factors such as their limited understanding of the consequences of violent behavior, their tendency to be more involved with the content, and misunderstanding over the justification for violent acts. As children get older, they are usually able to distance themselves more from media content, they become less emotionally involved with the violent material, and they are more inclined to see media violence as less realistic and less frightening.
Some studies have supported the idea that children with lower IQ scores are more likely to be affected by violent material and engage in aggressive behaviours. Children who more developed intellectually may have a more diverse understanding of the violence they see, and they may have a more complex repertoire of behavior they can enact in response to the material. However, other studies have found that only a limited relationship between intelligence and violent behaviours. (Pecchioni, Wright and Nussabaum, 2005)
Other viewer variables include the gender of the child, the child’s arousal level when confronting violence, and initial levels of aggression. Some studies suggest that boys are more effected by violence, see it as more realistic, and prefer more violent programmes than girls. Studies found that children with the combination of high trait aggression and repeated exposure to violent content may be the most likely to engage in aggressive or violent behaviours. (Pecchioni, Wright and Nussabaum, 2005)
The realism of television violence is an important variable in terms of how children will respond to it. Some studies found that the more children perceive violent behavior to be realistic, the more likely they are engaged in aggressive behavior. Younger children may perceive violence as more realistic than older children. Therefore, younger children may affected by a wider variety of violent material than older children. (Pecchioni, Wright and Nussabaum, 2005)

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