Social Learning Theory






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The Social Learning Theory of

Albert Bandura

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Social Learning Theory originated from Albert Bandura. He believed that behaviorism alone could not explain all that be observed. He believed that behavior and the environment affected each other. He called this phenomenon reciprocal determination. He extended his theory by braiding in a person’s personality with behavior and the environment. After his acknowledgement of mental images, his behaviorism philosophy turned to cognitivism. The beginning of cognitivism leads to his expanded research on language acquisition, learning, and self-regulation.

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Bandura researched aggression and modeling through his Bobo experiments. The changes Bandura observed in a child’s behavior after watching an adult show aggression triggered him to his social learning theory. Bandura continued research with other objects, and even humans, receiving the aggression. He also experimented with and without rewards and punishments. Bandura concluded several points. 1. Attention to task affects learning. 2. Information learned must be retained. 3. You must be able to reproduce or imitate the behaviors learned. 4. Motivation either from past, promised, or vicarious reinforcement drives imitation and punishment never works as well as reinforcement.

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Bandura on social cognitive theory:

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Social Learning Theory also includes other aspects of behavior. Bandura believed we could control our own behavior through self regulation. Self regulation requires a person to self-observe, make judgments about our environment and ourselves, and self-response, which is a personal reward/punishment system based off our behavior or performance. These theories led to another concept in psychology, self concept also known as self-esteem. Again, a reward system is healthier that a punishment system. Those with poor self concepts may be overly aggressive, compliant, or avoidant.

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Bandura’s suggestion is to know yourself, set appropriate standards for yourself, and use rewards instead of punishments. Setting one’s bar too high or dwelling on failures is very unhealthy behavior.

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An explanation of Bandura's social learning theory from doctorate students:

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The Social Learning Theory of

Julian B. Rotter

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Julian B. Rotter developed his own Social Learning Theory. During Rotter’s day, the prominent theories came from Freud. Rotter disagreed with the premise that humans were naïve and victims of their unconscious impulses to satisfy urges. Rotter chose to detour from the instinct-based or drive-based behaviorism and chose the motivating factor of the empirical law of effect. His theory argued that people are motivated to seek reinforcement and positive stimulation and avoid unpleasant stimulation. The driving force in Rotter’s theory is that personality represents an interaction of the individual and the environment. Thus to understand behavior, a person’s history of education and experience are coupled with the stimuli acting on that person from their environment.

Rotter believed that if you changed the environment or how someone thinks, you will change behavior. He argued that people will be draw towards their goals, will seek maximum reinforcement, and will avoid punishment.

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Rotter believed by examining the four aspects of his social learning theory, behavior could be predicted. First, he emphasized behavior potential. What is the likeliness of a person displaying a certain behavior in a certain situation? Next, he added expectancy. How likely is the proposed behavior going to lead to a desired outcome? In conjunction with expectancy is reinforcement value. What is the desirability of the outcome or value of the behavior? Lastly, is the predictive formula. The formula combines the three earlier mentioned aspects to create a value that expresses the behavior potential.

BP = f(E & RV)

Julian B. Rotter also believed in a “Locus of Control”. Individuals possessing a strong internal locus of control believe that the responsibility for whether or not they get reinforced ultimately lies with themselves. These individuals believe that success or failure is due to their own efforts. Externals believe that the reinforcers in life are controlled by luck, chance, or powerful others. Therefore, they see little impact of their own efforts on the amount of reinforcement they receive. This theory ties in with internal and external motivators in a classroom.


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Due to his views on social learning theory, Rotter does not believe in mental disorders as being illnesses or diseases. He sees the offending behavior as a product of incorrect learning experiences. Therapy for the individual would include proper learning experiences to rectify the offending behaviors. He blames faulty adaptive behaviors for many such offending behaviors. His theories play a major role in education when it comes to an individual’s irrationally low self-expectations. The person starts by not believing his or her efforts will be reinforced. Then he or she puts little effort into his or her behavior.  The individual believes they will fail, and when they do, it confirms his or her theory. Teachers are charged with utilizing the aspects of social learning theory to correct internal motivators and self-expectations.

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 Contemporary Research in Social Learning Theory

More work is being done in Social Learning Theory. Personality research and mood regulation are just two contemporary research topics that continue to benefit from developments from Rotter’s theory. Bandura’s work is related to the theories of Vygotsky and Lave which also emphasize the central role of social learning.

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Social Learning Theory in the Classroom


An essential question: What behavior are we subjecting our students to or allowing our students to witness for them to imitate?

While social learning theory is the behavior theory most relevant to criminology, it has many applications in the classroom. Albert Bandura’s main theory involved learned aggression from observing modeling. He also researched non-violent behavior that was learned through modeling as well. The three reinforcements that Bandura stated that many individuals believed that aggression would produce could also be achieved through other means. Students must witness and buy into appropriate desired behavior and/or desired reinforcements. Students seek the reduction of tension, the gain of financial rewards, or the gain of the praise of others, or build self-esteem. Knowing the desired reward students seek enables teachers to provide the same reward for the desired behaviors. Albert Bandura believed behaviors reinforced by family members were the most prominent source of behavior modeling. Behaviors can also be learned from watching television. Teachers have little control over what happens at home or what is witnessed on television, but they are not without influence. Teachers not only have to be appropriate models, but also equip students to self-regulate, self-monitor, self-correct, and properly self-monitor.

More information about social learning theory and criminology is available at

Other descriptions of Bandura’s work can be found at:


Beemee630. (2010) Social Learning Theory. You Tube. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from


Boeree, C. George Ph. D. (1998) Albert Bandura. Personality Theories. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from


Docochs. (2008) Theory Master Theater-Bandura Social Learning. You Tube. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from


Isom, Margaret Delores. (1998) The Social Learning Theory. Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from

Kenshinchan. (2007). Children See, Children Do. You Tube. Retreived on June 22, 2010 from


Mearns, Jack. (2000) The Social Learning Theory of Julian B. Rotter. Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from



Ormrod, J.E. (1999). Human learning (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Portion named Social Learning Theory. Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from


Situated Learning  (J. Lave). Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from

Social Development Theory (L. Vygotsky).  Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from


Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura). Retrieved on June 21, 2010 from

Thebiggjoker. (2003/2008) Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. Davidson Films/You Tube. Retrieved June 21, 2010 from


 This site was created by Wendy Ellis.