Social Cognitive Theory, used in psychology, education, and communication, 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.
Social Cognitive Theory stemmed out of work in the area of social learning theory proposed by N.E. Miller and J. Dollard in 1941. Their proposition posits that if one were motivated to learn a particular behavior, then that particular behavior would be learned through clear observations. By imitating these observed actions the individual observer would solidify that learned action and would be rewarded with positive reinforcement  The proposition of social learning was expanded upon and theorized by American psychologist Albert Bandura from 1962 to the present.
The theorists most commonly associated with social cognitive theory are Albert Bandura and Walter Mischel.
Social cognitive theory is a learning theory based on the ideas that people learn by watching what others do and that human thought processes are central to understanding personality. While social cognitists agree that there is a fair amount of influence on development generated by learned behavior displayed in the environment in which one grows up, they believe that the individual person (and therefore cognition) is just as important in determining moral development .
People learn by observing others, with the environment, behavior, and cognition all as the chief factors in influencing development. These three factors are not static or independent; rather, they are all reciprocal. For example, each behavior witnessed can change a person's way of thinking (cognition). Similarly, the environment one is raised in may influence later behaviors, just as a father's mindset (also cognition) will determine the environment in which his children are raised .
Social cognitive theory emphasizes a large difference between an individual's ability to be morally competent and morally performing. Moral competence involves having the ability to perform a moral behavior, whereas moral performance indicates actually following one's idea of moral behavior in a specific situation. Moral competencies include:
- what an individual is capable of
- what an individual knows
- what an indivual's skills are
- an individual's awareness of moral rules and regulations
- an individual's cognitive ability to construct behaviors
As far as an individual's development is concerned, moral competence is the growth of cognitive-sensory processes; simply put, being aware of what is considered right and wrong. By comparison, moral performance is influenced by the possible rewards and incentives to act a certain way. For example, a person's moral competence might tell them that stealing is wrong and frowned upon by society; however, if the reward for stealing is a substantial sum, their moral performance might indicate a different line of thought. Therein lies the core of social cognitive theory.
 Observation of Models
Social cognitive theory revolves around the process of knowledge acquisition or learning directly correlated to the observation of models. The models can be those of an interpersonal imitation or media sources. Effective modeling teaches general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations .
As a result of the observations the indiorcement explains that the observer does not expect actual rewards or punishments but anticipates similar outcomes to his/her imitated behaviors and allows for these effects to work. This portion of social cognitive theory relies heavily on outcome expectancies These expectancies are heavily influenced by the environment that the observer grows up in; for example, the expected consequences for a DUI in the United States of America are a fine, with possible jail time, whereas the same charge in El Salvador or Bolivia can lead to the infliction of the death penalty.
In education, teachers play the role as model in a child's learning acquisition. Teachers model both material objectives and underlying curriculum of virtuous living. Teachers should also be dedicated to the building of high self-efficacy levels in their students by recognizing their accomplishments.
 Identification and Self-Efficacy
Albert Bandura also stressed that the easiest way to display moral development would be via the consideration of multiple factors, be they social, cognitive, or environmental . The relationship between the aforementioned three factors provides even more insight into the complex concept that is morality. Further development in social cognitive theory posits that learning will most likely occur if there is a close identification between the observer and the model and if the observer also has a good deal of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy beliefs function as an important set of proximal determinants of human motivation, affect, and action [which] operate on action through motivational, cognitive, and affective intervening processes . Identification allows the observer to feel a one-to-one connection with the individual being imitated and will be more likely to achieve those imitations if the observer feels that they have the ability to follow through with the imitated action .
Social Cognitive Theory is applied today in many different arenas. Mass media, public health, education, and marketing are just a very few. An example of this is the use of celebrities to endorse and introduce any number of products to certain demographics: one way in which social cognitive theory encompasses all four of these domains. By choosing the proper gender, age, and ethnicity the use of social cognitive theory could help ensure the success of an AIDS campaign to inner city teenagers by letting them identify with a recognizable peer, have a greater sense of self-efficacy, and then imitate the actions in order to learn the proper preventions and actions for a more informative AIDS aware community .
 Variations in Morality
For the most part, social cognitive theory remains the same for various cultures. Since the concepts of moral behavior did not vary much between cultures (as crimes like murder, theft, and unwarranted violence are illegal in virtually every society), there is not much room for people to have different views on what is morally right or wrong. The main reason that social cognitive theory applies to all nations is because it does not say what is moral and immoral; it simply states that we can acknowledge these two concepts. Our actions in real-life scenarios will be based on whether or not we believe the action to be moral and whether or not the reward for violating our morals is significant enough, and nothing else.
- ^ Miller, N. E., & Dollard, J. (1941). Social Learning and Imitation. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- ^ a b c d e f Santrock, J. W. (2008). A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development (M. Ryan, Ed., 4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (Original work published 2002), pgs. 26, 30, 478
- ^ a b Bandura, A. (1988). Organizational Application of Social Cognitive Theory. Australian Journal of Management, 13(2), 275-302.
- ^ Bandura, A. (1989). Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory. American Psychologist, 44, 1175-1184.
- ^ Miller, Katherine (2005). Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts (2nd ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.
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