The study of human behavior or behaviorism focuses on attributes of humanity that are discernible, measurable and which can be manipulated. The emphasis of behaviorism is on experimental methods and avoids attributes that are subjective, internal or unavailable.
The experimental method involves the manipulation of one variable and measurement of its effect on another variable. It is from the study of variable and effects that a Canadian psychologist, Albert Bandura found the cognitive theory (or social cognitive theory) (Bandura, 2006).
Bandura for instance observed aggressive behavior in adolescents and opined that the aggressiveness is caused by the environment in which the adolescents grow. On the other hand, he also realized that behavior causes an environment as well.
Thus, since behavior and environment are causes and effects of each other, Bandura referred to the concept as reciprocal determinism (Bandura1986). In short, Bandura’s theory was based on the fact that the world and a person’s character (behavior) affect each other (Bandura, 1986).
While it would appear that the environment was the cause of behavior and personality, Bandura also realized that personality is an interaction of a person’s psychological responses in relation to the environment (Bandura, 2006).
The psychological processes consist of the human being’s ability to entertain different images and languages. Thus, the cognitive theory is built on two essential principles. The first one is a framework for explaining how different personalities function, whereas the other one addresses the type of variables (that is the elements of analysis) on which the personality theory should be centred (Bandura, 2006).
In analysis of the influence of reciprocal determinism, Bandura categorically uses the word “determinism” to imply the aspect in which effects are produced by events (Bandura, 2006). However, this opinion does not mean that a human being’s actions arise from straightforward and predictable chains of cause and consequence.
Rather, it implies that events produce effects by chance. As a result, the probability or chance of an event producing an effect is emphasized in Bandura’s cognitive theory (Bandura, 2006). Perhaps the most significant aspect of Bandura’s theory is the way in which the theory treats behavior.
Unlike many other theoretical frameworks, this theory has equal action on both the input of the personality and the output of personality (Bandura, 1986). In essence, Bandura’s opinion is that a person’s actions and the resultant effects shape the person’s aptitude, feelings and belief in one self (Bandura, 2006).
For example, many behaviorist theories depict scant curiosity in self-process because the theorists assume that human functioning is caused by external stimulus rather than the internal stimulus which is only considered as transmitting rather than causing behavior (Bandura, 1986).
This paper critically evaluates the notable features of Bandura’s cognitive theory and discusses in detail the viewpoint of the Bandura at the time of formulation of the theory and the theory’s subsequent modification.
The paper will also appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the theory based on the discussion. Analysis of the salient features of Bandura’s cognitive theory The most notable feature of Bandura’s social cognitive theory is the concept of reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 1986).
Reciprocal determinism is a phenomenon that implies the causes and effects of different actions on behavior and environment and how they affect each other. Thus, Bandura’s theory was based on the point that personal factors in the form of cognition, biological events and affect, behavior and environmental factors create interfaces that result in a triadic reciprocality as illustrated in Figure 1. Bandura modified the label of his theory from
He also wanted to lay emphasis on the idea that cognition plays a significant role in people’s capability to construct reality, regulate their personality, encode information and display other kinds of behavior. According to Bandura (1971), the reciprocal form of the determinants of individual human functioning in social cognitive theory enables services such as therapeutic and counseling efforts to be rendered with focus on personal environment or behavioral factors as illustrated in the diagram above.
Based on this, strategies to improve a person’s well-being can be aimed at ameliorating the emotional, cognitive and motivational process of the human being (Bandura, 1986). The focus can also be on improving behavioral capabilities or changing the communal conditions under which people live and work.
As an example, teachers in schools have a role to not only improve their students’ academic learning and confidence, but also boost their (students’) self-beliefs and habits of thinking. Hence, teachers and students have to embrace all the components of Bandura’s triadic expression of cognitive theory.
As earlier mentioned, Bandura’s social cognitive theory sets itself aside from other theories that overemphasize the role played by environmental factors in the development of human behavior (Bandura, 1986; Bandura, 2006).
These theories are often dismissed since they have the redundant factor of cause and effect that is unworthy in the context of evaluating the psychological aspect of human beings. Thus according to Bandura, psychology per se without a clear self-examination cannot purport to explain the complexities of human intricacies of human functioning.
Bandura (1986) further noted it is by evaluating their own conscious minds that people discern their own psychological processes. Therefore, in order to predict how the human behavior is affected by environmental outcomes, it is imperative that the individual’s cognitive process and how he or she interprets the outcomes be understood.
Personal determinants An important factor in addressing how a person interprets the outcomes is recognition of the personal determinants. This is affected by the choice of variables to be used in the evaluation process.
Bandura’s choice for such variable depicts what may be the most distinctive aspect of human life, that is, people have abilities to adapt to different environments (Bandura, 1986). For instance, people are able to live in a variety of physical environments such as deserts, rainforests, Polar Regions and so on.
They are also able to live and engage in a variety of social environments such as nomadic systems, diverse religious beliefs, different socio economic and socio cultural activities and so on. People also exhibit a variety of unique capabilities that cannot be attributed to the occurrence of evolution over time (Bandura, 1971).
In fact, the list of human beings’ unique capabilities relative to animals cannot be exhausted in a single book. Hence, in order to perform an analysis of psychological functioning, one must specify the psychological mechanisms that facilitate the unique capabilities. Bandura’s (1986) theory has a focal point on the cognitive methods that enable people to learn about the world around them (environment) and also about themselves, and use the knowledge gained to control their behavior and mental experiences.
In particular, Bandura (1986) enlisted five basic capabilities that facilitate the learning process, as described below. Symbolizing capability implies the ability of people to represent their knowledge symbolically. The most common symbolic representation or conveyance of messages is language (Bandura, 1971). The ability to use symbols in terms of language is perhaps the most fundamental capability in human beings as it serves as a leeway for the other capabilities.
Vicarious capability is the ability to acquire skills, knowledge and other emotional tendencies through observation or a similar approach (Bandura, 1971). Bandura’s (2006) assiduous analysis of vicarious processes that are involved in acquiring skills makes the cognitive theory not only realistic but also unusually easy to comprehend and interpret. In addition, it clears most of the issues that are usually overlooked by psychological theories such how people acquire knowledge and skills that enable them to act efficiently.
According to Bandura (1997), vicarious capability enables people to keep away from risky or costly undertakings that could lead to fatal outcomes. This is because the people ideally have a sense of experience by observing their own characters relative to the characters or behavior of others.
Bandura (1986) referred to the ability to anticipate future contingencies as the forethought capability of human beings. Forethought capability is vital for both emotional and motivational perspectives of life.
For instance, contrary to popular belief, psychological distress arises from peoples’ anticipated dreadful experiences and not the present or actual experiences. It is because of the ability to derive alternative approaches that one can foresee the consequences of an action without actually being involved in it.
According to Bandura (1986), the fourth unique human capability is the self-regulatory capability. This is the capacity of an individual to set goals. In addition, this capability allows individuals to evaluate their performance in relation to their own (internal) standards of performance.
Bandura (1986) further noted that the ability of people to evaluate their self-concept, esteem and values enables them have a sense of self-direction and ability to lead life without much reliance on others. Much similar to the above capability is the self-reflective capability.
According to Bandura (1997), this is the capacity of human beings to have personal thoughts. In this context, personal reflections lay a course for action and formulation of ideas by individuals based on self-efficacy. The aforementioned capabilities do not work in isolation but in concert.
In particular, according to Bandura (1997), the aspects of self-reflection, self-regulation and forethought act in synergy to form a self-system, which comprises the framework of personality. Furthermore, people are able to control their emotions and social lives by integrating the constituents of the self-system (Bandura, 1986).
Self-reflection in particular is “distinctly human” and forms a prominent feature of the social cognitive theory. Through self-reflection, individuals derive sense from their experiences and embrace their cognitions and self-beliefs.
Consequently, they are able to engage in self-evaluation and are able to shift their thinking and behavior accordingly (Bandura, 1986). Self-efficacy When the capabilities so far described are integrated effectively, the self-system acquires a state of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997).
Perceived self-efficacy refers to people’s ability to evaluate their own efficiencies in solving problems and attaining certain levels of performance (Bandura, 1997). The relevance of perceived self-efficacy to the social cognitive theory postulated by Bandura is that self-efficacy judgments have a pervasive role in human affairs.
In the scope of both achievements and interpersonal relationships, people’s stances are calculated by how effectively (and wisely) they can make decisions and how efficiently they can act in fulfilling the decisions taken. From the above perspective, it is evident that evaluation between an individual’s skills and the requirements of the environment is pertinent in determining the courses of action that are viewed as being the determinants of one’s personality. Efficacy beliefs are vital in that not only do they act on overt behavior but they also address the internal psychological affairs of individuals.
This is an important aspect of the social cognition theory with respect to the triadic scheme. This is because an individual’s personality is judged from acts that are done both overtly and covertly. In view of Bandura’s (1997) ideas, people with robust perceptions of their efficacy envisage more positive futures, experience less distressing emotions, and are capable of planning for their life programs more effectively. In addition, such people are able to deal with demanding tasks more efficiently than people who have lower opinion of their efficacy. How personal determinants relate with individual differences and dispositions
With reference to Bandura (1999), the basic capacities of the social cognitive theory are dissimilar in three ways from the units of measurement employed in the character-related theories of personality. To begin with, the capabilities are not single variable differences with reference to personality.
For instance, Bandura (1999) accentuated that a single-difference analysis may hinder the realization of other vital capabilities possessed by an individual. Such an instance would occur if the ability in an individual is rare and is therefore not detected as an important factor in analysis (Bandura, 1999).
As is common with many forms of analysis, there is usually an investigation for a small number of primary units of variation, or for capabilities that are common but possessed to uniformly high level by many individuals.
The fact that almost everyone possesses a unique capability (for example the ability to use symbols of the ability to be self-reflective and self–conscious) does not necessarily make the capabilities less important in the context of the functioning of personality. These capabilities are still important in spite of the fact that they may not be identified as the primary dimensions of individual dissimilarity.
The second difference in the context of the capabilities in the social cognitive theory is related to average tendencies. For instance, Bandura’s (1999) category of cognitive capabilities does not just mention the average tendencies.
Rather, Bandura opines that self-reflection and self-regulation contribute to both constancy and variability of actions among individuals. Along this line, it is important to note that people’s goals, choices and cognitive abilities are displayed in the manner in which they act and handle different circumstances that they come across in their lives.
This point is of importance in describing an individual’s personality (Bandura, 1999). It implies that dispositional characteristics per se cannot suffice the description of personality as they refer to the average tendencies in behavior and are devoid of reference to particular individuals (Bandura, 1999).
In addition, a single individual’s social cognitive may not contribute significantly to the distinct patterns of behavior that are not in line with the contemporary descriptive characteristics that are used in the analysis of standard individual difference categories.
The third point is that the social cognitive theory’s definition of personality and the role personality factors play in contribution to social behavior is significantly different from the dispositional approach. The social cognitive theory does not view dispositional tendencies as personality structures. Instead, the theory realizes personality structures as consisting of cognitive and affective systems, which contribute to the patterns of individuals’ behavior in a much informal way. These, according to Bandura (1999), are the dispositional tendencies.
In this context therefore, dispositions are effects and not causes. Bandura opposed the proponents of personality description based on behavior as being mistaken since the aspects of behavioral description “locate the personality structure in the wrong place” (Bandura, 1999, p 200).
Therefore, the Bandura’s social cognitive theory views the standard dispositional units of personality description as being inadequate to fully describe an individual or to explain his or her personality functioning. Strengths and weaknesses of the theory
As discussed, Bandura’s theory has many points of strength, notable of which being that it describes the relationship between behavior and the environment. In addition, the theory gives a clear picture of how behaviors are learned and developed.
On the other hand, it is evident that the theory puts too much emphasis on what happens to people rather than what the people do. Along the same line, the theory does not address consistent differences among individuals as they go through different developmental stages. a