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Social-Cognitive Theory

Psychology (Year 12) - Personality

Jessica Pratt

Social-Cognitive Theory

A social-cognitive theory of personality is a behaviourist view. It revolves around how an individual’s reactions to environmental stimuli are strengthened by reinforcement. These theorists believe that behaviour is contextual and environmentally determined, rather than being determined by the individual’s personality.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Bandura proposed that behaviours were a result of learning history, environmental perception and intellectual capabilities. Prior experiences alter the expectations of reinforcements. In this way, behaviour can be altered in new experiences and by adjusting perceptions.

Reciprocal Determinism

The dynamic interaction between the individual and their environment. It can work to explain the basis for behaviour. However, it has three requirements:

  • the ability to model and imitate.

  • the ability to self-reflect - often expressed as self-efficacy (the belief that one has the ability to achieve a particular outcome).

  • the capacity to self-regulate - goal setting, judgements, performance evaluation and monitoring.

This concept can be easily applied in education as a student can often become more attentive and motivated when they believe that they have mastered a skill.

Mischel's Social-Cognitive Theory

Walter Mischel believed that cognitive factors determine behaviours when facing environmental stimuli, and that the expectations of events are also determinants. In this, past experiences of different situations, as well as cognitive factors, determine behaviour.

Mischel suggested that consistency may be found in behavioural patterns - x situation leads to y behaviour. Simply, he argued that behaviour and personality may be contextually based.

Mischel’s Cognitive Factors

Mischel determined human behaviour in terms of “person variables”. These variables, also referred to as cognitive factors, can predict behaviour. They are collectively referred to as a personality signature.

These cognitive factors include:

  • competencies: things an individual knows how to do.

  • perceptions: how an individual perceives the environment.

  • expectations: what an individual expects the outcome or consequence of a behaviour to be.

  • subjective values: goals and interests of an individual.

  • self-regulation and plans: standards an individual holds of themselves, and their method of reaching their goals.


The ability to set and work towards a goal, often being described as an individual’s willpower. It is a concept related to delayed gratification - the concept of denying a reward in the present in order to receive a better reward in the future. A classic example of delayed gratification involves a child being placed in a room with a marshmallow on a table. The experimenter leaves the room and if the child has not consumed the marshmallow by the time they return fifteen minutes later, they will be given another marshmallow in addition to the one on the table.



  • the concepts can be easily tested.

  • concepts can be applied to education and marketing.


  • the theories are not fully systematised, and so are loosely organised.

  • relies on self-reports - limited by participant honesty.

  • neglects to acknowledge maturation and development changes.

  • assumes that environmental changes will automatically lead to changes in personality.

  • disregards the biological and hormonal predispositions that may influence behaviours.

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