What Are the Main Principals of Social Cognitive Theory?

A basic principle of social cognitive theory is that a person's functioning is based on the three-way reciprocal interaction of personal, behavioral and environmental factors and what he believes about himself and experiences from others. While acknowledging the import of environmental factors, the theory posits that an individual can plan, direct and self-regulate their own learning and behavioral outcomes. It says that people learn by observing others but don't necessarily evidence the learning until personally motivated to do so.

Observational learning, as described in social cognitive theory, requires an individual to pay attention to what he is observing, retain the information he observes and transform it for later use, acting upon or producing it when he's ready. The learner's perception of the expected outcomes for a behavior impacts his production of the behavior. If he believes the outcome he observed to be negative, he may choose not to produce the observed behavior. Similarly, if he expects the positive outcome that he observed and then does not receive that same positive response from others, he is likely to avoid the behavior in the future.

The theory also posits that individuals learn according to goals they set for themselves internally and their belief in their ability to succeed, both of which help them manage their learning. It suggests that an individual's sense of their ability to succeed depends on his own observations, feedback from others and his personal psychological state.