Social cognitive theory is a learning theory that suggests that individuals learn by observing others. It is a subcategory of cognitive learning theory that focuses on how behaviors of individuals are affected by others. The theory was developed by Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist (Whitcomb & Merrell, 2013). While the proponents of the theory agree that the environment in which an individual grows influences his/her behavior, they argue that an individual’s personality is equally important. Five key concepts are described in the social cognitive theory, namely, observational learning/modeling, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, self-efficacy, and self-regulation.
The concept of observational learning or modeling posits that individuals learn from others within social contexts. For instance, a student learns how to behave by observing the behaviors of teachers, parents and peers. The teachers, parents and peers act as models to the student. An individual can learn from others either directly from live demonstrations or indirectly by observing the non-verbal, verbal and written behaviors of the models (Whitcomb & Merrell, 2013). The concept of outcome expectation suggests that the consequences of a behavior influences whether the behavior will be repeated or not. Depending on whether the outcomes are positive or negative, an individual may decide whether to repeat a behavior or not. Motivation to repeat a particular behavior is important since it influences whether the behavior will be successfully learned or not (Whitcomb & Merrell, 2013).
The concept of self-efficacy suggests that an individual’s self-efficacy influences his/her ability to learn a particular behavior. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief that he/she can learn a particular skill or not. Generally, individuals become highly motivated, more active, pay attention and become better learners when they believe that they can master a particular skill or behavior (Carducci, 2009). Goal setting is another core concept in the social cognitive theory framework. Goals refer to future desired outcomes that are embedded in an individual’s cognitive framework. Models can provide an individual with instructions that can help in formulating effective goals that can facilitate effective learning (Carducci, 2009). Lastly, the concept of self-regulation suggests that individuals can control and evaluate their learning behaviors. The concept posits that depending on goal setting, individuals can manage their thoughts and actions to achieve desired outcomes. The attitudes and beliefs that influence an individual’s motivation for self-regulation and the skills that are needed to effectively manage behavior can be obtained through modeling (Carducci, 2009).
Social cognitive theory can be applied in nursing practice in various ways. For instance, the theory can be used in the treatment of phobia. There are many people in society with phobias and genuinely wish to overcome them. However, many of them get stuck when they try to control phobias and to unlearn automatic fear responses (Gawronski & Payne, 2010). A nurse practitioner can help an individual to overcome phobia by modeling his/her behavior. The nurse can do so by calmly going through the process that is causing fear to the individual seeking help. Just watching the nurse perform the process or behavior without fear can help to alleviate the fear. However, the nurse has to first establish a relationship of trust and rapport with the person experiencing phobia. Also, there is a need to repeat the behavior severally and to combine social cognitive theory with other social cognitive-behavioral therapies. Also, cognitive theory can be applied by a nursing practitioner in campaigning against Aids in a community. A nurse can act as a role model or inform the members of the community to identify with identifiable persons. The practitioner can then teach members of the community how to behave and encourage them to overcome behaviors that can lead them to contract AIDs. The practitioner can help them to learn specific behaviors and encourage them to repeat the behaviors severally to learn successfully (Whitcomb & Merrell, 20
Carducci, B. J. (2009). The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications.
London: John Wiley & Sons
Gawronski, B. & Payne, B. K. (2010). Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition: Measurement,
Theory, and Applications. London: Guilford Press
Whitcomb, S. & Merrell. K. W. (2013). Behavioral, Social, and Emotional Assessment of
Children and Adolescents. New York: Routledge
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