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Bandura’s theory

Albert Bandura is well regarded for his Social Cognitive Theory. It 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. This theory provides a framework for understanding, predicting and changing human behaviour.

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The main tenets of Bandura’s theory are that:

  • people learn by observing others
  • the same set of stimuli may provoke different responses from different people, or from the same people at different times
  • the world and a person’s behaviour are interlinked
  • personality is an interaction between three factors: the environment, behaviour, and a person’s psychological processes.

Social Cognitive Theory revolves around the notion that learning correlates to the observation of role models. In education, for example, teachers play the role of a model in a child’s learning acquisition. In everyday life, the model could be media sources or those with whom you interact. Effective modelling teaches general rules and strategies for dealing with different situations.

Through his research, Bandura established that there are certain steps involved in the modelling process:


You need to pay attention to learn something new. The more striking or different something is (due to colour or drama, for example) the more likely it is to gain our attention. Likewise, if we regard something as prestigious, attractive or like ourselves, we will take more notice. 


You must be able to retain (remember) what you have paid attention to. Imagery and language pay a role in retention: you store what you have seen the model doing in the form of verbal descriptions or mental images, and bring these triggers up later to help you reproduce the model with your own behaviour.


At this point you have to translate the images or descriptions into actual behaviour. You must have the ability to reproduce the behaviour in the first place. For instance, if you are watching Olympic ice skating you may not be able to reproduce their jumps if you can’t ice skate at all! Our abilities improve even when we just imagine ourselves performing.


Unless you are motivated, or have a reason, you will not try to imitate the model. Bandura states a number of motives, including:

  • past reinforcement
  • promised reinforcement
  • vicarious reinforcement.

Albert Bandura has had a large impact on personality theory and therapy. His action-oriented, problem-solving approach appeals to those who want to make changes, rather than simply philosophise.


  • Boeree, Dr George C, Shippensburg University, ‘Personality Theories: Albert Bandura’, accessed December 2008, (www.ship.edu).
  • York University, Canada, ‘Theories used in IS Research: Social Cognitive Theory’, accessed December 2008, (www.istheory.yorku.ca).

Updated 4 Feb 2011