Does Social Learning Theory Support Nature or Nurture?


Diego Sanchez

Does Social Learning Theory Support Nature or Nurture?

The debate between nature and nurture has been a longstanding one in the field of psychology. Are we born with certain traits and abilities, or do we acquire them through our environment and social interactions? One theory that seeks to answer this question is the social learning theory.

What is Social Learning Theory?

Social learning theory, developed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s, suggests that individuals learn by observing others’ behaviors and the consequences that result from those behaviors. According to this theory, people imitate the actions they witness in their environment, particularly those performed by influential role models.

The Role of Nature in Social Learning Theory

While social learning theory primarily focuses on environmental factors and learning through observation, it does not negate the influence of nature entirely. In fact, Bandura himself acknowledged that individuals possess certain innate characteristics that can shape their behavior.

For example, research has shown that infants as young as a few months old are capable of imitating facial expressions they see in others. This suggests that there may be an inherent biological basis for observational learning.

The Influence of Nurture on Social Learning Theory

In addition to nature, social learning theory emphasizes the crucial role of nurture in shaping behavior. Bandura argued that people are not passive recipients of environmental influences; instead, they actively process information and make choices based on their observations.

One way nurture influences social learning is through reinforcement.

  • Positive reinforcement: When individuals observe others being rewarded for a particular behavior, they are more likely to imitate it themselves.
  • Negative reinforcement: Conversely, if individuals see others being punished for a behavior, they are less likely to imitate it.

Another aspect of nurture that influences social learning is modeling.

Bandura proposed that individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors performed by role models they perceive as similar to themselves or as having desirable qualities. This suggests that our social environment and the models we observe play a significant role in shaping our behavior.


In summary, social learning theory does not support an exclusive emphasis on either nature or nurture. Instead, it recognizes the interplay between innate characteristics and environmental influences in shaping human behavior. While nature provides a foundation for learning, nurture through observation and reinforcement plays a crucial role in the development of behaviors.

By understanding the dynamics between nature and nurture, we can better comprehend how individuals acquire new skills, adopt certain attitudes, and develop unique personalities. Social learning theory offers valuable insights into this complex interaction and reminds us of the importance of both nature and nurture in human development.