How Is Social Learning Theory Different From Other Theories?


Diego Sanchez

Social learning theory is a unique perspective in the field of psychology that focuses on how individuals learn from observing others. Unlike other theories, social learning theory emphasizes the role of social interactions and the influence of others on our behavior. Let’s explore how social learning theory differs from other prominent theories in psychology.

Behaviorism vs. Social Learning Theory


Behaviorism, a dominant theory in the early 20th century, proposed that all human behavior is learned through conditioning. According to behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, our actions are shaped by environmental stimuli and consequences.

However, social learning theory expands upon behaviorism by asserting that we not only learn through rewards and punishments but also by observing and imitating others.

Social Learning Theory:

  • Social learning theory suggests that individuals acquire new behaviors by watching others perform those behaviors.
  • This process is known as observational learning or modeling.
  • We are more likely to imitate behaviors when we see someone being rewarded for them.
  • In contrast, if we observe negative consequences for a certain behavior, we are less likely to imitate it.

Cognitive Theory vs. Social Learning Theory

Cognitive Theory:

Cognitive theories focus on how our mental processes, such as perception, memory, and problem-solving, influence our behavior. These theories emphasize internal mental states and processes rather than external factors.

In contrast, social learning theory incorporates cognitive processes by highlighting the importance of attention, memory, and motivation in observational learning.

Social Learning Theory:

  • Social learning theory suggests that individuals actively process and interpret the information they observe from others.
  • Attention plays a crucial role in observational learning, as we must pay attention to the model’s behavior and its consequences.
  • Memory allows us to retain the observed behavior and retrieve it when needed.
  • Motivation determines whether we will imitate the behavior or not. If we believe the behavior will lead to positive outcomes, we are more likely to adopt it.

Psychoanalysis vs. Social Learning Theory


Psychoanalysis, developed by Sigmund Freud, focuses on unconscious desires, conflicts, and early childhood experiences as determinants of our thoughts and behaviors. It delves into the depths of the human mind to uncover hidden motivations.

On the other hand, social learning theory emphasizes external factors and interactions rather than internal unconscious processes.

Social Learning Theory:

  • Social learning theory suggests that individuals learn through their observations of others, without necessarily delving into their unconscious thoughts or desires.
  • The emphasis is on how social interactions shape our behavior and beliefs.
  • This theory recognizes that humans are social creatures who learn from one another within their cultural contexts.


In summary, social learning theory differentiates itself from other theories by focusing on observational learning and the influence of social interactions. While behaviorism emphasizes conditioning, cognitive theories emphasize internal mental processes, and psychoanalysis highlights unconscious desires; social learning theory incorporates elements from each while highlighting the power of observation, imitation, attention, memory, motivation, and cultural context. By recognizing the role of social interactions in shaping behavior, social learning theory provides a comprehensive framework for understanding how individuals learn and develop.