Is Bandura Social Learning Theory Behaviorism?


Jane Flores

In this article, we will explore the question: Is Bandura’s Social Learning Theory a form of behaviorism?


Before diving into the debate, let’s briefly define both Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and behaviorism.

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura proposed the Social Learning Theory, which suggests that individuals learn by observing and imitating the behavior of others. According to Bandura, learning does not only occur through direct experience or reinforcement but also through vicarious learning.


Behaviorism is a psychological theory that focuses on observable behaviors. It suggests that human behavior is shaped by environmental stimuli and reinforced through rewards and punishments. Behaviorists believe that all behaviors are learned through conditioning processes.

The Connection between Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and Behaviorism

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory shares some similarities with behaviorism, but it also has distinct differences.

Observational Learning vs. Conditioning

In behaviorism, conditioning plays a crucial role in learning. There are two types of conditioning: classical conditioning (Pavlovian) and operant conditioning (Skinnerian). Classical conditioning involves associating a stimulus with a response, while operant conditioning focuses on reinforcing or punishing behaviors to increase or decrease their occurrence.

In contrast, Bandura’s Social Learning Theory emphasizes observational learning. Individuals learn by watching others and imitating their actions. The theory suggests that people can acquire new behaviors without direct reinforcement or punishment.

Cognitive Factors

Another significant difference lies in the inclusion of cognitive factors in Bandura’s theory. While behaviorism primarily focuses on observable behaviors, Bandura acknowledges the role of cognitive processes in learning. He suggests that individuals actively process information, make judgments, and anticipate consequences before imitating observed behaviors.

This incorporation of cognitive factors sets Bandura’s theory apart from traditional behaviorism, which neglects the internal mental processes involved in learning.


Although Bandura’s Social Learning Theory shares some similarities with behaviorism, it cannot be considered a form of pure behaviorism. While both theories acknowledge the importance of learning from observation and imitation, Bandura’s theory includes cognitive processes and does not rely solely on conditioning as behaviorism does.

The integration of observational learning and cognitive factors makes Bandura’s Social Learning Theory more comprehensive and accounts for a wider range of learning experiences. By recognizing the role of cognition, Bandura highlights the active nature of learning and emphasizes that individuals are not mere passive recipients of environmental stimuli.

In conclusion, while there are connections between Bandura’s Social Learning Theory and behaviorism, they are distinct theories with significant differences in their underlying principles.