Reciprocal determinism is a critical concept in social cognitive theory. It suggests that behavior, cognitive factors, and environmental influences are interdependent and interact with each other. In other words, individuals’ behavior and environment influence each other, shaping their development and shaping the environment around them.

What is Social Cognitive Theory?

Social cognitive theory, developed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s, is a learning theory that emphasizes the importance of observational learning, self-efficacy, and reciprocal determinism. It posits that people learn by observing others’ behaviors and the consequences of their actions. Social cognitive theory also emphasizes the role of personal factors such as beliefs, attitudes, goals, and self-regulation in shaping behavior.

Reciprocal Determinism

Reciprocal determinism is one of the fundamental concepts of social cognitive theory. It suggests that individuals’ behavior influences their environment while their environment affects their behavior. This interaction occurs through three main factors: personal factors (e.g., beliefs, attitudes), environmental factors (e., rewards/punishments), and behavior itself.

For example, suppose a child wants to learn how to play basketball but feels unsure about their ability to do so. According to reciprocal determinism, this child’s belief in their ability (personal factor) will influence whether they attempt to learn to play basketball or not (behavior). If they decide to try playing basketball (behavior), they may receive positive feedback from others (environmental factor), which reinforces this behavior and increases their confidence in their ability to play basketball (personal factor).

This example illustrates how personal factors such as beliefs can influence an individual’s behavior while environmental factors like feedback can shape these beliefs. This constant interaction between personal factors, environmental factors, and behavior is what Bandura refers to as reciprocal determinism.

Applications of Reciprocal Determinism

Reciprocal determinism has numerous applications in various fields. For example, it has been used to explain the development of aggression and violence in children.

According to social cognitive theory, aggressive behavior is learned through observation and reinforcement from the environment. In this way, reciprocal determinism plays a vital role in shaping patterns of behavior that can lead to aggression.

Reciprocal determinism has also been applied in fields such as education, health, and psychology to promote positive behavior change. For instance, by understanding the interaction between personal factors, environmental factors, and behavior, educators can create learning environments that foster positive attitudes and behaviors.


Reciprocal determinism is a fundamental concept in social cognitive theory. It illustrates the interdependence between an individual’s behavior and their environment and how they influence each other.

This concept has numerous applications in various fields such as education, psychology, and health. By understanding reciprocal determinism, individuals can gain insight into how their behavior is shaped by their environment while also recognizing their capacity to influence it themselves.