Is Social Learning Theory Part of the Behaviourist Approach?


Vincent White

Is Social Learning Theory Part of the Behaviourist Approach?

The field of psychology encompasses various theories that explain human behavior and learning. Two prominent theories in this domain are the social learning theory and the behaviorist approach. While both theories share some similarities, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.

The Behaviorist Approach

The behaviorist approach is a psychological perspective that focuses on observable behaviors rather than internal mental processes. It suggests that all human actions are a result of conditioning and reinforcement. According to this approach, individuals learn through associations between stimuli and responses.

Behaviorists believe that learning occurs through two main processes: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is when a neutral stimulus becomes associated with a specific response through repeated pairings. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, involves reinforcing or punishing behaviors to increase or decrease their likelihood of recurring.

Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory, formulated by Albert Bandura, builds upon the principles of behaviorism but includes additional factors such as observation and imitation. According to Bandura’s theory, individuals learn not only through direct experiences but also by observing others.

Bandura argued that people acquire new behaviors by observing others and their consequences without necessarily engaging in those actions themselves. This process is known as vicarious reinforcement or vicarious punishment. Individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors they see being rewarded (reinforced) and less likely to imitate behaviors they see being punished (punished).

Relationship Between Social Learning Theory and Behaviorism

Social learning theory can be considered a part of the broader behaviorist approach due to its focus on observable behaviors. However, it expands upon behaviorism by acknowledging the role of cognitive processes in learning. While traditional behaviorism emphasizes the importance of environmental factors and reinforcement, social learning theory recognizes the significance of mental processes such as attention, memory, and motivation.

Bandura’s theory also introduces the concept of self-efficacy, which refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a specific behavior. This aspect aligns with cognitive psychology, as it involves thoughts and beliefs influencing behavior.


While social learning theory shares some similarities with the behaviorist approach, it incorporates additional elements such as observation, imitation, cognitive processes, and self-efficacy. By recognizing the impact of both environmental factors and internal mental processes on learning and behavior, social learning theory provides a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior than traditional behaviorism alone.