When it comes to understanding human behavior, social cognitive theory provides valuable insights. Developed by psychologist Albert Bandura, this theory emphasizes the reciprocal interaction between a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and the social environment. To grasp the essence of social cognitive theory, it is essential to explore some of its basic assumptions.

Assumption 1: Cognitive Processes Play a Vital Role

Social cognitive theory posits that cognitive processes such as perception, attention, memory, and thinking are crucial in shaping human behavior. These processes influence how individuals interpret and respond to their surroundings. For instance, if someone perceives a situation as threatening, they are more likely to exhibit defensive behavior.

Assumption 2: Learning Occurs Through Observational Learning

Observational learning is a fundamental concept in social cognitive theory. It suggests that individuals learn by observing others’ behaviors and the consequences of those actions. Through this process, people acquire new skills, attitudes, and behaviors without having to engage in direct experience themselves.


Ava, a young girl who loves painting, watches her older sister Lily create beautiful artwork. By observing Lily’s techniques and seeing her receive praise for her work from their parents, Ava learns how to paint with finesse. This example illustrates how observational learning contributes to the acquisition of new skills.

Assumption 3: Self-Efficacy Influences Behavior

Self-efficacy, or an individual’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish particular tasks plays a significant role in social cognitive theory. According to Bandura, people with high self-efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals and persevere despite obstacles they may encounter along the way. Conversely, those with low self-efficacy may doubt their abilities and avoid taking on new challenges.

Assumption 4: Behavior is Reciprocally Determined

Social cognitive theory emphasizes that behavior is not solely determined by internal factors (such as personality traits) or external factors (such as the environment). Instead, it proposes a reciprocal relationship between personal factors, environmental influences, and behavior. This means that individuals both shape and are shaped by their surroundings.


James, a college student, wants to improve his public speaking skills. He enrolls in a public speaking course (environmental influence) and practices regularly (personal factor).

As James improves his skills through practice, he gains confidence in his ability to speak in front of an audience. This increased self-efficacy further motivates him to continue practicing and ultimately shapes his behavior.

Assumption 5: Behavior can be Self-Regulated

Social cognitive theory asserts that individuals have the ability to self-regulate their behavior. This means they can monitor their actions, set goals for themselves, and adjust their behavior accordingly. Self-regulation involves processes such as self-monitoring, self-judgment, and self-reaction.

The ability to self-regulate is essential for individuals to adapt their behaviors according to changing circumstances and strive towards personal growth.


Social cognitive theory provides a comprehensive framework for understanding human behavior. By acknowledging the importance of cognitive processes, observational learning, self-efficacy, reciprocal determinism, and self-regulation, this theory offers valuable insights into how individuals learn, develop skills, and interact with their environment. As you delve deeper into social cognitive theory, keep these basic assumptions in mind to enhance your understanding of this influential psychological perspective.