What Are the General Principles of Social Learning Theory?


Diego Sanchez

Social Learning Theory, also known as Observational Learning Theory, is a psychological theory that explains how people acquire new behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions through observing and imitating others. The theory was proposed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s and is widely used in various fields including education, psychology, and criminology. In this article, we will explore the general principles of Social Learning Theory.

The Role of Observational Learning

According to Social Learning Theory, learning occurs through observation and imitation of others. People observe the behavior of others and anticipate the consequences of their actions before deciding whether to imitate them or not. This process is known as observational learning or modeling.


Modeling refers to the process of observing others’ behavior and imitating it. A model can be anyone who serves as an example for others to follow. The model can be a parent, teacher, peer group member, or even a celebrity.

Vicarious Reinforcement

Vicarious reinforcement occurs when individuals observe the consequences of other people’s behavior and adjust their own behavior accordingly. For example, if someone observes that their friend gets praised for helping others, they may be more likely to help others in the future.


Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to perform a certain task successfully. According to Social Learning Theory, self-efficacy is developed through four main sources:

  • Mastery experiences: successful completion of tasks builds confidence.
  • Vicarious experiences: observing similar individuals succeed increases confidence.
  • Social persuasion: being encouraged by others can increase confidence.
  • Physiological factors: reducing stress levels can increase confidence.

Cognitive Processes

Social Learning Theory emphasizes the importance of cognitive processes in learning. These processes include attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation.


Attention is the first step in observational learning. Individuals must pay attention to the model’s behavior and its consequences to learn from it.


Retention refers to the ability to remember what was observed. It involves storing mental images of the modeled behavior for later use.

Motor Reproduction

Motor reproduction involves physically imitating the observed behavior. The individual must have the necessary skills and confidence to perform the behavior.


Motivation is critical for behavioral change. Individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors that are reinforced positively or avoided behaviors that are punished.


Social Learning Theory provides a comprehensive explanation of how people acquire new behaviors through observation and imitation of others. The theory highlights the importance of cognitive processes such as attention, retention, motor reproduction, and motivation in this process. By understanding these principles, educators, parents, and other individuals can promote positive behavioral changes in themselves and others.