What Are the Reciprocal Influences in Social Cognitive Theory?


Vincent White

Social Cognitive Theory is a psychological theory that explains how people learn and develop their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs through observation, interaction, and personal experiences. The theory emphasizes the reciprocal influences that exist between an individual’s behavior, environment, and cognitive factors such as thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. In this article, we will explore the reciprocal influences in Social Cognitive Theory in detail.

Reciprocal Determinism

Reciprocal Determinism is a central concept in Social Cognitive Theory. It refers to the continuous interaction between an individual’s behavior, environment, and personal factors.

According to this concept, individuals can change their environment as well as be changed by it. Similarly, individuals can change their behavior as well as be influenced by it.

Example: A student who scores low grades in exams may feel discouraged about studying further (personal factor) and may stop attending classes (behavior), which will result in poor academic performance (environmental factor). This poor performance may further reinforce the student’s negative attitude towards studying.

Behavioral Factors

The behavioral factors in Social Cognitive Theory refer to all observable actions or responses of an individual. These actions can be shaped by environmental factors such as rewards or punishments. Behavioral factors also include self-regulation or self-control techniques used by individuals to modify their behavior.

Example: A child who is rewarded for completing household chores regularly is likely to continue performing those tasks regularly (behavioral factor). On the other hand, if a child is punished for not doing homework on time (behavioral factor), they are more likely to change their behavior.

Vicarious Reinforcement

Vicarious reinforcement is another important concept in Social Cognitive Theory that refers to learning through observing others’ behavior and its consequences. Individuals tend to imitate behaviors that are reinforced positively and avoid behaviors that are punished.

Example: A child who observes their friend being praised for sharing their toys with others is more likely to imitate that behavior (vicarious reinforcement). Similarly, a child who observes their friend being bullied for not sharing their toys may avoid that behavior (vicarious punishment).

Cognitive Factors

Cognitive factors in Social Cognitive Theory refer to an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and expectations. These factors can influence an individual’s behavior and also be influenced by it. Cognitive factors can be modified through self-reflection, self-evaluation, and self-reinforcement.

Example: A person who believes they cannot achieve good grades in exams is less likely to put effort into studying, resulting in poor academic performance (behavioral factor). However, if the same person changes their belief by reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses and sets achievable goals, they are more likely to perform better academically.

Social Comparison

Social comparison is another cognitive factor that refers to an individual’s tendency to compare themselves with others to evaluate their abilities or opinions. Social comparison can have both positive and negative effects on an individual’s behavior.

Example: A student who compares themselves with other students who perform better academically may feel motivated to improve their grades (positive effect). However, if the same student compares themselves with students who perform poorly academically, they may feel discouraged and disheartened (negative effect).


Social Cognitive Theory emphasizes the reciprocal influences between an individual’s behavior, environment, and cognitive factors. It highlights how these factors continuously interact with each other and shape an individual’s actions. Understanding these reciprocal influences can help individuals modify their behavior, thoughts, and beliefs to achieve their goals.