What Is Behaviorism Social Learning Theory?


Diego Sanchez

What Is Behaviorism Social Learning Theory?

Behaviorism and social learning theory are two psychological theories that explain how individuals learn and develop certain behaviors. While they have some similarities, there are also key differences between the two.


Behaviorism is a psychological theory developed by B.F. Skinner and John Watson that focuses on observable behaviors and the role of the environment in shaping those behaviors. According to behaviorists, all behavior is learned through conditioning – a process that involves the association between a stimulus and a response.

Key Principles of Behaviorism:

  • Classical Conditioning: This type of conditioning occurs when an individual learns to associate a neutral stimulus with an involuntary response. For example, Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs showed that they could be conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell if it was consistently paired with food.
  • Operant Conditioning: This type of conditioning involves learning through consequences. Behaviors that are reinforced or rewarded are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors that are punished or ignored are less likely to be repeated.
  • Reinforcement: Reinforcement refers to any event or stimulus that strengthens or increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, expands upon behaviorism by emphasizing the role of observational learning and cognitive processes in behavior acquisition. According to this theory, individuals learn not only through direct experience but also by observing others and imitating their actions.

Key Principles of Social Learning Theory:

  • Vicarious Reinforcement: Unlike traditional behaviorism, social learning theory suggests that individuals can learn from the consequences experienced by others. This means that observing someone else being rewarded or punished for a behavior can influence whether we choose to imitate that behavior or not.
  • Modeling: Modeling is the process of observing and imitating the behavior of others.

    Bandura argued that individuals are more likely to imitate behaviors they see being performed by someone they perceive as similar to themselves or as having high status.

  • Cognitive Factors: Social learning theory highlights the importance of cognitive processes in learning and behavior change. Individuals actively process and interpret information, make decisions based on their understanding, and regulate their own behavior accordingly.

Differences between Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

While both behaviorism and social learning theory focus on how individuals acquire behaviors, there are some key differences between the two theories. Behaviorism places more emphasis on external factors such as rewards and punishments, while social learning theory recognizes the importance of cognitive processes and observational learning.

In behaviorism, behavior change is primarily driven by conditioning and reinforcement, whereas social learning theory acknowledges that individuals can learn from observing others without direct personal experience.

Additionally, social learning theory suggests that individuals have agency in their own learning process and can actively choose which behaviors to imitate based on their observations and cognitive evaluations.

In conclusion,

Behaviorism and social learning theory are both valuable frameworks for understanding how individuals learn and develop behaviors. While behaviorism focuses more on external factors like conditioning, reinforcement, and punishment, social learning theory adds a cognitive dimension by highlighting the role of observation, imitation, vicarious reinforcement, modeling, and individual decision-making.

By combining elements from both theories, researchers have gained a more comprehensive understanding of human learning and behavior acquisition.