What Is Meant by Social Learning in Psychology?


Diego Sanchez

Social learning theory is a concept in psychology that explains how people learn new behaviors, attitudes, and values by observing and imitating others. This theory emphasizes the importance of social interactions in shaping human behavior. In this article, we will explore what is meant by social learning in psychology and how it works.

What is Social Learning Theory?

Social learning theory was developed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s. According to this theory, people learn new behaviors through four processes: observation, imitation, modeling, and reinforcement. Bandura believed that individuals acquire new information and skills primarily by observing others’ actions and consequences.


Observation is the first step in the social learning process. Individuals watch others’ behavior and pay attention to their actions. They may observe different aspects of their behavior such as body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, or other nonverbal cues.


Imitation involves copying the observed behavior of another person. Individuals may imitate the behavior they observe if they think it will lead to positive outcomes such as rewards or approval from others.


Modeling is a more complex aspect of social learning theory that involves identifying with a role model who exhibits certain desirable behaviors or traits. The individual then tries to emulate those behaviors or traits themselves.


Reinforcement plays an important role in social learning theory by increasing the likelihood that individuals will repeat observed behaviors. Positive reinforcement refers to rewarding a behavior when it occurs, while negative reinforcement involves removing something unpleasant when a desired behavior occurs.

Examples of Social Learning Theory

There are many examples of social learning theory that help explain how this process works in real life situations. For instance:

  • A child may learn to swear after hearing an adult use bad language
  • A teenager may start smoking after observing peers smoking
  • An employee may adopt a new work technique after watching a coworker succeed with it

Critiques of Social Learning Theory

While social learning theory has been widely accepted in psychology, there are some critiques of this theory. One criticism is that it oversimplifies the complex nature of human behavior by focusing solely on external factors such as reinforcement and modeling. Critics argue that internal factors such as motivation, emotions, and cognition also play a significant role in shaping human behavior.


In conclusion, social learning theory is an essential concept in psychology that explains how people learn new behaviors by observing and imitating others. While there are some criticisms of the theory, it remains a fundamental concept that has contributed significantly to our understanding of human behavior.