What Is Social Cognitive Theory of Behavioural Change?


Vincent White

The Social Cognitive Theory of Behavioral Change is a psychological theory that explains how individuals learn and acquire new behaviors through observation, imitation, and reinforcement. Developed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1980s, this theory emphasizes the role of social interactions and cognitive processes in shaping human behavior.

Key Concepts of Social Cognitive Theory

The Social Cognitive Theory proposes several key concepts that contribute to behavioral change:

  • Observational Learning: People learn by observing others. By witnessing someone perform a behavior and observing the consequences of that behavior, individuals can acquire and imitate new behaviors.
  • Vicarious Reinforcement: Individuals are more likely to adopt a behavior if they see others being rewarded for it.

    Conversely, they are less likely to engage in behaviors if they see others being punished for them.

  • Self-Efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a specific behavior. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to attempt challenging tasks and persist in the face of obstacles.
  • Outcome Expectations: Individuals evaluate the potential outcomes or consequences of a behavior before deciding whether to engage in it. Positive outcome expectations increase the likelihood of adopting a behavior, while negative outcome expectations decrease it.

Application of Social Cognitive Theory

The Social Cognitive Theory has been widely applied across various fields, including education, psychology, healthcare, and social work. Here are some examples:

Educational Settings

In education, teachers can utilize observational learning by providing students with role models who demonstrate desired behaviors. For instance, showing videos of successful problem-solving or encouraging peer tutoring can help students learn new skills through observation and imitation.

Health Behavior Change

The Social Cognitive Theory has been used to promote positive health behaviors, such as quitting smoking or adopting a healthier diet. By showcasing individuals who have successfully made these changes and highlighting the benefits they have experienced, people are more likely to believe in their own ability to change their behavior.

Social Skills Training

Social workers and therapists often utilize the principles of Social Cognitive Theory to develop social skills training programs. These programs focus on teaching individuals how to effectively communicate, interact with others, and solve problems by observing and imitating appropriate behaviors.


The Social Cognitive Theory of Behavioral Change emphasizes the importance of social interactions, observation, and cognitive processes in shaping human behavior. By understanding how individuals learn through observation and imitation, educators, healthcare professionals, and social workers can design effective interventions that promote positive behavioral changes.