Social Learning Theory of Moral Development

The Social Learning Theory of Moral Development is a theory that seeks to explain how individuals learn moral behaviors from their environment. This theory proposes that moral behavior is learned through observation, imitation, and reinforcement from the social environment. It suggests that individuals learn moral values and behaviors by interacting with others in their surroundings and observing their actions and reactions.


The Social Learning Theory of Moral Development was first introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977. According to Bandura, individuals learn by observing others’ behaviors, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors.

He proposed that people acquire new behaviors through two major processes: observational learning (modeling) and reinforcement. Observational learning involves watching others’ behaviors and outcomes, while reinforcement is the consequence of a behavior that increases or decreases the likelihood of it happening again in the future.

Key Components

The Social Learning Theory of Moral Development has three key components:

Observational Learning

In observational learning, individuals learn by watching others’ behavior. This process involves four steps: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. First, an individual must pay attention to the model’s behavior to learn from it.

Second, the individual must retain the information in memory for later use. Third, they must be able to reproduce the behavior when necessary. And fourth, they must have motivation to perform the behavior.


Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to perform a certain behavior. This belief is developed through observing others’ experiences and outcomes.

If someone sees another person successfully performing a behavior, they are more likely to believe they can do it too. Conversely, if someone observes others failing at a behavior, they may have less confidence in their ability to succeed.

Moral Disengagement

Moral disengagement occurs when individuals disengage from moral standards after observing others violate them without consequences. For example, if someone observes their boss lying to a customer and not facing any consequences for it, they may be more likely to engage in similar behavior because they see that it is acceptable within their environment.


The Social Learning Theory of Moral Development has important implications for education and parenting. It suggests that individuals learn by observing the behaviors of those around them, so parents and educators should model positive moral behaviors for children to learn from. Additionally, reinforcing positive moral behaviors can increase the likelihood that these behaviors will be repeated in the future.

In conclusion, the Social Learning Theory of Moral Development proposes that individuals learn moral values and behaviors by observing others’ actions and reactions. This theory emphasizes the importance of modeling positive moral behaviors and reinforcing them through positive consequences.