What Is Social Learning Theory Psychology?


Martha Robinson

Social Learning Theory is a psychological concept that emphasizes the importance of observing and imitating others in order to learn and acquire new behaviors. Developed by Albert Bandura in the 1970s, this theory suggests that learning is not solely based on internal cognitive processes, but also on external influences and environmental factors.

What is Social Learning Theory?

Social Learning Theory posits that individuals learn through a process of observation, imitation, and modeling. According to Bandura, people learn by observing others’ behavior, the consequences of those behaviors, and the rewards or punishments associated with them. Through this observational learning process, individuals acquire new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Key Concepts

  • Vicarious Reinforcement:
  • In Social Learning Theory, vicarious reinforcement plays a significant role. It refers to learning through observing the consequences of others’ actions. When individuals observe someone being rewarded for a particular behavior, they are more likely to imitate that behavior themselves.

  • Modeling:
  • Modeling refers to the process of imitating the behavior of others. Individuals are more likely to model the behavior of someone they perceive as credible or powerful.

    This can include parents, teachers, peers, or even influential figures in the media.

  • Self-Efficacy:
  • Self-efficacy is an important concept within Social Learning Theory. It refers to an individual’s belief in their own ability to successfully perform a particular behavior or task. Bandura argued that people are more likely to engage in behaviors they believe they can accomplish successfully.

Applications of Social Learning Theory

Educational Settings

Social Learning Theory has several implications for educational settings. Teachers can use modeling techniques to demonstrate desired behaviors to students. By providing positive role models and showcasing the benefits of certain actions, teachers can encourage students to adopt these behaviors themselves.

Behavioral Changes

Social Learning Theory has also been applied to understand and facilitate behavioral changes. For example, in therapy settings, individuals may learn new coping strategies or problem-solving skills by observing their therapist’s behavior during sessions.

Criticism of Social Learning Theory

While Social Learning Theory has its merits, it is not without criticism. Some argue that it places too much emphasis on external factors and overlooks the importance of internal cognitive processes in learning. Additionally, critics claim that the theory oversimplifies complex human behavior by reducing it to simple observation and imitation.


In conclusion, Social Learning Theory suggests that learning occurs through observation and imitation of others. This theory highlights the importance of external influences and environmental factors in shaping behavior.

By observing the consequences of others’ actions, individuals can acquire new knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors. Social Learning Theory has various applications in educational settings and behavioral changes. However, it is not without criticism regarding its emphasis on external factors and potential oversimplification of human behavior.