What Is the Difference Between Strict Behaviorism and the Social Learning Theory?


Jane Flores

What Is the Difference Between Strict Behaviorism and the Social Learning Theory?

When it comes to understanding human behavior, two prominent psychological theories often come into play: strict behaviorism and the social learning theory. While both theories aim to explain how individuals acquire and exhibit certain behaviors, they differ in their fundamental principles and approaches. In this article, we will delve into the key distinctions between these two theories.

Strict Behaviorism


Strict behaviorism, also known as radical behaviorism, is a theory that emphasizes the role of environmental factors in shaping human behavior. It posits that all behaviors are learned through conditioning processes, without considering internal mental states or cognitive processes.

Key Principles:

  • Environmental Determinism: Strict behaviorism believes that external stimuli determine human behavior. It asserts that individuals respond to stimuli based on their past experiences and reinforcement history.
  • Operant Conditioning: According to strict behaviorism, behaviors are acquired through operant conditioning, a process involving reinforcement or punishment.

    Reinforcement strengthens desired behaviors, while punishment weakens undesired behaviors.

  • No Room for Cognition: Strict behaviorists focus solely on observable behaviors and disregard internal mental processes such as thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. They argue that these internal states cannot be measured objectively.

Social Learning Theory


Social learning theory posits that individuals learn not only through direct experiences but also by observing others and modeling their behaviors. This theory emphasizes the importance of both environmental factors and cognitive processes in shaping human behavior.

Key Principles:

  • Observational Learning: Social learning theory highlights the significance of observational learning, where individuals acquire new behaviors by observing others and imitating their actions. This process involves attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
  • Role of Reinforcement: While social learning theory acknowledges the influence of reinforcement on behavior acquisition, it also recognizes that individuals can learn without direct reinforcement.

    Observing others being reinforced or punished for certain behaviors affects an individual’s likelihood of reproducing those behaviors.

  • Cognition and Mediating Processes: Unlike strict behaviorism, social learning theory acknowledges the role of cognitive processes in behavior acquisition. It emphasizes the importance of mental processes such as attention, memory, and problem-solving in learning and behavior change.

Differences between Strict Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

Perspective on Internal States:

Strict behaviorism completely disregards internal mental states such as thoughts and emotions. It considers them irrelevant in explaining human behavior. In contrast, social learning theory recognizes the importance of cognition and how internal mental processes mediate between stimuli and responses.

Approach to Learning:

Strict behaviorism focuses primarily on operant conditioning through reinforcement or punishment to explain how behaviors are acquired. Social learning theory, on the other hand, emphasizes observational learning as a significant mechanism for acquiring new behaviors.

Role of Modeling:

Social learning theory places a strong emphasis on modeling and imitation as ways to learn new behaviors. In strict behaviorism, modeling is not given much importance compared to the emphasis on direct reinforcement or punishment.

In Conclusion

In summary, strict behaviorism and social learning theory differ in their perspectives on internal states, approaches to learning, and the role of modeling. While strict behaviorism focuses solely on environmental factors and observable behaviors, social learning theory acknowledges the significance of cognition, observational learning, and modeling in shaping human behavior.

Understanding these theoretical differences can provide valuable insights into how individuals acquire and exhibit behaviors. By considering both theories’ strengths and limitations, researchers and practitioners can develop a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior.