What Is the Limitation of Social Learning Theory?


Diego Sanchez

Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, is a widely accepted framework that explains how individuals learn from observing others. It emphasizes the role of social interactions, modeling, and imitation in the learning process.

While this theory has been instrumental in understanding various aspects of human behavior, it also has its limitations. In this article, we will explore some of the key limitations of social learning theory.

Limited Focus on Internal Mental Processes
One major limitation of social learning theory is its limited focus on internal mental processes. This theory primarily focuses on observable behaviors and their outcomes, while paying less attention to cognitive processes such as thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. As a result, it fails to fully explain why individuals may choose to imitate certain behaviors and not others or why they may interpret observed behaviors differently.

Overemphasis on Environmental Determinants
Another limitation is the overemphasis on environmental determinants in shaping behavior. Social learning theory suggests that individuals primarily learn through direct experiences and observations in their environment.

While this is undoubtedly an important factor, it overlooks the influence of innate factors and individual differences in behavior. Biological factors such as genetics and temperament can significantly impact an individual’s behavior but are not adequately addressed by social learning theory.

Underestimation of Individual Agency
Social learning theory tends to underestimate the role of individual agency in shaping behavior. It suggests that individuals are passive recipients who simply observe and imitate behaviors without considering their own thoughts, values, or intentions.

However, humans are active agents who make conscious choices based on their personal beliefs and motivations. This theory fails to fully capture the complexity of human agency and decision-making processes.

Lack of Long-Term Predictive Power
While social learning theory provides valuable insights into how individuals acquire new behaviors through observation and imitation, it may not be as effective in predicting long-term behavioral patterns. This is because observed behaviors do not always translate into sustained changes in behavior. Factors such as individual motivation, reinforcement, and other contextual variables can influence whether observed behaviors are retained and consistently performed over time.


In conclusion, social learning theory offers a valuable framework for understanding how individuals learn through observation and imitation. However, it is important to recognize its limitations.

The theory’s limited focus on internal mental processes, overemphasis on environmental determinants, underestimation of individual agency, and lack of long-term predictive power are some of the key limitations to consider. By acknowledging these limitations, researchers and practitioners can develop a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior that incorporates both social learning theory and other relevant frameworks.