What Is the Social Cognitive Theory in Psychology?


Jane Flores

The Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is a psychological perspective that explains how people learn and adopt new behaviors by observing others within their social environment. This theory emphasizes the reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors in shaping human behavior. In this article, we will delve into the core principles of the SCT and how it applies to everyday life.

What is the Social Cognitive Theory?

The Social Cognitive Theory was first introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1960s. The theory suggests that individuals learn new behaviors by observing others’ actions and outcomes. These observations lead to cognitive processes such as attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation that ultimately influence behavior.

According to SCT, three critical factors influence an individual’s learning process: personal factors (e.g., beliefs, attitudes), environmental factors (e., social norms), and behavioral factors (e., skills). These factors interact with each other in complex ways to shape an individual’s behavior.

How Does SCT Apply to Everyday Life?

SCT has several real-world applications across different fields such as education, health promotion, and advertising.

In Education

In education settings, teachers can use SCT principles to promote positive behaviors in students. For instance, teachers can model desirable behaviors such as being respectful towards others or showing empathy towards classmates. Students who observe these behaviors are more likely to adopt them themselves.

Another way teachers can utilize SCT is by providing positive feedback for desired behavior. Positive feedback serves as reinforcement for good behavior and motivates students to continue exhibiting those behaviors.

In Health Promotion

SCT can also be applied in health promotion programs. For example, campaigns aimed at promoting healthy eating habits or exercise routines can incorporate modeling techniques where individuals are shown engaging in these behaviors. Observing others engaging in healthy habits increases an individual’s self-efficacy or belief in their ability to do the same.

In Advertising

SCT principles are also used in advertising to influence consumer behavior. Advertisements that show individuals using a product or service can influence others to adopt those behaviors. For example, a TV commercial that shows people enjoying a particular brand of cereal can motivate others to try the cereal.


In conclusion, the Social Cognitive Theory is an essential psychological perspective that explains how individuals learn new behaviors by observing others. SCT emphasizes the importance of personal, environmental, and behavioral factors in shaping human behavior. Understanding SCT principles can help individuals and organizations promote positive behaviors and influence behavior change.