What Is the Social Learning Theory Psychology?


Vincent White

The social learning theory in psychology is a concept that explains how individuals acquire new behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions through observation and imitation of others. This theory suggests that learning occurs in a social context and that individuals learn from their interactions with others in their environment.

Key Concepts of the Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory, developed by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s, builds upon the principles of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. It emphasizes that learning is not limited to direct reinforcement or punishment but also occurs through observation and modeling.

Observational Learning

Observational learning, also known as vicarious learning or modeling, is a fundamental aspect of the social learning theory. It involves observing the behavior of others and its consequences, which influences an individual’s own behavior.

For example, imagine a child watching their parent fix a broken toy. The child may observe how their parent uses certain tools and techniques to repair it. This observation enables the child to learn how to fix similar objects in the future.

Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons play a crucial role in observational learning. These specialized neurons fire both when an individual performs an action and when they observe someone else performing the same action. Mirror neurons enable individuals to imitate observed actions accurately.

Imitation and Modeling

Imitation refers to replicating observed behaviors, actions, or expressions performed by others. When individuals imitate someone else’s behavior, they are more likely to adopt similar attitudes and responses.

Modeling, on the other hand, involves demonstrating specific behaviors for others to observe and imitate. Models can be real people or characters portrayed in media, such as television, movies, or books.

Applications of the Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory has significant implications in various areas of psychology and education. Here are a few examples:

Educational Settings

In educational settings, teachers can utilize the principles of the social learning theory to enhance students’ learning experiences. By providing positive role models and encouraging peer collaboration, students can observe and imitate desirable behaviors and academic skills.

Behavior Change

The social learning theory is also useful in promoting behavior change. By observing others who have successfully modified their behaviors, individuals can learn new ways to overcome challenges and adopt healthier habits.

Aggression and Violence

The social learning theory has been applied to understand aggressive behavior and violence in individuals. It suggests that exposure to aggressive models, such as through media violence or abusive family environments, may increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior.


In summary, the social learning theory is a valuable framework for understanding how individuals acquire new behaviors through observation, imitation, and modeling. By recognizing the influential role of our environment and the behavior of others, we can better comprehend how we learn from those around us.