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Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory and Learning

Social Learning

Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory claims that the acquisition of knowledge is directly related to the observation of others within the context of experiences, social interactions, and other outside influences. Basically, the theory highlights the significance of observational learning, modeling, and imitation. Thus, when people observe the performance and consequences of a certain behavior model, they memorize the events that happen and apply this information to similar events that happen in the future.

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His theory includes a continuous interaction between personal factors, environment, and behaviors, which is called the reciprocal causation model. Observational learning is based on four interrelated processes: attention (paying attention to an action), retention (remembering the action), reproduction (reproducing the action), and motivation (thinking of motivation to reproduce the action) (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1961).

A vivid example of Bandura’s theory is when two people are afraid of spiders, and one of them has decided to overcome this fear and put a spider on the arm. Thus, it becomes much easier for the second individual to repeat the action and overcome this fear too, as it is seen from the example of the first individual that there is nothing to be afraid of.

In their article, Ellis, Brown, Ramsay, and Falk (2016) attempted to determine the influence of cooking classes based on Social Cognitive Theory on young athletes’ self-efficacy for preparing and choosing healthy food. According to the results, the cooking classes turned out to be effective in the increase in the self-efficacy in young athletes for choosing and preparing healthy food (Ellis et al., 2016).

Imitation and Operant Conditioning

Basically, in his social learning theory, Bandura agrees with the learning theories of behaviorists which are focused on operant conditioning and classical conditioning. However, he adds to these theories two significant ideas, namely, he claims that the process of mediation occurs between stimuli and responses and that people learn how to change their behavior from the environment by means of observational learning. In general, operant conditioning is a kind of learning where the strength of a behavior depends on its consequences which include punishment or reward (Lefrancois, 2011).

A vivid example of the concepts of imitation and operant conditioning is a child that learns how to open a box where there is a delicious candy inside (reward) and that learns that touching a hot stove should be avoided, as it can hurt (punishment).

Both Bandura’s social learning theory and Skinner’s operant conditioning theory consider the environment as a significant factor in the development of people’s learning but diverge in the opinion about biology playing an important role in learning. Additionally, as opposed to Skinner, Bandura thinks that people can not only operate in the environment in order to avoid or produce consequences but also learn different behaviors by analyzing indirect consequences that are not produced by their actions in the environment. However, both theories are based on behaviorism (“Skinner’s theory on operant,” 2017).

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In their article, Huang et al. (2014) propose a model of operant conditioning learning which is based on the back-propagation network called OCLMBP. The purpose of the model is to avoid obstacles using a wheeled robot. The robot learns to avoid obstacles by means of learning from its own actions without an external control but using the proximity sensors to determine information as negative or positive reinforcement signals (Huang et al., 2014).

Question: What is the role of operant conditioning learning in the development of artificial intelligence?


Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggressions through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63(1), 575-582.

Ellis, J., Brown, K., Ramsay, S. A., & Falk, J. M. (2016). Social cognitive theory-based cooking program for student-athletes’ healthy food choices and food preparation self-efficacy. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 48(7), 26-39.

Huang J., Ruan X., Li L., Wei R., Fan Q., Wu X. (2014). Operant conditioning learning model based on BP network. In Proceedings of the 33rd Chinese Control Conference (CCC ’14) (pp. 8386–8390). Nanjing, China: IEEE.

Lefrancois, G. R. (2011). Theories of human learning: What the professor said (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Skinner’s theory on operant conditioning. (2017). Web.

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