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Using Cognitive Theory in Human Behavior


Cognitive theory is usually a learning theory that tries to explain the human behaviour based n their thought processes. The logic in human helps them to make decisions and choices that are more sensible to their lives. The individual thoughts are the paramount determinant of the emotions and behaviours of human beings. The cognitive behaviours arise on what the individuals perceives to be right and respond by taking the best course in trying to come up with the solution. Cognitive theory asserts that the negative responses occur because of unavoidable triggers such as automatic thoughts and to a smaller extent by mistaken beliefs. Alleviation of the negative responses is through the utilisation of a more positive approach that entails developing an optimistic view of life. Cognitive framing has gained usefulness particularly in the analysis, realisation and development of healthier ways of viewing a situation. One of the cognitive therapies used to avert this automatic thought is the Stop method. In this method, the stopping of the occurrence thoughts is learned. Alleviating measures are also learned, and this helps in replacing them with other positive thoughts. Automatic thought usually occur automatically in response to an occurrence of situation. A combination of cognitive therapy and cognitive-behaviour therapies is important in changing negative automatic behaviour into a more positive and rational response.

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Social cognitive theory emphasizes that human being learn more by watching what others are doing. This premise becomes central to understanding human personality and appreciate others diverse approaches. It is a more environmentally friendly approach in learning what other perceives as the best approach to a situation. Although the individuals choose the moral they want, the people around them mainly influence the decision-making capabilities. In social cognitive theory, learning generally occurs through observing while factors such as interaction with the environment, cognition and behaviour play a big role in determination of the development pattern. George Kelly asserted that individual differences occur largely due to the varying interpretations that emanate from differing opinions of a similar situation by groups or individuals. Kelly likened the individual to the scientists who collects in formation and develops their own hypothesis based on their own conclusions. Kelly’s theory stated, “A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). This was the main idea of the theory, also referred to as Fundamental Postulate. From Kelly ideas, it is evident that the way human being act is directly proportional to their expectation based on the past interpretation of events. From the cognitive theory, George Kelly drew an eleven corollary to help explain the human perception and behaviours. The first corollary was:

The construction corollary

The construction corollary denotes that “A person anticipates events by construing their replications” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). In this corollary, Kelly argued that there lies a high tendency for human beings to construct their anticipation depending on the previous encounters with similar situations. There is a tendency by the human being to anticipate what they believe things should turn out (Restle, 1975, p.35).

The experience corollary

It states, “A person’s construction system varies as he successively construes the replication of events” (Kelly, 1995, p.47). Observation of this corollary occurs when situations do not conform to our expectation. We develop alternatives method of doing the same thing. Based on the results of the event, human being continues with the belief of their theory or adapts and develops another theory. The other corollary is the:

The dichotomy corollary

It states, “A person’s construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs” (Kelly, 1995, p.47). The dichotomy corollary assumes that the storage of information regarding an experience occurs differently and in a unique manner from that of the other experiences.

The organization corollary

It states, “Each person characteristically evolves, for his convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs” (Kelly, 1995, p.47). In this corollary, Kelly asserts that intertwining of the constructs occurs in addition to floating around. This enables human being to use one piece of information to get to another. It shows the interrelation of constructs. If the constructs were not connected, human being would not be able to anticipate on the outcomes of events.

The range corollary

It states, “A construct is convenient for the anticipation of a finite range of events only” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). In this construct, Kelly says that no construct is useful for everything. While some constructs may appear useful to some, it may be meaningless to others. This depends on the diversity of human being and their interest. While male-female in gender construct may be of great importance to human being it loses meaning in smaller organisms. As noted, some constructs are very comprehensive, finding application in almost every field.

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The modulation corollary

It states, “The variation in person’s construction system is limited by the permeability of the constructs within whose range of convenience the variants lay” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). This makes some constructs open to an increase in range, and therefore becomes permeable construct.

The choice corollary

It states, “A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his system” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). In this construct, Kelly denotes that the human being will tend to participate in events that will most likely elaborate their construction system. Individual will therefore interpret the reality in a more improved way thus boosting the benefits from such a venture.

The individual corollary

It states, “A person differs from each other in their construction of events” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). It further denotes that since every individual will have an experience, then varying or differing construction of reality will also be occur. Another form of construct laid down by the Kelly is”:

The commonality corollary

It denotes, “To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to the other person” (Kelly, 1995, p.46). It emphasizes that the observed differences in humans are largely due to variations in perception and behaviours. If we perceived things in the some way we would betrays the same behaviour.

The fragment corollary

It denotes “A person may successively employ a variety of construction subsystems which are inferentially incompatible with each other” (Driscoll, 2005, p.490). The constructs states that we can be inconsistent within ourselves. This may be because of the occurrence of different challenges that require different approaches.

The socially corollary

It states, “To the extent that a person construes the construction processes of another, he may play a role in a social process involving the other person” (Driscoll, 2005, p.490). The construct asserts that although people are different and tend to exhibit different characteristics, some similarities can exist between them. All these constructs tries to explain the nature of human being based on cognitive theory.

Application of cognitive theory

The hallmark of cognitive theory is about how we perceive or think about others and ourselves. The way we respond to challenges with our emotions and behaviour reflects the way we perceive things (Strauss, 1997 p.575).

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Changing one’s negative perception and helping building a positive attitude is paramount in effecting a change to an individual. Cognitive theory has also found its way to the treatment section. Aaron Beck together with Albert Ellis are the founders of the successful and popular Beck Depression Inventory and then its sister, Beck Anxiety Inventory that are widely utilised in the assessment of the individual functioning. The cognitive psychologists see cognitive theory as a solution to many negative attributes of personality. Their argument, because conditions always precede behaviour and emotions, is that changing individual thoughts leads to behaviour change.

Learning theory

Cognitive theory and learning theory are closely related such that it is hard to draw a line between the two. In psychology, learning is defined as the process of assembling cognitive, emotional and environmental influences, in improving or gaining more knowledge. A learning theory explains how human being learns. We have three categories under which learning may fall. These categories include behaviourism, cognitive and constructivism. Having looked at the cognitive we look at the other two.


B.F Skinner developed behaviourism theory. In his finding, which also included work of other researchers, he put across assumption underlying the process of learning. First, B.F skinner assumed that change of behaviour manifests learning. In the second assumption, he attributed environment to have an impact to the education. In the third assumption, he argued that the principles of contiguity and reinforcement are central to explaining the learning process. Behaviourism theory observed learning as acquiring new knowledge generated through conditioning. Conditioning falls into the following categories:

Classical conditioning (Hergenhahn, 2005, p.39): in this case the behavioural; change is characterised with involuntary stimulus. Individual react to certain stimulus automatically. To demonstrate this, Skinner used a dog, which salivated in response to the bell, if there were no food. The other form of conditioning is the operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is when rewards and punishment are used to reinforce behaviour change. Punishable behaviours have lower chances of recurring while the rewarded behaviour has a greater continuity.


Constructivism entails the generation of a new idea based on the available knowledge or experience. According to Jean Piaget, individuals construct new knowledge through interaction and assimilation. According to Drivers et al (1984), “learning is the process by which individuals are introduced to a culture by more skilled members” constructive education helper the learner understand the concept with a greater depth since he is able to look at the challenge at two dimensional states, that is modern perspective and also from experience point of view. Learning can be either a product or a process.

Learning as a product

Although many people perceive that all changes in behaviour results from experience this is not the case (Clark, 1999p.299). It is usually the norm for people to expect the involvement of experiences if indeed learning has taken place. Although conditioning may result in a transformation of behaviour, the transformation may fail to borrow a leaf from experiences in the course of generating new knowledge. Learning helps in understanding the world better. This has resulted in many psychologists putting forward theories trying to make up what is learning, but there has been no standard theory used to define the theory of learning. Saljo (1979) carried out a research where he obtained differing but related views of what the learners perceived the learning. In general, we have five main categories under which responses fall.

  1. Increase in knowledge quantitatively
  2. Learning as storing of reproducible information
  3. Learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods that are retainable and used when necessary
  4. relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to reality
  5. Interpreting and understanding reality in a different way: Learning involves comprehending the world by reinterpreting knowledge. (Rams den 1992:26)

As seen the in the responses 4and 5 falls in the qualitative perspective. The first to third categories generally imply a slightly less sophisticated view of learning. We therefore observe learning as occurring to the learner externally

Learning as a process

According to the categories identified by Saljo, learning is as a process, which has the sole intention of increasing the knowledge to the learner. Learning is therefore behaviour change through experience. (Maples and Walter 1980 quoted in Merian and Caffarella 1991:124) however which approached in the five cases the, tutor should impact the way the learner perceive or approaches the situation and help them have a positive perception. Alan Rogers (2003) draw an approach to help in understanding the learning theory better. He set out two contrasting approaches: task-conscious or acquisition learning and learning-conscious or formalized teaching (Phillips, 2004, p.200). Acquisition learning is a continuous approach that is gained through individual work and research and also through experience from others in the field. The approach as depicted by Rogers is ‘concrete, immediate and confine to a specific activity; it is not concerned with general principles’ (2003, p.123).

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The next approach is the formalized learning. The process of facilitating learning causes this approach. According to Rodgers accumulation of experience is not as important as educative learning since there is consciousness of learning. ‘Learning itself is a task. What formalized learning does is to make learning more conscious in order to enhance it’ (Rogers 2003)


Cognitive theory is an interrelated theory with the theory of learning that tries to explain the individual perception and approaches to learning. The theories explain how and why this change in human behaviour occurs. The research was also imperative in the examination of the Kelly’s Fundamental postulate that entirely relied on the functioning of eleven corollaries. The corollaries were crucial in explaining the perception and the anticipated change in behavioural patterns in human being. Although there is several theories that tries to explain human behaviours, three theories are the most applicable in explain how knowledge is acquired and how it affects behaviour change in the individuals. These are the cognitive construct and behavioural theories

The cognitive theory offers techniques that are designed to reduce the effect of a bad behaviour. One of the techniques used is Stop method. This helps individuals to avert from the bad thought and design another positive thought. Psychologists first administer it by requiring the client to yell it out and later they memorise it. This is what psychologists refer to as cognitive therapies.

Reference list

  1. Clark, A., Alford, A., &Beck, T. (1999).Scientific foundations of cognitive theory and therapy of depression. Newyork: John Wiley and Sons.
  2. Driscoll, M. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. Newyork: Pearson Education Inc.
  3. Hergenhahn, R., & Olson, H. (2005).An introduction to theories of Learning. Newyork: Pearson Prentice Hall
  4. Phillips, D., & Soltis, J. (2004). Perspectives on learning. Newyork: Publisher Teachers College
  5. Quinn, N & Strauss, C. (1997) A cognitive theory of cultural meaning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  6. Restle, F. (1975). Cognitive theory: Cognition Human information processing. Newyork: Routledge

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