Albert Bandura’s theory of social learning emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. Bandura claimed around 1977 that learning would be extremely laborious, not to say dangerous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions. Fortunately, most human behaviors are learned through observation through the environment, that is, from the observation of others and the behaviors of others. Thanks to this, we form an idea of how behaviors are carried out and it even serves as a guide for action.


A general vision

Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of the continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences. The component processes underlying observational learning are:

  • Attention , including modeled events (distinctiveness, complexity, prevalence, functional value) and observer characteristics (sensory abilities, level of alertness, perceptual set, past reinforcement).
  • Retention , including symbolic coding, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal.
  • Motor reproduction , including physical abilities, self-observation of reproduction, and feedback precision.
  • Motivation , including external, indirect, and vicarious reinforcement.




As it includes attention, memory and motivation, Bandura’s theory of social learning encompasses cognitive and behavioral frameworks and improves the strictly behavioral interpretation of earlier models, such as the one developed by Miller & Dollard in 1941. Furthermore, the Bandura’s work is related to the theories of Vygotsky and Lave , who also emphasized the central role of social learning.



Scope and application of Bandura’s theory

Social learning theory has been widely applied to the understanding of aggression and psychological disorders , particularly in the context of behavior modification. It is also the theoretical basis for the behavior modeling technique that is widely used in training programs. In recent years, Bandura has focused his work on the concept of self-efficacy in a variety of contexts.

The most common and pervasive examples of social learning situations are television advertisements. Advertising suggests that drinking a certain drink or using a particular hair shampoo will make us popular and win the admiration of interesting and attractive people. Depending on the processes of the components involved (such as attention or motivation), we can model the behavior shown in the ad and buy the product that is being advertised.



General principles of Bandura’s theory

  • The highest level of observational learning is achieved by symbolically organizing and rehearsing modeled behavior , that is, learning that has been achieved through the observation of a model. Coding the behavior modeled in words, tags or images, according to Bandura, is better than simply observing.
  • Individuals are more likely to adopt modeled behavior if they find a role model worth imitating and learning from for the person’s necessary socialization process .
  • Individuals are more likely to adopt modeled behavior if the model is observer-like, has a state of admiration, and the behavior has functional value.

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