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Difference Between Social Cognitive Theory and Behaviorism

Social cognitive theory and behaviorism are two perspectives in psychology that are considered learning theories because they focus on acquired behavior. Both of these perspectives try to explain how a behavior is first acquired, then strengthened or weakened over time. These two perspectives developed fairly recently in the psychological field, with behaviorism emerging early in the twentieth century as a reaction to depth psychology while social cognitive theory was formally proposed in the 1970’s and was in turn a reaction to traditional behaviorism. Many concepts are similar within these two perspectives and the application of these concepts and their contributions to human knowledge and improvement of society are equally important.

Although the same in subject matter, the two are very different in approach and philosophy. The experimentation that each of these two perspectives took are also different, and today has various applications in real life. More about the social cognitive theory and behaviorism, and their differences are discussed in the following sections.

 

What is Social Cognitive Theory?

Social cognitive theory was proposed by Albert Bandura through his 1986 book Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, and is the culmination of his work on social learning theory, differentiating it by giving more emphasis on cognitive factors than do other social learning theorists or behaviorists. Although Bandura is himself considered a behaviorist, he departs from traditional behaviorist perspectives on how new behaviors are acquired. His theory states that humans acquire new behaviors through the process of observational learning. The probability of these behaviors being repeated is dependent on a combination of cognitive and environmental factors. In addition, Bandura also conceptualizes humans as having agency and capability and he introduced the concept of self-efficacy which is the personal belief in one’s own ability to plan and act according to the situation. Thus, learning takes place within a mechanism called a triadic reciprocal determinism, where personal factors, the behavior and the environment all affect each other.

Bandura demonstrated observational learning in his famous Bobo Doll experiments where he showed that most children are likely to repeat the behavior they observe from a model with or without motivation. The likelihood of them copying the behavior increases when they also observe a reward given to the model for the behavior. The behavior of course persists if the children themselves are given rewards for their behavior.

Although social cognitive theory is a little different today from when Bandura first formulated it, its concepts are readily observable in how children are socialized by modeling the behavior of their parents, teachers and peers. Bandura himself emphasized the power of the media through modeling, where adults copy the behavior of people they see in media that they deem worthy of emulating for one reason or another. He especially expressed concern over the aggression and violence that children see in the media, a topic that is still, or even more, relevant today.

 

What is Behaviorism?

Behaviorism is both a psychological approach and a learning perspective which states that behavior is learned through a process of conditioning, where the environment continuously acts on a behavior, and either strengthens or weakens it. Although behaviorism is evident in psychological works even in the late 19th century and although many theorists have contributed to this body knowledge, it only became a dominant force in psychology with the publication of John Watson’s 1913 article Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It, and through the works of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. Watson himself is considered in America as the father of behaviorism and has contributed significant work even though his methodologies have been controversial.

As a psychological perspective, behaviorism avoids concepts that are not directly observable such as mental processes and unconscious motivations, focusing instead on behavior that can be controlled and measured. As behaviorists put it, this is mainly so that psychology can progress as a natural science. As a learning theory, behaviorism emphasizes that all behavior is a function of stimulus and response and is learned through classical or operant conditioning. Classical conditioning, also called Pavlovian or respondent conditioning, states that an animal or a human learns to associate two previously unrelated stimuli with each other. it has been adequately demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov in his animal experiments on dogs and by John Watson in his controversial ‘Little Albert’ experiment. Operant conditioning, also called Skinnerian conditioning, states that humans and animals learn a behavior by associating it with a response from the environment, Behavior is further strengthened or weakened by schedules of either reward or punishment. Skinner demonstrated operant conditioning through his animal experiments on rats and pigeons.

Although inadequate in explaining why humans behave in certain ways, behavioral concepts are widely applied in clinical settings, most notably in the treatment of mental disorders such as various phobias, depression, and others. It is arguably more effective than psychoanalytic, cognitive, and humanistic approaches.

 

Difference between Social Cognitive Theory and Behaviorism

Definition

Social cognitive theory is a learning theory which states that humans acquire new behavior by observing others and that learning occurs through the interaction between personal or cognitive factors, the behavior and the environment. Behaviorism is a psychological approach and a learning theory which states that behavior is a function of stimulus and response and learning occurs through classical or operant conditioning.

Proponent/s

Social cognitive theory was proposed by Albert Bandura while behaviorism is collection of works although most notable behaviorists are John Watson, Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.

Core concepts

Social cognitive theory emphasizes observational learning, self-efficacy and the triadic reciprocal determinism. Behaviorism emphasizes stimulus-response behaviors and classical and operant conditioning

Perspective on learning

Social cognitive theory states that learning occurs through the interaction between personal, behavioral and environmental factors. Behaviorism states that learning occurs through environmental (conditioning) factors only.

Applications

Social cognitive theory is evident in media modeling, where people model the behavior of influential people they see in the media. Children are especially susceptible to modeling not just from the media but also from their parents, teachers and peers. Behaviorism is widely used in clinical settings in the treatment of various mental illnesses such as phobias and depression.

Landmark publications

Social cognitive theory was formally proposed by Albert Bandura through his 1986 book Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory while behaviorism became a psychological force in America through John Watson’s 1913 article Psychology as the behaviorist views it.

Famous experiments

Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll experiments were instrumental in developing his social cognitive theory. John Watson’s ‘Little Albert’ experiment and Pavlov’s experiments on dogs and Skinner’s experiments on rats and pigeons contributed much to behaviorism.

Social Cognitive Theory vs Behaviorism

 

Summary

  • Social cognitive theory and behaviorism are two psychological perspectives that focus on observable behavior and try to explain how humans acquire and learn behavior. Both perspectives are fairly recent in the psychological literature emerging and developing only in the last century.
  • Social cognitive theory was proposed by Albert Bandura and states that humans acquire new behaviors through observation and that learning happens through the interaction of personal, behavioral and environmental factors.
  • Behaviorism was influenced greatly by the works of John Watson, Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner. Behaviorism as a whole is a psychological approach that aims to develop psychology into a natural science by focusing only on behavior that can be directly observed, measured and controlled. As a learning theory, behaviorism holds that all behavior is a function of stimulus-response and that learning occurs through environmental factors called conditioning.

gene balinggan

Gene Balinggan is a Registered Psychologist, licensed professional teacher, and a freelance academic and creative writer. She has been teaching social science courses both in the undergrad and graduate levels. Some of the major subjects which she is handling are Theories of Personality, Experimental Psychology, Historical Foundations of Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.She co-authored a manual in General Psychology and a textbook, “Understanding the Self”. She is also currently the Psychology-Behavioral Science Society adviser in their university. Gene has also been a research adviser and panel member in a number of psychology and special education paper presentations. Her certifications include TESOL (Tampa, Florida), Psychiatric Ward Practicum Certification (Baguio General Hospital), Outcome-Based Education, and Marker of Diploma Courses (Community Training Australia). She finished her BS Psychology at Saint Louis University and her MAT Special Education and MA Psychology at the University of the Cordilleras.

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References :


[0]Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_psychology#/media/File:Positive_Example_of_Mutual_Constitution_in_Society.png

[1]Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cognitive-Affective.jpg

[2]Cherry, Kendra. "How Social Learning Theory Works." VeryWellMind. December 1, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/social-learning-theory-2795074 (accessed December 30, 2019).

[3]Lim, Alane. "What Is Behaviorism in Psychology?" ThoughtCo. September 20, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/behaviorism-in-psychology-4171770 (accessed December 30, 2019).

[4]McLeod, Saul A. "Behaviorist Approach." SimplyPsychology. Febrruary 5, 2017. https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html (accessed December 30, 2019).

[5]Vinney, Cynthia. "Social Cognitive Theory: How We Learn From the Behavior of Others." ThoughtCo. January 20, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/social-cognitive-theory-4174567 (accessed December 30, 2019).

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