Social Cognitive Theory: Meaning & Significance in Social Context

The principle states that knowledge is gained through observing a chain of events, including a model's demonstration of a habit and its subsequent consequences. For some people, observing a model accomplish a skill is enough of a cue to motivate them to try it out on their own. To paraphrase, the survival of the human species depends less on people learning new behaviors through trial and error and more on their capacity to imitate the actions of others. Whether or not the seen action was rewarded or punished can influence whether the observer adopts the modelled behavior. Many people, in a wide variety of settings, may identify with characters depicted in the media.

What does Social Cognitive Theory Define?

Learning takes place in a social setting where the learner, his or her surroundings, and the teacher's or tutor's actions interact in a dynamic and mutually informative way. SCT's distinguishing feature is its weight to positive external and interior social reinforcement. Individual differences in learning and memory, as well as the context in which behaviors are carried out, are considered in SCT. The hypothesis considers past experiences as a factor in determining future behavior. A person's reinforcement, anticipation, and expectation histories influence the likelihood of engaging in a certain activity and the factors that motivate that behavior


Many behaviors change theories adopted in health promotion focus on getting people to start doing something rather than keeping them doing it. Unfortunately, the goal for public health is not simply the commencement of behavior but its maintenance as well. The purpose of SCT is to explain how people use regulation and reinforcement to acquire and sustain behaviors beneficial to their goals.

Reciprocal Determinism

: It is this central principle that drives SCT. A person's "environment" is the larger social setting in which they find themselves, whereas a "person" is an isolated entity with their personal history and perspective (responses to stimuli to achieve goals).

Behavioral Capability

It describes a person's capacity to carry out behavior using necessary knowledge and abilities. A person must know what to undertake and how to accomplish it to complete an activity. A person's actions have repercussions, and these effects can be observed in the world around them.

Observational Learning

It is a claim that humans can learn to replicate the activities of others just by watching them. Behavior "modelling" is a common manifestation of this. A person's ability to do an action is greatly enhanced if they see that same behavior performed effectively by another.


What this means is that the chance of continuing or ceasing a behavior is affected by the person's internal and external reactions to the conduct. Both positive and negative reinforcement can come from within or outside the learner. This SCT concept is especially relevant for understanding the two-way causality between behavior and its surrounding context.


That which follows from a course of action is what this term describes. Health-related or non-health-related outcomes can be expected. Before acting, people often mentally play out possible outcomes, and this mental rehearsal can significantly impact whether the action is carried out as planned. Past experiences are the primary source of expectations. Expectations, like knowledge, are based on experience, but they are different because they depend on the outcome and are subjective


A belief in one's competence to accomplish anything. While other theories—like the Theory of Planned Behavior—have since adopted the idea of self-efficacy, it was initially proposed in SCT. Both internal (one's skills and qualities) and external (one's surroundings) elements can have an impact on one's sense of self-efficacy (barriers and facilitators).


As per the social cognitive theory, there is a significant gap between moral competence and engagement. To be morally competent is to be capable of acting morally, while to behave morally is to act following one's moral standards in each circumstance. Moral competence knowing right from wrong results from developing cognitive-sensory processes. Morality is affected by rewards and incentives. A person's morality may change if stealing is rewarded with much money. Since the social cognitive theory is centered on this, and since murder, theft, and unnecessary violence are banned in most societies, there is little opportunity for alternative moral beliefs. The social cognitive theory applies to all nations as it does not define morality or immorality. Real-life decisions are based solely on morality and reward.


It includes

  • The notion presumes that a person's behavior will mirror their environment, even though this may only sometimes be true.

  • Instead, the idea has no rigid framework and focuses on the complex interplay among an individual's traits, actions, and surrounding conditions. It is still being determined how much influence these factors have on people's actions or which is more important.

  • Even though biological and hormonal predispositions may impact behaviors regardless of prior experience and expectations, the theory places a heavy emphasis on the processes of learning.

  • Emotion and motive are not central to the idea, except as they relate to the past. These considerations receive inadequate focus.

  • The scope of the idea can make it hard to put into practice in its totality


The Social Cognitive Theory considers many facets of the social ecology model in investigating how people can change their behaviors. In health promotion, SCT has become increasingly applicable because it focuses equal attention on the individual and the surrounding environment. This is particularly relevant considering that the latter has recently been a focus for health promotion activities. When developing specific public health solutions, it may require more work to apply all the components of the SCT to a single public health issue, as is the case with other theories.