Saturday, March 23, 2013

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) explains reciprocal determinism, or how individuals interact with their environments and the influence each exerts on the other (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2008). The main concepts of SCT that influence interactions are psychological determinants, observational learning, environmental determinants, self-regulation, and moral disengagement (Glanz et al., 2008).

Psychological and Environmental Determinants

Applying the concept of psychological determinants, Emily's environment perceived her as an aggressor, which caused her to be labeled as a bully. Cognitive constructions and social learning by teachers and other students upheld the mistaken belief that Emily was a bully (Miller, 2008). Because everyone in her school environment perceived her in an aggressive role, no matter what she did, the environment placed her in a position she seemed unable to change. A basic premise of social cognitive theory is that people's values and expectations are subjective and people do not behave according to reality, but their subjective perception of it. In effect, people respond to what they think, not to what is necessarily so.

Observational Learning

Emily was unable to change her perceived behavior because of the influence of social perception(Orbell et al., 2009). The concept of social learning plays a role in this situation because some of the students treated her as a bully and through observational learning, other students as well as the teachers learned to see Emily as a bully. The environment continued to inflict her role upon her and she continued to find herself in situations that reinforced her role as a bully, and the perception of her as a bully became pervasive in her environment. Utilizing social cognitive theory, the goal would be to help others change their perception of Emily. Glanz et al., (2008) explained that outcome expectations contribute to ongoing behavior.

According to Orbell et al. (2009), expectations are antecedent to behavior, and changing expectations will ultimately change behavior. In this case, changing the environmental (student body and teachers) expectations of Emily would change the perception of her behavior. As social cognition changes, entire environments change as well, and modifying beliefs about an environment can provoke change in the environment (Orbell et al., 2009).

According to the concept of collective efficacy and observational learning, if the teacher's begin to perceive and treat Emily fairly and expect her to behave differently, others will begin to perceive her differently (Glanz et al., 2008). In this case, changing one aspect of the reciprocal relationship will discontinue the cycle of reciprocity. Glanz et al., (2008) refers to this concept as changing environmental determinants of behavior.

Moral Disengagement and Self-Regulation

To correct moral disengagement, the school environment would benefit from a campaign that created awareness of the harmful effects of bullying and the deep personal pain associated with being ostracized. If the students understand the personal toll of bullying, they may change their behavior.

The student's behavior may also change as they learn (or are taught) how to conduct themselves, such as refraining from behaviors that will knowingly provoke negative outcomes.

Finally, it may be important to note dramatic pubertal changes in the brain (Burnett & Blakemore, 2009; Roaten & Roaten, 2012; Steinberg, 2011). Social intelligence lacks development compared to adults' norms and expectations for socialization. Likely there are proven methods of contending with social problems in adolescent groups. Perhaps the bigger challenge is changing the perceptions of the teachers and other involved adults.


Burnett, S., & Blakemore, S. J. (2009). The development of adolescent social cognition. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1167, 51–56.
Retrieved from the Walden Library using the Academic Search Complete database.

Glanz, K., Rimer, B. K., & Viswanath, K. (Eds.). (2008). Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2011). Changing health behavior: Theory and practice, Baltimore, MD: Author.

Miller, T. W. (Ed.). (2008). School violence and primary prevention (5th ed.). New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-77119-9

Orbell, S., Lidierth, P., Henderson, C. J., Geeraert, N., Uller, C., Uskul, A. K., & Kyriakaki, M. (2009). Social-cognitive beliefs, alcohol, and tobacco use: A prospective community study of change following a ban on smoking in public places. Health Psychology, 28(6), 753–761.

Roaten, G. K., & Roaten, D. J. (2012). Adolescent Brain Development: Current Research and the Impact on Secondary School Counseling Programs. Journal Of School Counseling, 10(18).

Steinberg, L. (2011). Demystifying the adolescent brain. Educational Leadership, 68(7), 42-46.

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