Posted: March 23rd, 2023

Social Cognitive Theory


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Social cognitive theory suggests an important theory in development as it highlights the process of acquiring knowledge (through social learning) from one’s environment. Development is achieved, from when one is born, through the ability to observe and learn from the environment. The social learning process explains the process by which the learning occurs, which is by observing experiences, social contexts, social interactions, and external media influence. Information processing is an important part of the process, being the ability of the mind to process the information obtained from the environment to make useful knowledge applicable to decision making. In whatever process being considered, learning occurs due to cognitive capability and with the help of the features of cognition, including attention, perception, memory, language, learning, higher reasoning and decision-making.


Social Cognitive Theory

Social cognitive theory has different applications in education, psychology, and communication. The theory suggests that some parts of knowledge acquired by an individual are associated with observing other people in the experiences, contexts, social interaction, and external media influence. Therefore, this simply means that individuals do not acquire new behaviors only by trying them and failing or succeeding, but instead, human survival depends on the replication of other people’s actions learned through observation (Cheung & Delavega, 2014). The conduct may be modeled based on whether the individual is punished or rewarded for the behaving in a certain way and the consequences of acting in that manner. Additionally, the media offer models for different individuals in varied environmental settings. The theory explains how individuals get and uphold some patterns of behavior (learning), while also giving the foundation for interventions. The explanation of human behavior is in terms of a trade, dynamic, and the reciprocal model where there is the interaction of conduct, environmental influences, and personal factors.

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The Social Learning Process

Learning is a natural systematic process performed by all humans and animals so they can develop and improve. People generally learn by classical means or through their observations. However, before an individual applies his learning methodology, he has to go through a process known as the cognitive process (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 2015). The process that was defined by Carl Jung as having eight categories. Jung looked at two types of perception, sensation, and intuition. The sensing process is the capability of the nerve together with the brain to receive and respond to stimuli. Hence, this sense notifies the owner regarding tangible information. On the other hand, intuition is a process of becoming aware of the conceptual information. Both can take place either in the inner world or in the outer world, introverted or extroverted.

The learning practice is a theory applied to learning that is founded on the idea that individuals acquire through observing what others do. The processes are very important to the understanding of a personality. Although social cognitists have the same opinion that there is a reasonable level of influence on development that emanates from behavior that is observed and learned from the environment, they argue that the individual is also as significant in the determination of moral development (Kirschner et al., 2015). Individuals learn through observation of what others are doing, while development is determined by the environment, behavior, and cognition. The factors are not still or autonomous elements, they are all reciprocal. For instance, all behaviors that are witnessed by an individual can change his/her cognition or thought processes. In the same way, the environment in which an individual is raised can have effects on the person’s future behavior.

Among humans, the capability to learn from others (commonly known as “social learning”) enhances cognition, social, emotional, and personality development. Theoretical models have suggested that involvement in the social world has major developmental implications as individuals are always observing what is going on therein and learning from it. The social context within which an individual is embedded has an important role of providing the symbols of representation as well as linguistic expression. The environment within which an individual is born provides the basis for socialization (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 2015). For instance, in babies, face perception develops by the age of two months. During childhood, at the swimming pool or playground, children develop social cognition through exposure to various phases as well as through associating their experiences to the phases.

As one continues to grow in the social environment, various other activities and experiences provide the basis for learning and development. Education plays a very important role in development. In fact, through education, development in all areas (social, emotional, and cognitive) is possible (Cheung & Delavega, 2014). In regards to the environment, choices made lead to action and eventually to experience. A good example of an emergent behavior is language acquisition. The social environment can affect humans either positively or negatively. An optimistic environment has positive effects on an individual, while a negative environment has adverse effects. For example, positive relationships have a constructive effect on the development of any person. On the other hand, negative relationships, such as those between children and neglectful or indifferent parents will have a destructive effect on the development of the former (Neisser, 2014). Thus, this generally means that the kind of environment and experiences one is exposed to can have either positive or negative consequences as people are social creatures residing in a social environment.

In the real world, extroverted sensing capability held an individual to experience the stimulus or the direct environment, acts in the physical environment, recognizes changes, and opportunities for action builds up experiences, examines visible responses as well as pertinent data, and identifies “what is.” Extroverted sensing also identifies the availability, tests various items, and finds out how they look or feel (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 2015). Extroverted sensing focuses on the direct or immediate, sensory opportunities, and alternatives or action. Sensing can be defined as getting information by way of intuiting. Therefore, this is also an irrational feeling that it relates to perception instead of intervening judging of information. Once a person senses an odd intuition in his environment, the initial action taken is captivating the sense to the part of the brain where things are recognized.

Information Processing

Given the fact that the second and the third information are applicable only in the processing of the context, these two types of data are of the episodic type. From this point of view, it is possible to conclude that pragmatic contexts tend to be structured. More particularly, it is right to assume that speedy cognitive processing necessitates hierarchically structured contexts. Additionally, this is the same as for semantic or microstructures of discourse. The hierarchy in question is described in terms of social structure. As such, utterances are integrated part of social communication (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 2015). Hence, this means that they cannot take place when a person is alone. The society is also hierarchically structured. Thus, the individuals in the higher level dictate the possibility for people to determine the kinds of units and relationships. For the purpose of determining if an utterance is suitable, it is necessary to comprehend the social settings in general. It is in the social setting that the communication occurs. It is also possible to understand the most particular details of the social setting. On the other hand, it is impossible to perceive a communication or object without putting it in its right social context.

Strategies, as well as schemata, are the fundamental factors in the ordinary process of theoretical understanding of the incoming information. Indeed, this is crucial in cognitive psychology given the fact that it lacks concepts and rules but use strategies and schemata. In this case it refers to the devices that enhance practical information processing (van der Post, Franz, & Laland, 2016). Provided with a particular textual and contextual structure, the strategies and schemata provide the basis for fast presumptions about the possible meaning and intent. Indeed, this is despite the possibility that the rules might later reject the hypothesis. An example of the cognitive processes, strategies, and schemata is founded on the characteristic construction of the sentence. In case an interrogative construction is provided, it is possible to conclude that for the time being that a request is made or a question is asked (Scholz, Dewulf, & Pahl-Wostl, 2014). Hence, this is the same case when it comes to the context. For example, if a total stranger is approaching someone on the street, the person will be completely sure that the stranger will either make a request or ask a question. It is expected that the stranger will not make a declaration of his love life or make a threat.

Pragmatic Understanding in Information Processing

Pragmatic understanding schemata involve the original context of the verbal communication and the transformation by the utterance. The kind of original context is not characteristic of the events or actions coming immediately before the utterance, but potentially also by stored knowledge from the past states and events (Scholz, Dewulf, & Pahl-Wostl, 2014). Given the fact that it is not possible to store and retrieve complete details from past states and events, lasting processes of relevance assignment are taking part in deciding what incoming information will be stored for future retrieval. It is possible to assume that the processes that are involved, in this case, are the same as those founded macro-rules in semantic understanding methods of complicated information. Thus, this means that the original context within which incoming information is to be understood has three types of information. The first one is the general semantic information, which is made up of the memory and frames. The second type of information is the final state information from acts and events that come before immediately. The last type of information is universal (macro) information on the complete past communication structures and processes.

It is evident that in pragmatic understanding, it is not only possible to institute a context out of a situation but also establish schemata for analyzing the contexts. Therefore, it means that where the context apparently fulfills a set of key characteristics that are in some particular order, it will be considered as being distinguished by a particular set of potential speech actions. It is evident that the evaluation of contexts is important though not enough condition for the practical understanding of uttered speech (Scholz, Dewulf, & Pahl-Wostl, 2014). Hence, it indicates that a user of a language will only have a specific ‘set’ geared towards the potential utterances, which may come. The exact assigning of a speech act occurs after an understanding of the communication and following the connecting of the practically pertinent information from the speech act with the information emanating from the analysis of the context. From this point of view, practical understanding matches the comparative process of semantic understanding, where past discourse and understanding of semantic context is essential in interpreting sentences. Together with the idea of presupposition, it is possible to bring in the idea of pragmatic precondition, which is described as being a fundamental contextual property.

The social structure, as psychologically represented, should be taken into account in the analysis of the pragmatic understanding processes. The significant practical associate with this presumption is, as a matter of fact, the interpretational or construction by the associates of that particular situation that applies to real interaction. In fact, this type of cognitive relativism does not necessarily mean that those understandings have no objective foundation. On the opposite, effective communication necessitates that the understanding of the social setting is conventionalized. It is worth noting that the social context is another abstracted contrast as far as the real social setting is concerned (Scholz, Dewulf, & Pahl-Wostl, 2014). To begin with, all the aspects are irrelevant socially; however, this does not put conditions on the communication of the associates of the social setting. For instance, what a person is thinking of his or her thoughts cannot be revealed in his behavior. What one is thinking can only become relevant if he or she reveals through his behavior. One of the ways of doing this is through the use of non-verbal cues. Indeed, it is also irreverent what one transports in his car in case what he or she is carrying has no interaction implication.

From the same point of view, for the interactions that are specific to a situation, like coughing or smiling to another person during a seminar or a court proceeding, they do not necessarily establish the characteristic interactions describing such social situations. Hence, it means that the examination of social context begins with the inspection of the universal social context. In this case, four main aspects characterize the general social context. These four categories include private, public, formal or institutional, and informal. Some of the public social contexts include traffic, courtrooms, or hospitals, while the public informal are places like buses or restaurant. On the other hand, some of the private institutions include families, while Informal social settings comprise such aspects as beating a person (Scholz, Dewulf, & Pahl-Wostl, 2014). The various social contexts that are characterized by the four aspects are then defined by properties such as positions (that is, things like roles and status), sex and age, relations (dominance and authority), and functions (father, waitress, and judge). In essence, these social contexts are very important in the way communication is understood by any person intended for it.

Learning as a Cognitive Process

Brain research has revealed that cognition and information processing are greatly interrelated developments. These two processes operate together, both informing impressions of an individual’s behavior through the learning process. Most learning and development in human beings happen in the context of a positive environment, such as through emotional support based on the positive development of cognition. The social environment, emotion, and cognition affect attentional processes, learning, as well as decision-making. Social behaviors and cognitive capabilities make it possible for humans to take part in goal-oriented activities such as learning, to take part in and benefit from relationships, and to seek help when they need it. People who exhibit healthy emotional, social, and behavioral adjustments (contributed by a positive environment) are more likely to have positive outcomes in life (Gardenfors & Johansson, 2014). Within the process of learning, it is only possible to achieve positive outcomes once an individual has developed cognitively. In addition, negative emotions, which are associated with limitations in cognition, can have a negative impact on the learning process since these procedures are interrelated.

Adaptive and Maladaptive use of Cognition in Learning

Adaptive uses of cognition refer to the kind of behavior an individual uses to adjust to another kind of behavior or situation, which is the basis of the learning process. In the course of learning, one gets to move from one kind of behavior to another. A type of behavior that allows a person to change disruptive or unconstructive behavior in constructive action characterizes the reality. For instance, learning for children should be targeted towards the development of positive behavior. However, most often, behaviors are personal or social. Learning in a school setting entails a social process of learning within which the educator aims at developing positive behaviors in the learners. For instance, a steady repetitive action can be re-focused on something that builds or creates something else (Gardenfors & Johansson, 2014). Thus, it is possible to adopt a behavior to another or something else, like it is possible within the education settings.

Cognition also underlies the development of maladaptive behavior as obtained through the learning process. Maladaptive behavior is a kind of behavior that individual exhibits to reduce their anxiety but results in actions that are dysfunctional as well as non-productive. For instance, avoiding a situation because of the fear attached can reduce anxiety in the beginning, but in the end, it will be non-productive and ineffective against eliminating the underlying problem. Maladaptive use of cognition is normally viewed as a display of abnormality or psychological dysfunction given that its assessment is somewhat free from subjectivity. The process occurs as the person interacts with their environment and learns from it through cognitive capabilities. Nevertheless, most of the behaviors that are viewed as being moral can be maladaptive, such as abstinence or dissent (Cheung & Delavega, 2014). Whatever behavior one exhibits, the reason underlies the ability to learn from their environment.

Adaptive use of cognition reveals an individual’s practical and social competence in the use of skills in meeting the demands of life. As one engages in the learning process, there is ongoing development of important skills, including social skills among others, which allow the person to navigate through the challenges of life. Throughout an individual’s development, behavior change across cultures and life settings as well as through expectations and constructs of others. Thus, it is important to assess the use of cognition as well as other competencies in determining the effectiveness of an individual in life functions (Kirschner et al., 2015). It is only through effective development, socially and cognitively that one can navigate through the challenges of life.

Features of Cognition

Mostly, human cognition should be adaptive in nature to achieve the most effective level of development. Human cognition is adaptive in the sense that it can adapt to its environment through the learning process. Human beings are known to adapt to their environments (learn) through the various features of cognition, including attention, perception, memory, language, learning, higher reasoning, and decision making (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). These processes are normally interdependent and happen at the same time. Indeed, the practices have a role to play in reflective and experimental models of cognition.


Attention is the cognitive process for selecting an object for concentration. Indeed, this can be a physical or abstract object available in the physical world or the mind (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Cognition is the process that is applicable in recognizing objects (both real and abstract), fitting disparate elements into an organized pattern, experiencing joy and sadness via art, and understanding multiple meanings.


Perception is the cognitive process for capturing facts from the environment and processing the information (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). The process makes it possible for an individual to recognize objects and entities in the social world. It entails the input from an individual’s sense organs, like the ears, eyes, nose, fingers, and mouth, as well as the change of this information into the perception of entities, like objects, tastes, words, and ideas.


Memory is the cognitive process of storing, searching, and accessing information or knowledge. It makes it possible for an individual to remember and recognize entities, as well as to determine the relevant action to take (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). The concept entails filtering new information to identify what knowledge that should be stored. In essence, the context and the period of interaction are the two significant criteria that work as filters.


Language is the cognitive process that is used for understanding as well as communicating through writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Even though these language media have many common characteristics, they are different on various dimensions such as scannability, permanence, cultural roles, cognitive effort requirements and use in practice (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).


Learning is the cognitive process for synthesizing new knowledge and expertise. It entails connecting new experiences and information with current knowledge. Through the other features of cognition as well as information processing, one can integrate the incoming information with what one already knows in a learning process (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). It is suggested that interactivity is a very significant element in the cognitive process of learning.

Higher Learning

Higher learning is a cognitive process that involves reflective cognition like planning, problem-solving, and reasoning. Decision-making can be considered as a separate cognitive process or as part of higher learning. Most of these are conscious processes, which necessitate discussion, with others or oneself, as well as the application of artifacts such as books and films. The extent to which an individual engages in higher reasoning is associated with the level of expertise in a certain area (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Engagement in higher reasoning can impact one’s life and those of the people around him.


Decision-making is a cognitive process that enables for an option or a course of action to be taken on whichever situation. Life presents an individual with various alternatives and thus, the need to choose from one or another (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Decision-making entails a higher learning process in which case there is advanced processing of information for one to make proper decisions.


The context in cognitive psychology refers to the pertinent constrictions of the communicative situation that affect the use of language, discourse, and variation within the social learning process. Learning from the environment involves the use of cognitive capabilities. In addition, learning engages a great deal of information processing within a person’s mind and the storage of the information for use in decision-making. Thus, learning calls upon the cognitive capability for one to be able to adapt (learn) to their environment. In this case, context is the social environment that plays a very important role in development. Cognitive development is achieved through social learning, as indicated in this discussion. By and large, it is worth noting that development can be positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive.

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