Social cognitive learning theory

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The social -cognitive learning theory (also called social-cognitive learning theory or model learning or learning on the model ) is a cognitivistic learning theory that was developed by Albert Bandura . It is understood to mean learning processes that are based on the observation of the behavior of human role models . The personal presence of these role models (models) is of subordinate importance.

Other names are observational learning , imitation learning , imitation learning , social learning , identification learning , role learning and vicarious learning . The individual terms can also be used differently depending on the author. “Learning on the model” is the third form of human learning, as it was discovered after instrumental and operant conditioning and classical conditioning .

Bandura's concept describes a learning process in four processes, which are divided into the two phases of acquisition and execution . In contrast to behavioral learning theories - such as operant conditioning - two components in particular come into play in social-cognitive learning theory. On the one hand, people are seen as active learners who consciously deal with their environment and thus a learning process arises from an interaction between person and environment ( social component). On the other hand, people not only plan their actions, but are also able to reflect on them and motivate themselves ( cognitive component).

Basic assumptions

From the point of view of cognitive theory, behavior is not just a reaction to a previous (environmental) stimulus. Above all, the process of perceiving , processing and evaluating this stimulus plays a decisive role. Thus, behavior is not a mere reaction to the environment, but an active cognitive process. In addition, humans are able to control themselves. How he wants to act, which situations he avoids or searches for, which alternatives are weighed up, is largely up to the person himself.

Bandura formulated the following four theses for his theory:

  1. What has been learned is not necessarily shown immediately.
  2. Through modeling effects, what has been learned can reappear in later - completely different - contexts.
  3. A description is sufficient to evoke a cognitive representation - the learning content does not have to be seen .
  4. Learned can be applied to other areas transferred to.

Model learning processes

In order for learning through observation to take place at all, four processes must take place in the individual, which are assigned to an acquisition phase or an execution phase.

Acquisition phase (competence, acquisition)

Attention processes

From the mass of information contained in the behavior of the model , the observer selects the components that are important to him and observes closely.

Whether a model receives a lot or little attention depends on

  • The personality traits of the model: People with social power (who can therefore reward and punish), people with a high reputation , sympathetic and attractive people, and people who can satisfy the needs of the learner are observed in particular . People who are similar to the observer in a certain way (have similar values, needs, etc.) are also preferred to be imitated.
  • the personality traits of the observer / learner: Lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem encourage attention to a model. In addition, the observation of a model depends on various factors of human perception, e.g. B. of experiences , interests, values, feelings or moods.
  • the relationship between model and observer: A positive emotional relationship as well as the dependence of the model and observer on each other promote the observer's willingness to imitate .
  • the given situation and conditions: when people present people watching, so the perception is always embedded in a social situation. The behavior of the model must be sufficiently conspicuous that it attracts the observer's attention. It is also advantageous if the consequence - as long as it appears positive to the observer - is perceived and the observer promises advantages for himself by imitating the behavior. The so-called emotional sensitivities affect the perception of the observer.

Memory processes

The learner transforms what he has observed into memory structures - that is, creates new schemes ( accommodated ) or expands them ( assimilated ) - which he can reactivate as memory . New information is symbolically coded and classified in the cognitive system. Symbolic and motor simulation of what has been learned promotes retention of information.

Execution phase (performance)

Motor reproduction processes

The learner remembers and tries to reproduce what he has observed and what appears to be advantageous behavior. Depending on creativity , he is limited or largely able to adapt the observed scheme to the situation. The new motor skills need to be repeated through targeted exercise and correction, in which external feedback can be helpful.

Reinforcement and motivation processes

Whether a person even observes a certain behavior in order to learn it depends on their motivation. A person's motivation influences both the acquisition and execution phases in model learning. Only those who expect success or advantage from observing and performing a behavior or who believe to avert a failure or disadvantage will develop corresponding activities. Motivation is therefore closely related to the prospect of reassurance. Bandura distinguishes the following different types of affirmation:

  • External affirmation: The observer experiences a pleasant consequence on his behavior or avoids a negative one.
  • Representative affirmation: The model receives a reward for its behavior or has been successful with its behavior. The observer perceives this reward or success.
  • Direct self-affirmation: The observer rewards himself for his behavior (self-praise).
  • Representative self-affirmation: The model rewards itself for its behavior. The observer perceives this (self) reward.

However, the affirmation in social-cognitive learning theory is not a necessary condition for a learning process to take place. Yet it has great significance for the same. The consequences that the model or the observer experiences for his or her behavior have a decisive influence on the course of the learning process. However, it is not the pleasant consequence that triggers this process, but its mental anticipation . The observer assumes that the behavior will have a positive effect on him before he has shown it.

Comparison to behaviorism

Compared to the behavioral learning theories of Skinner or Pavlov known as conditioning , the learner has a more active role in model learning. People learn from role models and imitate their behavior if it leads to the results desired by the learner. The early childhood imitation ( mirror neurons ) also takes place when undesirable consequences occur and the context cannot yet be reflected on.

In contrast to classical conditioning and operant conditioning , in modeling the motivation in the second part of the execution phase no longer serves to learn the new behavior, but merely supports the demonstration of the new behavior. In operant conditioning, learning is essentially determined by the amplifier , while in model learning the expectation of an amplifier determines the learning effect and favors the formation of one's own variation. There is no direct reinforcement in the observation situation, otherwise one would classify the learning process under learning from success .

Effects of model learning

According to Bandura, both natural and symbolic models can produce a number of effects. He differentiates between four effects:

  1. The modeling effect : Using role models, people learn new, previously unknown behaviors as well as attitudes towards people, objects and facts , prejudices , feelings, needs , etc. However, the observer does not simply copy the behavior of the model; what is seen is often reorganized. In this way the learner can combine what he has observed into new combinations.
  2. The disinhibiting effect : If people see how certain behavior of others does not lead to negative consequences or even rewards, this can significantly lower their previous inhibition threshold to show similar behavior.
  3. The inhibiting effect : Inhibiting effects usually arise in cases in which the model behavior has negative consequences or when fears are triggered in this context . The willingness to emulate the model decreases.
  4. The triggering effect : the behavior of a model causes other people to imitate it immediately. The behaviors are neither new, nor do they have any special consequences, but observing a model person makes it easier to trigger their own behavior.

Factors influencing model learning


In addition, social cognitive theory assumes that the expectations that an observer has are decisive for whether he actually mimics the behavior of a model.

Expectation of results: A person will then imitate the behavior of a model if he or she believes that it will result in pleasant consequences or that he can reduce the unpleasant. The expected behavioral consequences thus become an incentive for behavior. Example: A student expects success from using a cheat sheet because his friend tells him that it always works for him. “People tend to act according to their ideas that precede them, instead of just orienting themselves towards the results of their active actions.” (Albert Bandura) The phenomenon described above is called result expectation.

Competency expectation: If a learner observes behavior in a model, the observer must also trust himself to execute this behavior in order to actually show it. He will prefer behaviors that make him feel competent . At the same time, he will seldom show behaviors that he thinks he can do less competently. The observer thus makes a subjective assessment of his abilities, which he needs to imitate the behavior. One speaks here of the phenomenon of competence expectation. Example: If someone is asked to do a solo dance in the disco, he will only do this if he thinks he is a great dancer. A person is most likely to exhibit behavior when the expectation of competency is relatively high.

Expectation of self-affirmation (also self-regulation): Humans are able to affirm themselves. People assess their behavior according to certain subjective criteria and judge their behavior. In social-cognitive theory, the prospect of self-affirmation means the expectation of a favorable self-assessment when showing behavior that can be imitated, which leads to satisfaction, well-being and self-reward. Example: A person who rejects theft out of an inner attitude will hardly allow himself to be made to imitate this behavior by observing a model who steals CDs in a department store, even if he has the prospect of external confirmation.


For Albert Bandura, the concept of self-efficacy became the central draft of his theoretical work. Bandura sums up self-efficacy as the conviction of being able to cope with a certain situation. The higher the person's self-efficacy, the more likely it is that the situation will be managed successfully. If, however, there are doubts about one's own self-efficacy, it may not be possible to cope with it successfully - despite having the required ability. This shows the strong impact of self-efficacy on people's perception , motivation and performance . Thus, one's own self-efficacy expectation - especially in the execution phase, in which, in addition to motivation, the assessment of motor skills is important - is significantly involved in whether a learning process is initiated or not. The assessment of one's own self-efficacy has a major influence on how quickly a person gives up in resignation when difficulties arise or how much he does to solve the problems that stand in his way. A high level of self-efficacy has a positive effect on the stamina it takes to solve the problem. There is an increased tolerance for frustration . By achieving smaller sub-goals, self-efficacy can be increased so that the problem solving no longer creates the motivation, but rather the sense of achievement, the ability to cope and to be able to control the situation to a certain extent.


Grewe-Partsch (1986) was able to show in children that the emotions they had while watching a film lasted longer than the memory of the events shown in the film.

Furthermore, the behavior of a particular person is more likely to be adopted if the relationship is generally characterized by kindness, appreciation and praise (secondary reinforcement).

Similarity between model and learner

If there are similarities between the observer and the model, increased model learning takes place. This is the case with gender, for example, as shown in the Bobo doll study .

Moving pictures

W. Edelmann (1986, p. 245) describes that a model created by moving images has the same effect as the physically existing model (live model).

The advantages of role models created by moving images are:

  • the person being played may be more likely to show desired or undesirable behavior than a live person
  • A scheme can be built into the preparation of the scene to make it easier for the learner to remember
  • the artificially created living environments can be emotionally enriched so that they have a longer effect.

Bandura and Walters experiment (1965)

Bandura's experiment is called the "Rocky Experiment" and completes the series of experiments with the Bobo doll . The original Bandura experiment went as follows (the children were tested individually): Four-year-old children from three different groups saw a film about an adult named "Rocky" who was very aggressive towards the doll "Bobo" (hitting, kicking, swear words ... ). Up to these scenes, the children were all watching the same movie. In the end, the films differed in how they responded to Rocky's behavior:

After watching the film, the children were led into a room in which many toys were distributed, including the Bobo doll, which Rocky had kicked, beaten or destroyed in the previous film. It was now observed in which children Rocky's behavior appeared and in which not.

  • If Rocky had been praised before, his behavior was imitated by many children.
  • If Rocky had been punished beforehand, his behavior was imitated by few children.
  • It was also observed that boys had a higher rate of imitation than girls, regardless of the reinforcement.

But if the children were promised a reward (candy) if they acted out what they saw, all showed the behavior they saw, with the girls showing a significantly increased willingness compared to the male participants. If there were still clearly recognizable differences in the likelihood of imitation before the positive reinforcement, an approximate equilibrium of the probability was established after the reinforcement.


Albert Bandura concluded that the children learned the role model behavior equally, but reproduced it differently depending on the consequences. There is therefore a difference between acquisition (competence) and execution (performance) of the observed behavior (so-called latent learning ). Furthermore, younger boys seem more likely to adapt to violence, while girls appear to have a greater desire to please adults and be rewarded.

Relevance of the social-cognitive theory

Central findings from Albert Bandura's studies show how great the influence of models can be that a person is able to imitate. And this can have both positive and negative consequences. Bandura's findings have therefore made an important contribution to education . Models or role models that increasingly show prosocial behavior can also evoke this helpful, constructive behavior in other people. It is therefore not what is said that is important, but the actual action. Thus, a critically reflected action on the part of the educating person is necessary. Likewise, a positive emotional relationship between model and observer appears conducive to imitation. An affirmation of the desired behavior also leads to success faster than if this does not happen. A direct affirmation weighs more than a representative one.

Bandura's findings are also taken into account in therapy. Model learning can be used effectively in behavioral therapy in particular to a. to help build new constructive behaviors. First, the client is shown a behavior. This should then be imitated in the next step. This is followed by constructive feedback and suggestions on how this new behavior can be transferred to the real situation on the part of the therapist.

However, negative role models can also lead to the imitation of destructive behavior. Findings in the area of fictional violence are mainly received here. The increased viewing of violence in films or video games increases one's own willingness to show aggressive behavior and increases indifference to violence. It has to be noted, however, that these findings are discussed quite controversially and that there are still no uniform results in the area of media violence .

Critical appreciation of the social-cognitive theory

Albert Bandura's image of man

Bandura sees people as a performance-oriented being. Even if people have already met high standards, they are not satisfied with it in the long run. They repeatedly link their future self-assessment to achieving even higher goals.

In contrast to the behavioristic learning theories , for Bandura learning without the involvement of mental processes is unimaginable. In social-cognitive theory, learning is understood as an active, cognitively controlled processing of experiences. Cognitive processes help determine which events are observed and how they are perceived, and then continue to have an effect on the coding and storage of information ( cognition ). Humans can symbolize observations, events, experiences and the like and hold them on the basis of these symbols in their memory , think about them, plan new events and be creative ( symbol learning ). In order to be able to show observed behavior, cognitive ideas must be activated. Bandura emphasizes above all the special role of thought processes for new acquisitions and changes in human behavior.

"A theory that denies that thoughts can control actions will find it difficult to explain complex human behavior." (Albert Bandura)

In contrast to behaviorism, which sees learners more as "puppet-like" beings who can be controlled and monitored at will through behavioral consequences from the environment, Bandura ascribes a high degree of self-control to the learning person. The human being is an active being: he consciously pursues and considers certain goals; he is motivated to learn the things he needs to achieve his goals; he can control himself and change his own behavior if he wants to. Therein lies the freedom of man to determine his own fate. Bandura sees the human being as an active being who uses his self-control to make the environment serve his goals.

When man controls himself to achieve his goals, he usually tries to influence the environment in such a way that he can achieve his goals. The environment designed in this way, however, has an effect on people. This results in a mutual influence between the person and the environment. In this process of influencing, the person and the environment are constantly related to one another and are in a constant interrelation. Personality , behavior and environment are understood as a system of forces that influence one another over time. The experience and behavior of a person arise and change in the interplay of factors that are on the one hand in the person and on the other hand come from the respective situation (environment).

The evaluation of the social-cognitive learning theory

The social-cognitive learning theory is based on thorough experimental research and is scientifically sound ( empirical ). In contrast to many behavioral studies, results from animal experiments have not been transferred to human behavior (see e.g. the Skinner box or Edward Lee Thorndike's problem cage); most of the research has been done in humans. For this reason, the explanatory value of the social-cognitive theory can be rated highly. It comes into play where behaviorist theories reach their limits. Bandura's theory includes active, cognitively controlled processing processes in which social conditions such as family structures, social milieu, etc. play an important role. The social-cognitive learning theory also uses human experience to explain behavior. While the behaviorists only infer learning processes when a new or changed behavior can be observed, Bandura points out that learning processes can also have taken place without an observable execution of behavior. The storage of observable behavior is decisive for him.

Since Bandura's theory is well-founded and has a high explanatory value, it is of great importance for everyday life and education. Many behaviors can only be learned based on model learning. The language is given here as an example. Findings from Harold Bekkering showed that preschool children do not learn themselves through the observed behavior and imitate others, but that they learn primarily through observation using a model; György Gergely was also able to determine this later in preverbal toddlers.

Model learning therefore represents a form of learning that allows complex and abstract behaviors (such as speaking) to be learned relatively easily:

“Learning on the model has proven to be a very effective means of creating abstract or rule-based behavior. On the basis of rules that they have gained through observation, people learn, among other things, the ability to make judgments, linguistic styles, conceptual systems, strategies for information processing, cognitive operations and behavioral standards. " (Albert Bandura)

With regard to the influence of media (television, video, computer games) on aggression and violence, especially among children, adolescents and adults, social-cognitive theory plays an important role with a high relevance to topicality. Their findings help to explain the learning of violence, to evaluate the media according to their effect in this regard and to derive suitable measures against undesirable learning influences through role models. Overall, this theory and its findings have made an important contribution to pedagogy , which has found special consideration in many pedagogical concepts.

The knowledge of the social-cognitive theory was also anticipated in the therapeutic context (e.g. reduction of phobias and development of competent social behavior etc.) and is now an integral part of the behavioral repertoire of most therapists ( psychotherapy ).

However, this is also where the limits of social-cognitive theory lie: it can only explain part of human experience and behavior, namely that which goes back to observation. But people also learn without observation. The fact that people learn, for example, through insight alone, think restructuring a certain state of affairs and thus lead to a change in behavior, is not taken into account. With regard to observation learning, the question arises as to whether a specific behavior or rather the achievement of a goal is learned. There are findings on this from Andrew Melzoff and Keith Moore (1977). They have shown that babies as young as twelve to 21 days old spontaneously imitate simple actions of the experimenter (e.g. sticking out the tongue).

In addition, criticism is often expressed that cognitive theories neglect the importance of emotions for personality.

"In social learning theories and in cognitive theories, emotions are only seen as by-products of thoughts and behavior or are simply combined with other types of thoughts instead of being assigned an independent meaning." (Zimbardo / Gerrig)

Critics such as Richard Carlson (1984) also complain that the social-cognitive approach is so focused on the situation that the internal characteristics are not included in the theory. One possible question the skeptics might ask is: "Where is the individual with this view of personality?"

See also


  • Albert Bandura , Richard H. Walters : Social Learning and Personality Development. Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York 1963.
  • Albert Bandura: Learning on the model. Approaches to a social-cognitive learning theory. Klett, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-12-920590-X .
  • Albert Bandura: Social-cognitive learning theory. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-12-920511-X , ( concepts of the human sciences ).
  • Hermann Hobmair (Ed.): Pedagogy, psychology for the professional upper level . Volume 1. Bildungsverlag EINS, Troisdorf 1998, ISBN 3-8237-5025-9 , pp. 236-263.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. limited preview in the Google book search
  2. ^ Hermann Hobmair (ed.): Pedagogy / Psychology. For the vocational high school in Baden-Württemberg . 1st edition. tape 2 . Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2012, ISBN 978-3-427-05018-6 , p. 102 .
  3. Hermann Hobmair (Ed.): Pedagogy, psychology for the professional upper level . tape 1 . Bildungsverlag EINS, Troisdorf 2005, p. 181-184 .
  4. ^ Richard J. Gerrig, Philip G. Zimbardo: Psychology . 18th edition. Pearson, Munich 2008, p. 525 .
  5. ^ A b Richard J. Gerrig, Philip G. Zimbardo: Psychology . 18th edition. Pearson, Munich 2008, p. 226 .
  6. ^ Hermann Hobmair (ed.): Pedagogy / Psychology. For the vocational high school in Baden-Württemberg . 1st edition. tape 2 . Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2012, p. 86-87 .
  7. ^ Hermann Hobmair (ed.): Pedagogy / Psychology. For the vocational high school in Baden-Württemberg . 1st edition. tape 2 . Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2012, p. 91-92 .
  8. ^ Richard J. Gerrig, Philip G. Zimbardo: Psychology . 18th edition. Pearson, Munich 2008, p. 528 .
  9. ^ Hermann Hobmair (ed.): Pedagogy / Psychology. For the vocational high school in Baden-Württemberg . 1st edition. tape 2 . Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2012, p. 96 .
  10. ^ Richard J. Gerrig, Philip G. Zimbardo: Psychology . 18th edition. Pearson, Munich 2008, p. 528-529 .
  11. Jochen Müsseler, Martina Rieger (Ed.): General Psychology . 3. Edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2017, p. 242 .
  12. a b David G. Myers: Psychology . 3. Edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2014, p. 321-324 .
  13. ^ Hermann Hobmair (ed.): Pedagogy / Psychology. For the vocational high school in Baden-Württemberg . 1st edition. Bildungsverlag EINS, Cologne 2012, p. 97-98 .
  14. Günter Esser (Ed.): Textbook of clinical psychology and psychotherapy in children and adolescents . 4th edition. Georg Thieme Verlag KG, Stuttgart 2011, p. 263 .
  15. Bandura, Albert: Social-cognitive learning theory . Ed .: v. Rolf Verres. Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, p. 21 .
  16. ^ Bandura, Albert: Social-cognitive learning theory . Ed .: v. Rolf Verres. Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, p. 192 .
  17. Müsseler, Jochen: General Psychology . Ed .: Müsseler, Jochen, Rieger, Martina. 3. Edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2017, ISBN 978-3-642-53897-1 , p. 327 .
  18. ^ Bandura, Albert: Social-cognitive learning theory . Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, p. 50 .
  19. Bodenmann, Guy Perrez, Meinrad, Schär, Marcel: Classical learning theories. Basics and applications in education and psychotherapy . 2nd Edition. Verlag Hans Huber, Bern 2011, ISBN 978-3-456-94967-3 , p. 242 f .
  20. Müsseler, Jochen: General Psychology . Ed .: Müsseler, Jochen, Rieger, Martina. 3. Edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2017, ISBN 978-3-642-53897-1 , p. 327 .
  21. Zimbardo, Philip, Gerrig, Richard: Psychologie . 18th edition. Perarson Studium, Munich 2008, p. 530 .
  22. Myers, David: Psychology . 3. Edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin / Heidelberg 2014, ISBN 978-3-642-40781-9 , p. 585 f .