Social learning theory (SLT) focuses on learning that happens within a social environment and emphasizes the premise that people learn from one another by means of observational learning. The theory argues that individuals are strongly influenced by society's reward and punishment systems and model their behaviors accordingly. A leading proponent of social learning theory, Albert Bandura, helped to shape the conjecture by incorporating aspects of cognitive and behavioral learning.
During the 1950s, American psychologist Julian Rotter first introduced social learning theory in his work Social Learning and Clinical Psychology. Rotter argued that an expected outcome for a given behavior greatly influences the actions and motivation of the individual. Bypassing a theory rooted in behaviorism and psychoanalysis, Rotter concluded that people aspire to attain positive results for their actions, while remaining mindful of negative behaviors and their consequences.
In the 1970s, Bandura took Rotter's theory one step further by incorporating Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's social development theory into his own theory formulation. According to Vygotsky, social interaction itself anticipates cognitive and behavioral development, which is the product of socialization. Bandura's social learning theory ultimately proposed that there is a reciprocal relationship between environmental, cognitive, and behavioral influences.
According to Bandura, there are several conditions that must be met before successful modeling of behavior can occur. The individual, also referred to as the model, must pay attention to and remember the behaviors exhibited by others. After witnessing a given behavior, the model must possess the ability to reproduce the actions witnessed and demonstrate what has been learned. Theorists and proponents of Bandura's theory insist that attention is the most significant factor in the social learning process.
The environment reinforces modeling behaviors in a number of ways. Initially, the model receives reinforcement from the person whom he is imitating, as well as, third party observers. The imitated behavior itself results in reinforcement via positive or negative consequences. Vicarious reinforcement occurs when the model's positively reinforced behavior is repeated by a third party.
Cognitive factors associated with social learning theory rest upon the model's ability to learn, comprehend, formulate expectations, and understand cause and effect. Bandura argued there is a distinction between learning via observation and the act of imitating what one has learned. The model must be capable of comprehending situations, anticipating potential outcomes, and making a correlation between response reinforcements, response punishments, and behavior.
Self-regulation and efficacy aid with further reinforcing positive behaviors on a personal level. The model develops the ability to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and makes choices accordingly. Self-regulation involves the process of setting personal standards and goals while observing, judging, and reacting to the behaviors of others. Self-efficacy encourages self confidence as the model realizes that he is capable of successfully implementing positive behaviors.