Social Cognitive Theories of Development

According to social-cognitive learning theory, behavior is learned primarily through observation and not through trial and error, as it is with operant conditioning.

We don’t need to experience the consequences of a behavior ourselves to learn it. Social-cognitive learning theory holds that when we see the behavior of a model being rewarded, we are likely to imitate that behavior.

According to Albert Bandura’s  social learning theory suggests that we learn behaviors by observing and mimicking the behaviour of others.

The baby who claps her hands after her mother does so, the child who angrily hits a playmate in the same way that he has been punished at home, and the teenager who wears the same clothes and hairstyle as her friends at school are all displaying Observational Learning. Read more.

Bandura’s work continues to influence much research on children’s social development. But today, like the field of child development as a whole, his theory stresses the importance of cognition , or thinking.

Bandura has shown that children’s ability to listen, remember, and abstract general rules from complex sets of observed behaviors affects their imitation and learning.

In fact, the most recent revision of Bandura’s (1992, 2001) theory places such strong emphasis on how children think about themselves and other people that he calls it a social-cognitive rather than a social learning approach.

In Bandura’s revised view, children gradually become more selective in what they imitate. From watching others engage in self-praise and self-blame and through feedback about the worth of their own actions, children develop personal standards for behavior and a sense of self-efficacy —the belief that their own abilities and characteristics will help them succeed.

Through Modeled behaviors children acquire attitudes, values, and convictions about  themselves, they control their own learning and behavior.

Criticism –

Social learning theory have also been criticized for underestimating children’s contributions to their own development.

Behavior modification consists of procedures that combine conditioning and modeling to eliminate undesirable behaviors and increase desirable responses . It has been used to relieve a wide range of serious developmental problems, such as persistent aggression, language delays, and extreme fears (Martin & Pear, 2007).


  • Feldman, R. S., & Babu, N. (2011). Discovering the Life Span. Indian subcontinent adaptation, New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.
  • Berk, L. E. (2004). Development through the lifespan. (3 Ed). New Delhi: Pearson Education Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd

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