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In 1986 the psychologist Albert Bandura put forth a social cognitive theory of human behavior in which human functioning is viewed as the product of a dynamic interplay between personal, behavioral, and environmental influences. This interplay is the foundation of reciprocal determinism, the view that (a) personal factors, such as habits of thinking, emotions, and biological characteristics, (b) human behavior, and (c) environmental forces influence each other reciprocally.
This reciprocal nature of the causes of human functioning makes it possible to direct attention at people’s personal, environmental, or behavioral factors. In school, for example, teachers can foster the competence and confidence of the students in their care by improving their students’ emotional states and by correcting their faulty self-beliefs and habits of thinking (personal factors), enhancing students’ academic skills and self-regulatory practices (behavior), and altering the school and classroom structures that may work to undermine student success (the environment).
Social cognitive theory stands in contrast to views of human functioning that overemphasize the role that environmental factors play in the development of human behavior. Behaviorist theories, for example, show little interest in self-processes because theorists assume that human behavior is caused by external forces. Inner processes, which are viewed as transmitting rather than causing behavior, are dismissed as a redundant factor in the cause and effect workings of behavior. For Bandura, people make sense of their psychological processes by looking into their own conscious mind.
Similarly, social cognitive theory differs from views of human functioning that overemphasize the influence of biological factors. Although it acknowledges the influence of evolutionary factors in human adaptation, the theory rejects the type of evolutionism that views human behavior as the product of evolved biology. Instead, reciprocal determinism posits a bidirectional influence between evolutionary pressures and human development such that individuals create increasingly complex social and technological innovations that in turn create new selection pressures for adaptiveness. These new selection pressures result in the evolution of specialized biological systems for functional consciousness, thought, language, and symbolic communication. It is this bidirectional influence that is responsible for the remarkable intercultural and intracultural diversity evident on the planet.
Rooted within Bandura’s conception of reciprocal determinism is the understanding that individuals are imbued with the personal factors that define what it is to be human. Primary among these are the capabilities to symbolize, plan alternative strategies (forethought), learn through vicarious experience, self-regulate, and selfreflect. These capabilities provide human beings with the cognitive means by which they are influential in determining their own destiny. The capability that is most distinctly human is that of self-reflection, for it is through self-reflection that people make sense of their experiences, explore their own cognitions and self-beliefs, engage in self-evaluation, and alter their thinking and behavior accordingly. Through self-reflection people also assess their own capabilities. These self-efficacy beliefs provide the foundation for human motivation, well-being, and personal accomplishment because unless people believe that their actions can produce the outcomes they desire, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties.
- Bandura, Albert. 1978. The Self System in Reciprocal Determinism. American Psychologist 33: 344–358.
- Bandura, Albert. 1982. Temporal Dynamics and Decomposition of Reciprocal Determinism. Psychological Review 90: 166–170.
- Bandura, Albert. 1985. Reciprocal Determinism. In Advances in Social Learning Theory, S. Sukemune. Tokyo: Kanekoshoho.
- Bandura, Albert. 1986. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.
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