Cognitive Social Learning Theory

1 January 2017

I have selected this theory primarily because I believe that a great majority of our learning during the course of our entire lives is achieved by observation. Bandura’s social cognitive theory is a learning based on the ideas that people learn by watching what others do and that human thought processes are central to understanding personality.

While social cognition experts agree that there is a fair amount of influence on development generated by learned behavior displayed in the environment in which one grows up, they believe that the individual person is just as important in determining moral development. People learn by observing others, with the environment, behavior, and cognition all as the chief factors in influencing development. These three factors are not static or independent; rather, they all thrive off of the other.

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According to social learning theory, modeling influences learning primarily through its informative functions. Those observers (children) retain a symbolic representation of the modeled behavior, which then serves as a blueprint for the behavior. We all essentially learn by example. We may not necessarily need to imitate the example or carry it out, but we learn by example nonetheless. Observational learning incorporates four components, attention, retention, reproduction and motivational processes that help to understand why individuals (children) imitate socially desirable behavior.

Attention, being the first component, parents teach children through observational learning throughout their lives. By paying attention and observing children learn such tasks as tying shoes, washing dishes and driving cars. It also has its negative moments (as I mentioned earlier) primarily when children imitate behaviors that they’ve seen on television or in other social engagements. For the learning to take place, whether intentional or unintentional, a child must perform Bandura’s first step of the pattern of paying attention.

A child needs to be attentive and take notice of what is occurring in his environment. A child’s attention is typically directed toward something exciting, which is why kids are quick to pick up bad words that are usually flamboyantly expressed. The Disney Channel, Nickolodean, and cartoons can be main contributors though. The second component is Retention. It involves remembering whatever the child observed. If something interesting happened that day the lesser exciting events will be forgotten. Retention coincides with attention.

We normally remember what we are attentive to. If a child is absorbed in material, they will most likely retain the information. Therefore retention is crucial in later applying the information. Reproduction occurs when the child reproduces the witnessed action. This is crucial when transferring learning to applying. This is normally when a child practices tying his own shoes or as a teenager learns how to drive a car. Practice may not always make perfect, but it improves skills. Reproduction allows observation to become hands on learning.

Finally, motivation is the primary step over which parents have control in their child’s observational learning. This can make or break the continuation of the behavior. If a child is reproducing a positive action, he should be rewarded to encourage the frequency of that behavior. Negative consequences and punishment will hinder bad behavior. Watching another child be punished on television is not as impactful as first hand consequences. Children thrive on attention. The more praise delivered to positive behavior, the more motivated the child is to continue in that behavior.

While watching and observing children play, you can discover their interests. You can see more than the children just having fun, but you may witness any strengths and/or weaknesses in personality, learning or interactive abilities. By observing children I was able to learn their developmental level, such as who the leader of the group was or what leaders were in competition to lead the play session. Thus observing the children interact I could learn a lot about their respective personalities.

From my observation, the child that was obviously in charge of this group had either an older sibling, relative or perhaps was mimicking what he saw on television by directing and giving instruction to the other children who were playing with him. In the game of organized basketball there is one leader on the court for each team.

That leader is normally the point guard position. The child may already possess the personality of being a leader, but he had to observe and learn the other details he exuded by watching what he had seen in live action or by elevision. I can personally relate to this theory the most because in retrospect I realize that a great deal of my behavioral learning was developed through observation. I wouldn’t consider where I grew up as a child as being the “ghetto”, but the area was rough, and I believe it is safe to say that there was a “survival of the fittest” mentality. There was a certain assertive aggressiveness that I learned and experienced by observing my older brother when it came to dealing with people in the neighborhood. My brother was in a gang in those days.

I don’t know how official his membership was, but I do remember running home from school on a number of occasions from a group of rival boys that didn’t like him very well. I didn’t know why we were running, but I was running because my big brother was running, and I was smart enough to follow. Not too much longer after that my father and mother decided to leave St. Louis, Missouri and move to Burlington, Iowa. A small, but quaint little town on the Mississippi River, my grandmother and grandfather lived there. I know it was my mother’s decision to leave St. Louis as I am sure she feared that we would become “products of our environment”.

The aggression that I learned while living in the city, transferred with me when we moved to Iowa. I didn’t know then, but I had become a bully. Kids didn’t like me at school, and relatives didn’t like me either. No one wanted to be around me because I was very aggressive towards any kid in or near my age group. Counseling was not popular in those days, at least not formal counseling. My mom and dad “counseled” me. I had learned an aggressive behavior that I didn’t know how to channel. I don’t remember my older brother ever getting “counseled” for misbehaving.

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