Limitations of Social Cognitive Theory


Social cognitive theory, originated by psychologist Albert Bandura, posits a reciprocal relationship between people and their environment, wherein people are both influenced by and active producers of their surroundings. It also puts an emphasis on observational learning, so that people learn and reproduce behavior through observing others. They learn to primarily reciprocate behavior that they believe will lead to positive reinforcement. Through exercise of self-efficacy, people can learn to step back, observe, self-regulate and, ultimately, change their own behavioral patterns. However, this theory has several limitations.

Loosely Structured

  • Because social cognitive theory is so broad, it has been criticized for lacking any one unifying principle or structure. People are viewed as so dynamic that it is difficult to implement the theory in its entirety. Instead, implementation is likely to focus on one or two concepts, such as self-efficacy.

Minimizes Emotional Responses

  • According to Albert Bandura, behavior is largely learned. However, evolutionary psychologists such as Stephen Pinker have argued that some behavior is the result of emotional responses determined largely by biological factors, which are controlled heavily by evolution, and has little to do with conditioning or observation. For instance, jealousy can drive one to behave in a way that is not consistent with one's normal behavior.

Ignores Biological Differences and Hormonal Responses

  • Social cognitive theory largely ignores the influence of hormones on one's behavior. Hormones can affect one's decision- making abilities and therefore change one's behavior. Additionally, social cognitive theory ignores genetic differences that could lead to disparities between people's cognitive abilities and behavior.

Neglect of Maturation and Lifespan Behavior Changes

  • Advocates of social cognitive theory assume that behavior is primarily learned through observation, expectation and reinforcement. However, it ignores that as people move through life, their behavioral patterns can change drastically with little change in their environment.

Psychological Problems

  • Under the paradigm provided by social cognitive theory, antisocial behavior is a result of defects in the models of learned behavior that an individual has received, and that they are therefore correctable via reinforcement and self-efficacy training. However, a great deal of psychological pathologies, such as schizophrenia, have more to do with neural defects or chemical imbalances in the brain. This suggests that, while self-efficacy therapy can sometimes help people with psychological problems, individuals suffering from psychological disorders are not fully responsible for or in control of their aberrant behavior.

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