I’ve always been fascinated by groups, culture and what brings people together, so when I was a psychology student learning about all the great psychologists that have come before me, Dr Albert Bandura really stood out.
Albert Bandura is well known in the field of psychology because he has been a prolific contributor to our understanding of the human mind and behaviour for over 60 years. His theories include the social learning theory and social cognitive theory, as well as constructs such as self-efficacy.
What I found attractive about Bandura’s theories is that they helped me understand the complex relationship between a group or culture, and the individual.
To begin with let me introduce you to the basics of Bandura’s two main theories, then I will explain more about how these theories influenced me as a psychologist.
Social learning theory, some of Bandura’s earlier work, explored how we learn by observing and imitating others.
The most famous experiment associated with this theory was the Bobo doll experiment, which showed that children who observed an adult punching and abusing a blow-up clown doll, later copied the behaviours of the adult when they were left alone with the doll.
This theory was important because it marked a turning point in psychology from behaviourist theories of learning through punishment and reward, to theories that recognised the importance of environment and social context. In other words, Bandura’s theories began to consider that humans are social creatures and that our relationships and the people around us play a role in how we learn and behave.
However, we are not shaped only by observing and copying others, or doomed to repeat the mistakes of those around us. Bandura later expanded on the ideas that he explored in the social learning theory to identify how our own internal experiences, such as thoughts, beliefs, and the ability to reflect, interacted with our external and social experiences to influence our learning and growth. With a stronger emphasis on thoughts and beliefs, the theory became known as the Social Cognitive Theory.
Social Cognitive Theory
A key part of social cognitive theory that makes it distinct from Bandura’s earlier theories, is that it recognises that even though we may be strongly influenced to behave in ways that are similar to those around us, particularly as young children, we still get a choice.
Bandura believed that through our thoughts and beliefs we can unlearn bad habits we may have picked up as children, learn new habits, choose to follow the example of those around us, or choose to do the opposite.
One aspect of our internal experience that Bandura believed to be an important predictor of whether someone would behave in a certain way or not was self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a form of self-confidence which describes a person’s beliefs about their ability to accomplish a certain task or goal.
Someone experiencing strong self-efficacy for example, believes that they have the necessary skills and ability to complete the task in front of them. Unlike self-confidence, which tends to describe someone’s overall confidence, self-efficacy typically relates to a person’s beliefs about a specific activity or goal. Someone who has low self-confidence in their everyday life may still have high self-efficacy towards a specific task such as public speaking, writing, driving, or sport.
How Bandura Influenced Me
As you can see, Bandura’s theory recognises the influence that others can have on us, whether it’s parents, friends, a sport team, a religious group, or your broader culture.
But at the same time, it emphasises that while we may learn how to act and behave from those around us, we are not just pushed this way or that by factors out of our control: we also have the ability to choose our actions and our behavior.
Studying Bandura’s theory helped me to begin to understand the complex interaction of social, environmental, and personal factors that affect each and every one of us on a theoretical level. However, the more important influence that Bandura had on me was how his theories have translated into how I work with clients.
One aspect of my practice that Bandura helped me understand is my own social learning experience and how things like my upbringing and education can influence the way I see things differently to my clients. Being aware of different perspectives in the room is important and often beneficial to the therapy process, because two heads are better than one when you’re trying to find a solution to something that is having a negative effect on your life.
Studying Bandura also stressed to me the importance of being open and curious about another person’s experience, and not making assumptions based on my own experience. Two people sitting and watching the sunset together are experiencing the same event, but may respond to it very differently based on their past experiences and what they have learnt from others.
I have spoken to many people, both personally and professionally, who feel stuck and as if they can’t control what’s going on in their life.
I think most people experience this at some stage in their life, often for vastly different reasons, and when this is how we feel, Bandura reminds us to bring our attention back to what we have the most control over, which is our own thoughts and actions. By focusing on what we can control, we can begin to find ways to move forward and it can help us to get unstuck even in the face of negative external events.
Unfortunately though, many things fall into the category of “easier said than done,” so a big part of what I do with my clients is build up self-efficacy. Feeling low in confidence, or just uncertain, is difficult but it doesn’t have to stop you from making progress.
By focusing on the small things and building self-efficacy for a certain task or goal in sessions, clients often find that they begin to make progress and that the progress they make towards one thing, helps them feel more confident in other areas of their life.
Author: Nikki Crossman, B Psych Science (Hons).
Nikki Crossman is a Master of Psychology (sport and exercise) candidate at the University of Queensland, passionate about the benefits of sport and exercise for mental health. She takes a holistic approach to wellbeing that recognises the strong connection between our body and our mind, and draws on evidence-based therapies such as CBT and Interpersonal therapy.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
- Bandura, A., & Walters, R. H. (1977). Social learning theory.
- Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological review, 84(2), 191.