Cognitive Social Learning Theory

A number of modern personality theories have expanded on the notion that personality is expressed in goals and in how people think about themselves relative to their goals. Collectively these theories form what has been called the cognitive social learning appr oach to personality, an approach that emphasizes the cognitive and social processes whereby people learn to value and strive for certain goals over others.

Albert Bandura and the Notion of Self-Efficac The psychologist Albert Bandura was trained in classical behavioral psychology popular in the 1940s, which views humans, and all or ganisms, as passive responders to the external environment, completely determined by external reinforcements. Bandura helped change this view by emphasizing the active nature of human behavior . He ar gued that people have intentions and forethought, they are reflective and can anticipate future events, they mon itor their behavior and evaluate their own progress, plus they learn by observing others. Because he expanded on classical learning theory by adding cognitive and social variables, the movement he helped start is called cognitive social learning theory. Bandura referred to these distinctly human cognitive and social activities under the rubric of the self-system. The self-system exists for the self-regulation of behavior in the pursuit of goals (Bandura, 1997).

In Bandura's theory, one of the most important concepts is that of self-efficac , which refers to the belief that one can execute a specific course of action to achieve goal. For example, a child learning to bat a baseball may believe she can hit most balls pitched to her. We would say she has high self-ef ficacy beliefs for batting. A child who doubts his hitting ability , on the other hand, has low self-ef ficacy beliefs in this area As it turns out, high self-ef ficacy beliefs often lead to e fort and persistence on tasks, and to setting higher goals, compared to people with low self-ef ficacy beliefs (Bandura 1989). As another example, college students who have higher self-ef ficacy beliefs abou their studies are more persistent in their academic work and perform better in their classes than students with lower self-ef ficacy (Multon, Brown, & Lent, 1991)

Self-efficacy and performance mutually influence one anoth . Self-ef ficac leads to better performance; then better performance leads to further increases in self-efficac . As such, high self-efficacy is most important when starting out on some par ticular task. If the task is complex, it can be broken down into parts or subgoals, which can be accomplished. For example, in learning to dive from a diving board, a child can practice jumping in from the side of the pool, then going in head first fro the side of the pool, then going on the diving board and jumping, then finally divin from the diving board. Accomplishing each subgoal along the way can increase overall self-efficac . Self-efficacy can also be influenced b modeling, by seeing others engage in the performance with positive results.

In summary, self-efficacy beliefs can have fa -reaching effects on people's behavior. People's beliefs about what they can accomplish will influence the goals they selec for themselves. Self-ef ficacy beliefs will also lead to greater e fort and persistence on relevant tasks, often resulting in better performance. People with high self-ef ficac beliefs approach their goals with the more positive feelings associated with challenge, rather than the negative feelings associated with threat. And even in the event of failure, people with high self-ef ficacy beliefs are better able to adjust to disappointments

Carol Dweck and the Theory of Mastery Orientation We introduced the work of psychologist Carol Dweck in Chapter 1 1. Her early research focused on helpless and mastery-oriented behaviors in schoolchildren (Deiner & Dweck, 1978, 1980). She noted that some students persist in the face of failure while others quit as soon as they encounter difficulties or their first failure. She started investigating the cognitive belief particularly beliefs about ability , that lie behind these behavior patterns. For example, she discovered that students' implicit beliefs about the nature of intelligence had a significant impact on the way they approach challenging intellectual tasks: Students wh view their intelligence as an unchangeable and fixed internal characteristic (what Dwec calls an "entity theory" of intelligence) tend to shy away from academic challenges, whereas students who believe that their intelligence can be increased through ef fort and persistence (what Dweck calls an "incremental theory" of intelligence) seek them out (Dweck, 1999a, 2002; Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).

Persons who hold an "entity" theory of intelligence agree with statements such as "Your intelligence is something about you that you can't change very much." Even having to work very hard to achieve success may be perceived as evidence of low intelligence. Therefore, people with entity beliefs may make academic choices that maximize the chances that they will perform well. For example, a student may choose to enroll in lower-level courses because it will be easier to earn good grades with less effort. In contrast, people who have an "incremental" theory of intelligence are not threatened by failure and do not view having to work hard as a sign of low intelligence. Because they believe that intelligence can be increased through ef fort and persistence, persons with "incremental" views will set mastery goals and seek academic challenges that they believe will help them to grow intellectually (Dweck, 1999b).

Dweck's theory also has implications for how the praise of teachers and parents may unwittingly lead children to accept an entity view of intelligence. Praising a child for his or her intelligence may reinforce the notion that success and failure depend on something beyond the child' s control. Comments such as "I'm so happy you got an A+ on your biology test, Mary! You are such a smart girl!" are interpreted by the child as "If good grades means that I'm intelligent, then poor grades must mean I am dumb." When children with an entity view of intelligence perform well they have high self-esteem, but self-esteem diminishes as soon as they hit academic challenges that make them falter. Children who are admired for their effort are much more likely to view intelligence as changeable, and their self-esteem remains stable regardless of how hard they have to work to succeed. Children with an incremental view of intelligence and ability are more likely to work through frustrations and setbacks and reach their full academic potential (Dweck, 1999a; 2002).

E. Tory Higgins and the Theory of Regulatory Focus Psychologist E. Tory Higgins has also developed a motivational theory concerning goals. His theory adds the notion that people regulate their goal-directed behaviors in two distinct ways that serve two different needs. One focus of regulation is called promotion focus, where the person is concerned with advancement, growth, and accomplishments. Behaviors with a promotion focus are characterized by eagerness, approach, and "going for the gold." The other focus of regulation is called prevention focus, where the person is concerned with protection, safety, and the prevention of negative outcomes and failures. Behaviors with a prevention focus are characterized by vigilance, caution, and attempts to prevent negative outcomes.

When examined from a trait perspective, promotion focus correlates with such traits as extraversion and behavioral activation (which we discussed in Chapter 7). Prevention focus correlates with such traits as neuroticism and harm avoidance and (negatively) with impulsivity (Grant & Higgins, 2003). However, the concepts of prevention and promotion focus are more concerned with motivation and goal behaviors than the standard personality traits with which they correlate. For example, in a study of decision-making and goal striving, subjects participated in a decision task that involved the possibility of making either errors of "commission" (making an incorrect choice) or errors of "omission" (not making a correct choice). Participants high in promotion focus were less likely to make errors of omission; that is they appeared motivated to not miss any possible opportunities for being correct, even if some choices were incorrect. Participants high in prevention focus, on the other hand, were less likely to make errors of commission; that is, they appeared motivated to make sure they did not make incorrect responses (Higgins, Friedman, Harlow, Idson, Adyuk, & Taylor, 2001). Higgins and his colleagues are investigating several other ways that people high in prevention focus dif fer from those high in promotion focus, such as the kinds of information each finds persuasive, or in terms of how they react t life events.

Walter Mischel and the Cognitive-Affective Personality System (CAPS) Psychologist Walter Mischel had a huge impact on personality psychology when he wrote a book in 1968, entitled Personality and Assessment, that was highly critical of the evidence for personality traits. In a nutshell, he ar gued that people's behavior was more strongly influenced by the situations they were in than by the personality traits the brought to those situations. In more recent years, Mischel has proposed a theory that personality variables (thought not necessarily traits) do have an influence on behavio , mainly by interacting with and modifying the psychological meaning of situations.

In Mischel's cognitive-affective personality system (CAPS), he reconceptualizes personality not as a collection of traits, but as an or ganization of cognitive and af fec-tive activities that influence how people respond to certain kinds of situation (Mischel, 2000, 2004). His emphasis is more on personality processes than on static traits. These cognitive and affective processes consist of such mental activities as con-struals (how one views a situation), goals, expectations, beliefs, feelings, as well as self-regulatory standards, abilities, plans, and strategies. According to this theory, each individual is characterized by a relatively stable network of such mental activities. Individuals acquire their specific set of these mental abilities through their learnin history, their particular culture and subculture, their genetic endowment, and their biological history.

In this theory, Mischel argues that people dif fer from each other in the distinct organization of their cognitive and af fective processes, as well as in the accessibility of these processes. As people move through the dif ferent situations in their lives, different cognitive and af fective processes will be activated and mediate the impact of specific situations. Some people, due to their cognitive-a fective system, will be sensitive to certain situations, and other people, with other cognitive-af fective systems, will be sensitive to other situations. For example, if a situation engenders frustration (e.g., being blocked from a goal), and the person has a specific cognitive-a fective system (e.g., high expectations for success, the belief that aggression is permissible to obtain what you want), then he or she may respond with hostility . So, it is not the case that aggressive people would be aggressive in all situations (the trait view) but that aggressive people are sensitive to certain kinds of situations (e.g., frustration) and only then will they behave aggressively .

Mischel presents a contextualized view of personality as expressed in "if . . . then . . . " propositions: If situation A, then the person does X, but if situation B, then the person does Y. Personality leaves its signature, Mischel ar gues, in terms of the specific situational ingredients that prompt behavior from the person. To illustrate his approach, Mischel (2004) presents data gathered at a summer camp for delinquent children. All of the children had impulse control problems and had been aggressive in the past. The children were observed over many days and in many dif ferent situations in the summer camp. The researchers were interested in verbal aggression. They broke down the situations into five categories: when the child was "teased by a pee ," "warned by an adult," "punished by an adult," "praised by an adult," and "approached by a peer." The children showed distinct profiles of verbal aggression across these dif ferent situations. For example, some children were aggressive only after being warned by an adult. Other children were aggressive only when approached by a peer . Mischel points out that verbal aggression was not consistent across all five situations, but rathe that specific "if . . then . . ." profiles could be discerned for each child. These profiles were consistent, howeve , in the sense that kids who were aggressive when warned by an adult behaved that way repeatedly (Mischel, Shoda & Mendoza-Denton, 2002).

Mischel's theory offers an important new way to think about personality , a way that emphasizes cognitive and af fective processes that influence a person s behaviors relative to specific situational characteristics. We present this theory in the chapter on cognitive approaches because it emphasizes the internal processes that people engage in to regulate their behavior . It is interesting that Mischel still ar gues that situations exert the most control over people' s behavior, but now believes that it is the psychological situation, that is the meaning of the situation from the individual' s perspective, that organizes behavior (Mischel, 2004).

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  • roan
    What are the social learning and parsionality in psychology?
    3 years ago
    What is cognitive learning theory in social psychology?
    5 months ago

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