Albert Bandura’s book, “Social Learning Theory” is the concise overview of the recent theoretical and experimental advances in the field of social learning.
A comprehensive theory of behavior must explain how patterns of behavior are acquired and how their expression is continuously regulated by the interplay of self-generated and external sources of influence. From a social learning perspective, human nature is characterized as a vast potentiality that can be fashioned by direct and vicarious experience into a variety of forms within biological limits. The level of psychological and physiological development, of course, restricts what can be acquired at any given time. (page 13)
Nature of social learning process
According to the author, nature of social learning process is (1) vicarious, (2) symbolic, and (3) self-regulatory. I will explain the meaning further.
First, the social learning process is vicarious, i.e. we learn not only from our own experience, but also from the others’ experience. One possible reason of this ability is that making mistake is sometimes very costly and even fatal. For instance, if you make mistake in driving a car, that could bring about a disastrous result.
Second, the process is symbolic. Symbols are powerful tools to deal with environment. We use symbols to represent and think about the event. Using symbols, we can solve problems without enacting all alternatives and foresee probable consequences. For instance, we use mathematics to calculate a company’s future profit and can predict what will happen under the circumstances.
Third, social learning is a self-regulatory process. By arranging environmental inducements, generating cognitive supports, and producing consequences for their actions, people are able to exercise some measure of control over their own behavior. Human being is able to determine how to react the stimulus.
Albert Bandura argues the reciprocal determinism, i.e. not only human being is influenced by the environment in which one is situated, but also human being can influence the environment through one’s own behavior. There certainly is the decision not totally depending upon one’s environment.
We are not the slaves of the environment, and have the right to exercise the number of choices. As we can see, every superior accomplishment requires self-disciplined application.
Social learning model
Prof. Bandura introduced the concept of model to explain the social learning process. The model represents our vicarious and symbolic learning ability. The model goes like the following:
1. Modeled events
2. Attentional process
In this process, human beings select information to observe. The selection is driven by one’s capability of managing information. As an individual becomes matured, he or she will be able to manage and process more information.
3. Retention Process
In this process, one remembers the information using symbolic coding. The symbols are either visual or verbal, but verbal symbols play significant role in the social learning process. One can conduct rehearsal for their future actions in mind or imitate the behaviors.
4. Motor reproduction process
In this process, one converts symbolic representation into actions. The behavior to be taken relies on skills and physical capability. The person undergoes trial and error process to acquire the behavior.
5. Motivational process
The process needs to be continued for the further learning. For the continuity, we need reinforcement mechanism. The mechanism could be external, vicarious and self-generating.
6. Matching performances
Motivation and reinforcement
The social learning process is driven by motivation. More motivated people would run the learning model more quickly and frequently, thus develop one’s thought and behavior furthermore.
There are three sorts of reinforcement mechanism. First, one’s behavior is reinforced through the consequences. The consequences are either natural or man-made, and the causal relationship between consequences and reasons are either obvious or subtle. By observing two events, one recognizes the causal relationship and is reinforced.
Second, one can learn from the other’s experience. Even if one does not experience the consequences, he or she can use his or her vicarious learning ability and have expectation on the future result of one’s own behavior. This expectation works as reinforcement mechanism.
The two mechanisms above are based on external factors, but the third reinforcement mechanism, the self-reinforcement mechanism depends on one’s own. It works in the following way:
(1) To track performance of one’s behavior using various factors, such as quality, quantity, rate, originality, authenticity, ethicalness, etc.
(2) To judge the result through comparison or one’s own standard
(3) To respond to oneself: evaluate if the result was positive or negative; and sometimes provide tangible self-applied consequences
Here, the point is how the self-set standard is created. Among the three processes, (1) and (3) depend on one’s cognitive ability to the certain extent, but the process (2) requires something more than cognitive power, one’s own standard to judge the things.
According to the studies, the most stringent standards of all were adopted by children for whom all three conditions prevailed (page 136):
- - They observed social recognition bestowed upon adult models for maintaining high standards
- - They were not exposed to conflicting peer norms
- - They were not treated indulgently by the adult models
Also, the reinforcement mechanisms rely on one’s cognitive capability. Without the cognitive power, one cannot realize the relationship between the paired experiences - deeds and their consequences, and thus reinforcement does not work. This cognitive ability heavily depends on one’s language acquisition.
Modeling and Innovation
The modeling process is not just about learning, but the generative and innovative process as well. Through a process of abstract modeling, observers derive the principles underlying specific performances for generating behavior that goes beyond what they have seen or heard.
The process of innovation is divided into two steps. The first step is the acquisition of innovative behavior, helped by symbolic modeling. The second step is the execution. To know and to do is totally different, and the second step is highly susceptible to reinforcement influences. In other words, the more innovative people have been reinforced to take actions through their lives.
First, the book was overview of recent progress of the social leaning studies. This helps me to understand the other books I have read so far, namely: “Thought and Language”, “Metaphors We Live by”, “Minds in Society”, “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, etc. Now things seem to be more connected to me.
Second, it was interesting to see that motivation in the modeling process. Motivation is the driving power of the leaning process, making it dynamic and dialectic process. Regarding that part, this book reminds me of my parents. I tend to impose a high standard on me, and now I think that this is thanks to my parents. The parental education gave me the reinforcement mechanism to go further.
The third thing I found interesting was the author’s argument on reciprocal determinism. The idea that we are not entirely susceptible to the environment gave us some hope, especially because I often go to foster homes in Japan and see that children are heavily influenced by the environment.
Finally, the vicarious learning process gave me to understand some facts. Napoleon was a geek of history, and he has gone through the vicarious learning process through the history study. Thanks to it, when he managed his troops, he could behave as if he was a veteran commander. Maybe my next task after this one is to read through world’s history.
Albert Bandura,"Social Learning Theory, Prentice Hall; 1st edition (1976/11/1)