Prominent SocialCognitive Theories

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Prominent SocialCognitive Theories
The Social-Cognitive Approach
behavior. Do introverts and extraverts decide to act as they do? Can they behave otherwise? And how do they feel about their actions and experiences (Cervone & Shoda,
1999)? Some personality psychologists are linking their research with that of cognitive
psychologists in an effort to better understand how thoughts and emotions influence,
and are influenced by, personality traits (Shoda & LeeTiernan, 2002).
The trait approach has also been criticized for offering a short list of traits that provides, at best, a fixed and rather shallow description of personality that fails to capture
how traits combine to form a complex and dynamic individual (Block, 2001; Funder,
2001). Even if the big-five model of personality proves to be correct and universal, its
factors are not all-powerful. Situations, too, affect behavior. For example, people high
in extraversion are not always sociable. Whether they behave sociably depends, in part,
on where they are and who else is present.
In fairness, early trait theorists such as Allport acknowledged the importance of situations in influencing behavior, but it is only recently that consideration of personsituation interactions has become an important part of trait-based approaches to personality. This change is largely the result of research conducted by psychologists who
have taken a social-cognitive approach to personality, which we describe next.
The Social-Cognitive Approach
䉴 Do we learn our personalities?
To social-cognitive researchers, psychodynamic theories place too much emphasis on
unconscious forces in personality and trait theories presume more consistency in
people’s behavior than there really is. In contrast, researchers who take a socialcognitive approach see personality as the full set of behaviors that people have
acquired through learning and that they then display in particular situations. Some
aspects of this approach reflect the view of traditional behaviorists, namely that all
behavior is learned through classical and operant conditioning (see the chapter on
learning). However, the social-cognitive approach expands that view by emphasizing
(1) the role played by learned patterns of thinking in guiding behavior and (2) the fact
that personality is learned in social situations as people observe and interact with other
people (Bandura & Walters, 1963; Funder, 2004). The social-cognitive approach is
sometimes called the social-learning approach because it defines personality as the sum
of the behaviors and cognitive habits that develop as people learn through experience
in the social world. Social-cognitive theorists are interested in how our thinking affects
our behavior, as well as how our behavior and its consequences affect our thinking
and our future actions.
Prominent Social-Cognitive Theories
Julian Rotter, Albert Bandura, and Walter Mischel have presented the most influential
social-cognitive personality theories.
social-cognitive approach An approach that views personality as a label
summarizing the unique patterns of
thinking and behavior that a person
Rotter’s Expectancy Theory Julian Rotter (1982) argued that learning creates cognitions known as expectancies and that these expectancies guide behavior. He suggested
that a person’s decision to engage in a behavior is determined by (1) what the person
expects to happen following the behavior and (2) the value the person places on the
outcome. For example, people spend a lot of money on new clothes to wear at job interviews because past learning leads them to expect that doing so will help get them the
job, and they place a high value on having the job. To Rotter, then, behavior is shaped
by the positive or negative consequences it brings and also by the expectancy that a particular behavior will be rewarded or punished (Mischel, Shoda, & Smith, 2004).
Personality researchers influenced by Rotter have suggested that in addition to learning expectancies about particular behaviors in particular situations, we also learn more
Chapter 11 Personality
B = Behavior
E = The external environment
P = Personal factors, such as thoughts,
feelings, and biological events
Reciprocal Determinism
Bandura’s notion of reciprocal determinism suggests that thoughts, behavior, and
the environment are constantly affecting
each other. For example, a person’s hostile
thoughts might lead to hostile behavior,
which generates even more hostile
thoughts. At the same time, the hostile
behavior offends others, thus creating a
threatening environment that causes the
person to think and act in even more negative ways. As increasingly negative
thoughts alter the person’s perceptions of
the environment, that environment seems
to be more threatening than ever (e.g.,
Bushman et al., 2005).
general expectancies, especially about how life’s rewards and punishments are controlled (e.g., Phares, 1976). Some people (called internals) come to expect that events
are controlled mainly by their own efforts. These people assume, for example, that what
they achieve and the rewards they get are determined by what they themselves do. Others (externals) tend to expect events to be controlled by external forces over which they
have no control. So when externals succeed, they tend to believe that their success was
based on chance or luck.
Research on differences in generalized expectancies does show that they are correlated with differences in behavior. For example, when threatened by a hurricane or
other natural disaster, internals—in accordance with their belief that they can control
what happens to them—are more likely than externals to buy bottled water and make
other preparations (Sattler, Kaiser, & Hittner, 2000). Internals also tend to work harder
than externals at staying physically healthy, and as a result may lower their risk of cancer
and heart disease (Stürmer, Hasselbach, & Amelang, 2006). They are less likely to drink
alcohol, or—if they do drink—to drive while intoxicated (Cavaiola & Desordi, 2000).
Internals tend to be more careful with money (Lim, Teo, & Loo, 2003), and internal
college students tend to be better informed about the courses they take, including what
they need to do to get a high grade. Perhaps as a result, internals tend to get better
grades than externals (Dollinger, 2000).
In his social-cognitive theory, Albert
Bandura (1999, 2006) sees personality as shaped by the ways in which thoughts, behavior, and the environment interact and influence one another. He points out that
whether people learn through direct experience with rewards and punishments or
through watching what happens to others, their behavior creates changes in their environment. Observing these changes, in turn, affects how they think, which then affects
their behavior, and so on in a constant web of mutual influence that Bandura calls
reciprocal determinism (see Figure 11.4).
An especially important cognitive element in this mutual-influence system is perceived self-efficacy, the learned expectation of success. Bandura says that what we do
and what we try to do are largely controlled by our perceptions or beliefs about the
chances of success at a particular task or problem. People with a high degree of perceived self-efficacy believe that they can successfully perform a behavior regardless of
past failures or current obstacles. So the higher your perceived self-efficacy is in a particular situation or task, the greater your actual accomplishments in that situation or
task are likely to be (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2003). For example, going into a job interview believing that you have the skills for the job may help you to get the job. (Perhaps you recall the classic children’s story The Little Engine That Could: Trying to get
up a steep hill, the scared little engine starts by saying “I think I can, I think I can” and
ends up saying “I know I can, I know I can.” And it did.)
According to Bandura, self-efficacy interacts with expectancies about the outcome
of behavior in general, and the result of this interplay helps to shape a person’s psychological well-being (Bandura, 1997; Maddux & Gosselin, 2003). So if a person has
low self-efficacy and also expects that nothing anyone does has much effect on the
world, apathy may result. But if a person with low self-efficacy believes that other people enjoy the benefits of their efforts, the result may be self-criticism and depression.
Bandura and Reciprocal Determinism
Social-cognitive theorists argue that
learned beliefs, feelings, and expectancies characterize each individual and make that
individual different from other people. Walter Mischel calls these characteristics cognitive person variables. He believes that they outline the dimensions along which individuals differ (Mischel & Shoda, 1999).
According to Mischel, the most important cognitive person variables are (1) encodings (the person’s beliefs about the environment and other people), (2) expectancies
(including self-efficacy and what results the person expects will follow from various
behaviors), (3) affects (feelings and emotions), (4) goals and values (the things a person
Mischel’s Cognitive/Affective Theory
self-efficacy According to Bandura,
the learned expectation of success in
given situations.
The Social-Cognitive Approach
the rest of us, Arnold Schwarzenegger
behaves differently in different situations, including when acting in his
Terminator movies and when serving as
the governor of California. Mischel’s
theory of personality emphasizes that
person-situation interactions are important in determining behavior.
believes in and wants to achieve), and (5) competencies and self-regulatory plans (the
things the person can do and the ability to thoughtfully plan behaviors; Mischel &
Shoda, 1999).
To predict how a person might behave in a particular situation, says Mischel, we
need to know about these cognitive person variables and about the features of that situation. In short, the person and the situation interact to produce behavior. Mischel’s
ideas have been called an “if-then” theory, because he proposes that if people encounter
a particular situation, then they will engage in the characteristic behaviors (called behavioral signatures) that they typically show in this situation (Kammrath, MendozaDenton, & Mischel, 2005).
Mischel was once highly critical of the trait approach to personality, but now he sees
his own theory as generally consistent with that approach. In fact, the concept of behavioral signatures is quite similar to the concept of traits. However, Mischel still argues
that trait theorists underestimate the power of situations to alter behavior and do not
pay enough attention to the cognitive and emotional processes that underlie people’s
overt actions. Despite their remaining differences, most advocates of the trait and
social-cognitive approaches are now focusing on the similarities between their views
(Cervone, 2005; Fleeson, 2004). This search for similarities between the trait approach
and the social-cognitive approach has helped to clarify the relationship between personal and situational variables and how they affect behavior under various conditions.
Many of the conclusions that have emerged are consistent with Bandura’s concept of
reciprocal determinism:
1. Personal dispositions (which include traits and cognitive person variables) influence behavior only in relevant situations. The trait of anxiousness, for example,
may predict anxiety, but mainly in situations in which an anxious person feels
2. Personal dispositions can lead to behaviors that alter situations that, in turn, promote other behaviors. For example, a hostile child can trigger aggression in others and thus start a fight.
3. People choose to be in situations that are in accord with their personal dispositions. Introverts, for instance, are likely to choose quiet environments, whereas
extraverts tend to seek out livelier, more social circumstances.
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