Upon finishing his master's degree, Rotter took an internship at Worcester State Hospital in Massachusetts, in clinical psychology. Rotter became one of the first psychologists to be trained in what is now the standard fashion, having done a pre-doctoral internship prior to earning his Ph. D in clinical psychology at Indiana University.
It was during Rotter's academic position at Ohio State University that he developed social learning theory, which integrated personality theory with learning theory. This was probably the most major development of his career, and certainly what he is best known for, as the theory impacted the science of psychology a great deal. In 1954, Rotter published Social Learning and Clinical Psychology.
Another major impact that Rotter had in the field was in the training of psychologists. Rotter had long since held strong beliefs about the education of psychologists. He was an active participant in the 1949 Boulder Conference, which defined the training model for doctoral level clinical psychologists. He argued that psychologists must be trained in psychology departments rather than under the supervision of psychiatrists; this is a practice that is still followed today.
Social Learning Theory argues that an individual...
Therefore, there is no personality internal to the individual that is not dependent upon environmental factors; nor is behavior merely an automatic response to an objective set of environmental stimuli. Rather, Rotter proffered that to understand behavior, one must take into account both the individual's history of learning and experiences, as well as those stimuli that the individual is aware of and responding to. Therefore, Rotter sees "personality" as a relatively stable set of potentials for responding to situations in a particular way.
In developing Social Learning Theory, Rotter moved away from theories of Psychoanalysis and behaviorism which had prevailed prior to him. Instead, he tried to focus upon psychological motivations in his psychological theory. The empirical law of effect states that people are motivated to seek out positive stimulation or reinforcement, and to avoid unpleasant stimulation. Where Freud and the behaviorists had relied upon physiological instincts and drives, Rotter looked toward behavior psychology as motivating factors in one's personality.
Essentially, Rotter was able to develop a predictive formula for behavior based on Expectancy (E), and Reinforcement Value (RV). Where (BP) is the Behavior Potential:
BP = f(E & RV)
What this means is that the likelihood of an individual exhibiting a particular behavior is a function of the probability that that behavior will lead to a given outcome and the desirability of that outcome. If expectancy and reinforcement value are both high, then behavior potential will be high. If either expectancy or reinforcement value is low, then behavior potential will be lower.
Rotter's theory builds upon the Expectancy Theory of motivation, which was