Learning as conditioning, learning as the formation and alteration of symbolic structures, learning as the adjustment of weights in a neural net - these are only a few of the existing models designed to explain how people acquire and maintain certain behavioural models. The Social Cognitive Theory, which stemmed from the learning theory of N.E. Miller and J. Dollard and was expanded on and theorised by Albert Bandura in the 1960s represents one of the most prominent and balanced accounts of learning and behaviour proposed up to date.
Similarly to other prominent representatives of the behaviourist stance, Bandura rejected existence of any independent personality that might be held responsible for shaping human behaviour. However, Bandura also did not deprive human being of the possibility to regulate his behaviour: he believed that each individual has a set of persuasions that assess the circumstances and regulate behaviour depending on the results of assessment (Frager & Fadiman 2000).
Bandura's concept relies on the assumption that human being is shaped by the process of learning the essence of which is acquisition of various behavioural patterns. The most important property of human nature is cognition that helps utilise such complex skills as abstract thinking, apply difficult symbolic forms of communication such as language, cognize the external world, and determine behaviour depending upon different circumstances. The latter reflects the key difference between Bandura's theory and the classic postulate of traditional behaviourism: presence of those 'circumstances' implies that constant reinforcement of certain behavioural patterns may not necessarily result in absolute acquisition of certain models of behaviour even when the reinforcer is available. Bandura termed this phenomenon 'plasticity of consciousness' (Bandura 1977).
Bandura's theory implies that behaviour of human being is neither determined by solely inward causes (like instincts, desires) nor by environmental influences but by the dynamic interaction between these two types. However, it will be a mistake to believe that Bandura views behaviour as absolutely passive object of influence. According to his theory, humans may choose behavioural pattern depending on the circumstances. This essential ability helps predict possible reactions of the environment which also includes other human beings. In this case the behaviour itself influences the surrounding circumstances. Based on these assumptions Bandura developed one of the core concepts his social cognitive theory is based upon: reciprocal determinism (Bandura 1978).
Figure 1: The visual model of reciprocal determinism
Source: Bandura 1986, p. 23
This simple scheme demonstrates the essence of reciprocal determinism: B is behaviour, P is properties of personality, and E is environmental influence. Therefore, human behaviour is the result of interaction between three components, namely personal or inward peculiarities and cognitions, exterior causes, and behaviour itself. Each component within this model is in direct relationship with each of the other two, but neither of them can be addressed as absolutely