Social Cognition Research Paper Starter

Social Cognition

Social Cognition theory has broadened our knowledge of the role people play in their own learning experiences. This article follows the evolution of the theory of Social Cognition by examining concepts such as human agency, symbolic learning, self-reflection, reinforcements, and reciprocal determinism. It also discusses the importance of the concepts, self-efficacy and self-regulation, to the theory. The theory of Social Cognition, when coupled with works of theorists like Lev Vygotsky, work to explain how reality is socially constructed and that all learning occurs within the frame of this constructed reality.



Educational Psychology >Social Cognition


Mary needs to teach her son, Rick, to turn his homework in to his teacher. Rick loves to build model cars at home. Mary talks to his teacher and they devise a plan. Each day that Rick turns in his homework, the teacher will give him a piece of a model car that Rick has been dying to build. What is the behavior Rick is supposed to learn? How might the above scenario be teaching Rick to learn the desired behavior? Does the rewarding of a new behavior guarantee success? Are there any other factors that might determine whether this learning experience is successful?

Theories of learning have been shaped by two primary theories, Behaviorism and Social Cognition. In order to understand the underpinnings of Social Cognition, one must first have a general understanding of Behaviorism.

Defining Learning

Early researcher's defined learning as the observable changes resulting from rewards or punishments directed at shaping a new behavior (Pajares, 2002). This school of thought was called Behaviorism because direct, observable reinforcements were used to induce the learning experience and the learner's observable behavior was the only accepted measure of learning success. Behaviorists believed that people were fairly passive in the learning experience; learning could be induced by simply providing appropriate reinforcements for a desired new behavior. According to Behaviorists, practicing (reinforced with immediate rewards) is what leads to learned behavior. Behaviorism became a popular practice for teachers and parents who wanted to teach children new ways to behave. However, some psychologists believed that what was going on inside the learner's head was an important factor in the learning equation. Albert Bandura was one of those psychologists. He believed that "a psychology without introspection cannot aspire to explain the complexities of human functioning" (Pajares, 2002, p. 2)

Social Cognition Theory

In the mid-1960s Bandura developed a theory of Social Learning, based on the works of Piaget, which eventually evolved into the theory of Social Cognition. He believed that what a person thinks (i.e., cognates) about happenings in the environment needs to be considered as a factor in the complex experience called learning (Bandura, 1994). Social Cognition theory has broadened knowledge of the role people play in their own learning experiences. Key to this theory is the idea that cognitive processes, not reinforced practice, guides a learner's behaviors (Hartman, 1996). It includes concepts of human agency and symbolic learning while pointing out that the mental state of the learner impacts potential learning.

Social Cognition theory is grounded in the notion of human agency, meaning learners are "contributors to their life circumstances, not just products of them" (Bandura, 2006, p. 164). It is important to note that the individual identity that provides the foundation for human agency has been socially constructed - no individual develops in isolation (Bandura, 2006). A learner may use introspection (i.e., self-reflection) to decide how a new experience fits with current knowledge and to determine whether to attach value to the new knowledge. The learner may facilitate or resist learning a new behavior by planning alternative strategies to the learning experience. These strategies could shorten the time needed to learn a new behavior or may thwart any attempts at teaching new behaviors. Most importantly, each learner must be capable of symbolic learning.

Symbolic Learning

Symbolic learning is a complicated process requiring memory, attention to social prompts, and meaning making on the part of the learner. Learners acquire 'memory codes' of all they see and hear. These memory codes aid in scripting future behavior. Information regarding appropriate models for behavior can be conveyed by social prompts, consequences of particular behaviors, or the conveyance of information that is meant to alter current patterns of behavior (Hartman, 1996). However, learning potential is affected by the degree of attention the learner pays to the modeling. The perceptions and current mental state of the learner impact potential learning. Degree of attention will be affected by:

* The relevance and credibility of the model from the perspective of the observer

* The prestige of the model

* The level of satisfaction currently experienced by the observer in the modeled area

* The level of self esteem of the observer (Hartman, 1996)

Social Cognition theorists did not abandon the Behaviorist belief in the importance of reinforcements but, using the notions of symbolic learning and social modeling, built upon the definition to include consideration for instances of indirect reinforcement that may result in the learning of new behaviors. They include:

* Direct Reinforcement

* Vicarious Reinforcement

* Self-reinforcement

Direct Reinforcement is the same type of reinforcement described by Behaviorists. Learners are given immediate feedback for behavior in the form of rewards or punishments. Vicarious Reinforcement occurs when the learner observes the actions of another person and notes the consequences that person receives for those behaviors. The learner will remember whether the observed actions resulted in desirable consequences and will store that information for future use. Self-reinforcement occurs when the learner experiences feelings regarding whether personal performance is meeting established personal standards (Hartman, 1996; McInerney, 2005).

Reciprocal Determinism Model

Later works in Social Cognition focused on the development of the multidimensional constructs for the Reciprocal Determinism model. This model describes how three dynamics interact with each other during the learning process. The triadic interplay among one's behavior, the environment, and personal characteristics affects the learning process (Bandura, 2006). The environment sets a cultural stage that frames the learning experience. The environment is created via the use of artifacts in which the individual has imbued meaning. The structures of family, school, neighborhood, and religious affiliations have worked to describe the world to the learner and have set limits and expectations for the learner's future (Bandura, 1994, Cole & Wertsch, 1985). The behaviors of the learner will also impact the learning process; whether the learner is attentive, persistent, skilled, self-disciplined, etc. will impact what can be learned and how difficult the material to be learned may be. Additionally, the learning process is affected by the learner's personal characteristics. The intelligence, emotional state, level of self-efficacy, and thinking habits will interact with the other two dynamics to determine the quality of the learning process. According to Pajares (2002), each of the three dynamics interacts with each other to create the context in which learning takes place (see Figure 1).

The interrelation of these three dynamics illustrates how a learner's cognitive processes create an individualized version of what is valued and can be expected based on...

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