Social and Behavioral Theories

4. Important Theories and Their Key Constructs

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), the cognitive formulation of social learning theory that has been best articulated by Bandura, explains human behavior in terms of a three-way, dynamic, reciprocal model in which personal factors, environmental influences, and behavior continually interact (See Figure 3). SCT synthesizes concepts and processes from cognitive, behavioristic, and emotional models of behavior change, so it can be readily applied to counseling interventions for disease prevention and management. A basic premise of SCT is that people learn not only through their own experiences, but also by observing the actions of others and the results of those actions.

Figure 3

Social Cognitive Theory

Adapted from: Bandura, A. Social Foundations of Thought & Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, 1st Edition, 1986.

Key constructs of social cognitive theory that are relevant to health behavior change interventions include:

  • Observational learning
  • Reinforcement
  • Self-control
  • Self-efficacy

Some elements of behavior modification based on SCT constructs of self-control, reinforcement, and self-efficacy include goal-setting, self-monitoring and behavioral contracting. Goal-setting and self-monitoring seem to be particularly useful components of effective interventions.