Social cognitive theory

Social cognitive theory (SCT) underlines the influence of social modeling and personal agency in human behaviour. The development of SCT by Bandura1 signaled a move away from the previous behaviourist models which focused on learning through the effects of one’s actions and whether these were met with rewarding, reinforcing or negative consequences. The modeling of desirable behaviours by competent role models, opportunities to assess the outcomes of others’ behaviour, and the chance to learn and practise new skills and receive constructive feedback in a safe environment are central elements of SCT.1

The process of observational learning described by SCT is particularly relevant for peer-based programs which give young people an opportunity to observe how others’ behaviour is accepted or rejected by the peer group or staff/volunteers. Expectations and value judgments are created in relation to the perceived benefits of behaving in ways that are acceptable to the group. This can build young people’s self confidence in their ability to adopt new behaviours and ultimately create a sense of personal agency.


  1. Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action:  A Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall.