Study Notes

Differences between Behaviourism and Social Learning Theory

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

There are five essential differences between Social Learning Theory and Behaviourism.

(1) Social Learning Theory recognises that the learner plays an active role in their learning

They choose who to attend to, choose which behaviour to remember, choose when and where to reproduce the behaviours and finally choose how to respond to the consequences of their behaviour. In contrast, Behaviourism assumes that the learner simply responds passively to its environment.

(2) Social Learning Theory recognises a difference between acquisition and performance of behaviour.

It is possible to observe a behaviour, remember and add it to your repertoire, but never produce it. In contrast, Behaviourism argues that performance and learning are the same thing and a behaviour has only been learned if it is used.

(3) Social Learning Theory recognises that behaviours can become fixed

Bandura calls these fixed behaviours ‘internalised’ - if they have been imitated and reinforced enough. In contrast, if Behaviourism were correct, our behaviour would constantly change in response to new reinforcement.

(4) Social Learning Theory recognises that reinforcement is an indirect process

This is most obvious in vicarious reinforcement where the learner is motivated by reinforcement of their models as if they were being reinforced themselves, but even reinforcement they receive themselves is less direct than in Behaviourism because it is mediated by cognitive factors. What is reinforcing to one person may not be reinforcing to another.

(5) Social Learning Theory research only involves measurement of observable behaviour

The majority is done in controlled laboratory experiments, but unlike Behaviourism its participants are almost always humans and its experimental findings are supported by natural observations.

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