Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory and its Key Elements

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is defined as learned behavioral habits from observation and social interaction (Fertman, 2017). The models state that human behavior is influenced by three major behavioral constructs and they are:


  • Cognitive influences on behavior: depicts the ability of processing information, then applying the knowledge, and changing preferences. There are four elements that describe this influential behavior and they are self-efficacy, collective efficacy, outcome expectations, and knowledge. Self-efficacy is the confidence to perform a behavior due to the individuals’ mastery of experiences. Collective efficacy is the ability of a group working together to achieve an outcome through teamwork, shared goals, and communication. Outcome expectations are the outcomes from positive or negative actions, and knowledge is the understanding of the risk that comes with the behavior and the benefits of certain health practices (Fertman, 2017).
  • Environmental influences: describe aspects that affect behaviors such as physical and social factors in the environment. There are four elements that describe this influential behavior and they are observational learning, normative beliefs, social support, and barriers and opportunities. Observational learning is the act of learning a new behavior based on observation, and normative beliefs are behavioral aspects based on cultural norms and beliefs. Social support is the support and encouragement an individual receives from their social network, and barriers and opportunities are social and physical elements that make behavior change harder or easier to perform (Fertman, 2017).
  • Supporting behavioral: factors are actions that lead to health-enhancing to improve health or health-compromising which leads to poorer health. There are three elements that describe this influential behavior and they are behavioral skills, intentions, and reinforcement, and punishment. Behavioral skills are the abilities needed to achieve or perform a behavior and intentions are the modifications of new or old behavior. Reinforcement and punishments are defined as influences on behaviors through the removal and provision of rewards or punishment (Fertman, 2017).

An example of the Social Cognitive Theory

The SCT was used in an intervention public health program to promote smoking cessation in China. The program took place between 2004-2005, where 225 smokers are divided into two groups, a control group of 107 and an intervention group of 118. The effectiveness of the intervention using the SCT was measured by allowing the intervention group to take a 3-weeks course on smoking cessation that contained 5 sections at the beginning of the study. Afterward, they did a questionnaire that contained information on the smoker’s intention to quit smoking, their smoking habit, and their self-efficacy in smoking cessation. These data were collected 6 months after the study started. Whereas, the control group did their questionnaire first, then their course afterward. Then both groups were followed up with after 1 year. The result showed that after 6 months, 40% of the intervention group quit smoking, but only 5% of the control group quit. The data also showed that after the 1-year follow-up with the intervention group, their self-efficacy and smoking cessation abstinence increased, which determined that the smoking cessation intervention based on the SCT was successful (Zheng et al., 2007).

Why program planning models are used in developing programs.

The SCT states that cognitive influence, such as the ability to process information, apply the knowledge, and changing their behaviors is what the Chinese participants experienced. this is because the course allowed them to learned of the dangers of smoking and why they needed to quit, and that perceived knowledge increased their self-efficacy skills in allowing the intervention to change their behavior, thus resulting in a successful intervention. This is why this model is used in developing programs because it allows the participants to observe, learn, and initiate new behavior change.





Fertman, C. I., & Allensworth, D. D. (Eds.). (2017). Health promotion programs: From theory to practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zheng, P., Guo, F., Chen, Y., Fu, Y., Ye, T., & Fu, H. (2007). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Group Intervention Based on Social Cognitive Theory for Smoking Cessation in China. Journal of Epidemiology, 17(5), 147-153. Doi 10.2188/jea.17.147








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