The social learning theorists observed that the complexity of human behavior cannot easily be explained by traditional behavioral theories. Bandura recognized that people learn a great deal from watching other people and seeing the rewards and/or punishments that other people receive. Social learning theorists do not deny the influence of reinforcement and punishment, but rather, they suggest that it can be experienced through observation and does not require direct, personal experience as Skinner would argue. In addition, observational learning requires cognition, something that radical behaviorists consider outside the realm of psychological research, since cognition cannot be observed. Bandura took a broad theoretical perspective on social learning, whereas Rotter and Mischel focused more closely on specific cognitive aspects of social learning and behavior.
It is also important to point out an artificial distinction that is difficult to avoid in the chapters of this section. Chapters 10, 11, and 12 are roughly set up as chapters on radical behaviorism and formal learning theory, followed by social learning, and then concluding with cognitive theories on personality development. However, as will be evident, the chapters overlap a great deal. For example, Dollard and Miller’s attempt to find a middle ground between Freud and Skinner led to their initial descriptions of social learning, which provided a prelude to this chapter. Bandura, Rotter, and Mischel address a number of aspects of cognition in their theories, but they are not as completely focused on cognition as are Kelly, Beck, and Ellis, hence the separation of this chapter from the following one. In Social Learning Theory, Bandura had this to say:
A valid criticism of extreme behaviorism is that, in a vigorous effort to avoid spurious inner causes, it has neglected determinants of behavior arising from cognitive functioning…Because some of the inner causes invoked by theorists over the years have been ill-founded does not justify excluding all internal determinants from scientific inquiry…such studies reveal that people learn and retain behavior much better by using cognitive aids that they generate than by reinforced repetitive performance…A theory that denies that thoughts can regulate actions does not lend itself readily to the explanation of complex human behavior. (pg. 10; Bandura, 1977).