It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of social learning theory on psychology, because the human species is so inherently social. Social life seems to come automatically, mediated via mental processes that are largely unconscious (Bargh & Williams, 2006), and our social norms appear to arise from social behavior that is adaptive within local ecologies (Kameda, Takezawa, & Hastie, 2005). It is important to note, however, that social organization is by no means unique to the human species. There are many animal species that live in social groups, some demonstrating a surprising degree of intelligence, suggesting that social living itself may have helped to foster the development of intelligence (Pennisi, 2006). Further evidence for the impact of social learning theory on psychology can be found in the simple name recognition enjoyed by Bandura, certainly one of the most famous psychologists.
There are also interesting lines of research within the field of neuroscience that provide support for Mischel and Shoda’s cognitive-affective processing system. Utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Decety & Jackson (2006) have found that empathy appears to involve activation of the same brain regions involved in experiencing the situation about which one is feeling empathy toward another person. For example, there is significant activation of brain regions involved in pain when an individual views pictures of someone else in a clearly painful situation. This would seem to provide neurobiological evidence in support of Mischel and Shoda’s cognitive-affective units, the functional components of the cognitive-affective processing system. Similarly, Knoblich & Sebanz (2006) have demonstrated that perceptual, cognitive, and motor processes are enhanced by social interaction, and that such interactions can be measured using event-related potentials that measure brain electrical activity. Some of the data presented in the study by Knoblich & Sebanz are essentially situation-behavior profiles for the individuals in their study.
Finally, let’s address the role of expectancy in one of the most challenging social issues facing the world today: diversity. We hear more and more about the value of diversity in higher education and in the workplace, but pursuing diversity is often challenged by prejudice. Expectations of prejudice enhance attention to social cues that threaten one’s social identity. In other words, when individuals expect that engaging in diversity will lead to prejudice, and perhaps then to discriminatory behavior, they are more likely to notice evidence of that very outcome (Kaiser, Vick, & Major, 2006). In addition, contact between diverse groups does less to displace feelings of prejudice among members of minority groups than it does among members of the majority group (likely due to the minority group members’ recognition of the ongoing effects of prejudice and discrimination; Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005). These represent difficult situation-behavior circumstances, since it can obviously be very difficult for team members to predict the behavioral responses likely to follow the artificial establishment of diversity. In making recommendations to the leaders of organizational teams, Mannix & Neale (2005) suggest clearly defining the team’s tasks and goals, providing bridges across diversity, and enhancing the influence of the minority. Perhaps most importantly, there is a need to provide incentives for change. Taken together, these approaches both increase the expectancy of success and raise the reinforcement value of working toward successfully diversifying the team. As such, principles that have arisen from social learning theory can clearly play a positive role is reshaping society.