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Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) describes the influence of individual experiences, the actions of others, and environmental factors on individual health behaviors. SCT provides opportunities for social support through instilling expectations, self-efficacy, and using observational learning and other reinforcements to achieve behavior change.

Key components of the SCT related to individual behavior change include:

  • Self-efficacy: The belief that an individual has control over and is able to execute a behavior.
  • Behavioral capability: Understanding and having the skill to perform a behavior.
  • Expectations: Determining the outcomes of behavior change.
  • Expectancies: Assigning a value to the outcomes of behavior change.
  • Self-control: Regulating and monitoring individual behavior.
  • Observational learning: Watching and observing outcomes of others performing or modeling the desired behavior.
  • Reinforcements: Promoting incentives and rewards that encourage behavior change.

Social Cognitive Theory Examples

  • Healthy Relationships, a program implemented by Chattanooga CARES, is a small-group intervention for people living with HIV/AIDS. The program is based on the Social Cognitive Theory and uses skill-building exercises to increase independence and develop healthy behaviors among participants. Additional information about this program is available in the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment Toolkit.
  • HoMBReS is a community-based intervention designed to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among Latino men living in rural areas of the United States. Based on the Social Cognitive Theory, the program trains “Navegantes” (Navigators) who provide information and risk reduction materials to the target population.

Considerations for Implementation

The SCT can be applied as a theoretical framework in different settings and populations. It is frequently used to guide behavior change interventions. It may be particularly useful in rural communities for examining how individuals interact with their surroundings. The SCT can be used to understand the influence of social determinants of health and a person's past experiences on behavior change.

Resources to Learn More

Health Promotion by Social Cognitive Means
Document
Research article that examines social cognitive theory in the context of health promotion and disease prevention. It describes how health motivators and behaviors are influenced by the interaction of individual beliefs, environment, and behaviors.
Authors(s): Bandura, A.
Citation: Health Education & Behavior, 31(2), 143-164
Date: 4/2004

Social Cognitive Theory
Website
Provides an overview of SCT in health promotion activities.
Organization(s): Boston University School of Public Health

Using Social Cognitive Theory in Practice
Website
Describes SCT constructs and how they were used to plan and evaluate a weight management program.
Organization(s): Surround Health