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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.
  • Developed at Tufts University, StrongPeople – Healthy Weight is a community-based intervention designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among overweight and obese women over the age of 40. The program has shown decrease in body weight, body mass index, and waist circumference, as well as increased physical activity.

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

Social Cognitive Theory-Based Health Promotion in Primary Care Practice: A Scoping Review
Summarizes the research found on health promotion interventions based on social cognitive theory, and evaluates the data demonstrating intervention effectiveness in primary care.
Author(s): Islam, K., Awal, A., Mazumder, H., et al.
Citation: Heliyon, 9(4)
Date: 4/2023