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Social Learning and Trait Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 1487 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology (2001), social learning theory is based on the psychology concept that the learning processes within our environment establish human behavior. Aspects of reinforcement in either rewards or punishment meant to develop desirable behavior most specifically determine it. Trait theories on the other hand identify personality as a set of characteristics that are based on our consistent desires, attitudes and behavior that form a stable and consistent part of who we are. Julian B. Rotter is one of the earliest psychologists who developed the theory that besides the earlier research done on behaviorism by the likes of Ian Pavlov, cognition also played a huge role in social learning. His argument was based on the theory that a person’s behavior is determined by expectancy. As a result, an individual behaves in a certain way based on the expected outcome of their behavior as well as the value that individual places on that outcome.

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Rotter’s personality theory based on social learning had two variables; internals and externals (Mearns, 2000). People have different beliefs on their ability to control whether or not their various behaviors in life are reinforced. Internals believe that they have control over the kind of behaviors they portray while externals are of the view that their behavior is because of external factors, which they have no control over. These two variables do not however apply exclusively in individuals so that people are classified as either internals or externals. Generally, an internal individual can portray external traits in various situations. Personality in general is because of one’s interaction with their environment. Another popular social learning theorist Albert Bandura argued that cognition, behavior, and one’s environment have a reciprocal relationship. This, he justified by explaining that one’s understanding and interpretation of a situation such as hostility causes them to portray hostile behavior. This in turn often affects their environment as it may cause similar hostile thoughts and behavior in other people.

Bandura is the same theorist who introduced the concept of observational learning (Kreitner, & Luthans, n.d.). People learn certain behavior by observing the consequences of such behavior on other people. As a result, we will take up the behaviors that get positive reinforcement and stay away from those that are punished. This kind of learning is especially typical of children, who imitate behavior that is rewarded in other children or even adults within their environment. Understanding the concept of social learning and trait theories has enabled me to interpret the behaviors and personalities of people within my environment such as my home, school and the work place. We are all unique in the different traits that define each of us, and there are variables that determine our unique behavior (The Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2001). One such variable is our individual perceptions of our environment. Though people may share an environment such as in school and the work place, they may have different perceptions of it, which would translate into their different behaviors.

Expectations are another variable that determine our unique behaviors. Everyone has their individual expectations that drive them to behave in a certain way. If for example, attending school in time may be because a student expects to qualify to join a reputable college once they attain good grades, another student who does not plan to join college will not display the same behavior of diligently attending school. Personal values also contribute to individual behavior, which is driven by one’s personal goals and ideals, which make them, behave in a certain way. Self-regulation and plans in relation to achieving our goals and living by our ideals determines individual behavior. Therefore, to understand people’s personalities and behaviors in society, I have learned to analyze the determinants that contribute to both within their environment as opposed to making generalizations and assumptions on the causes of their behaviors and the formation of their traits.

According to Jones (2005), an individual’s environment plays a major role in the formation of their personality and behavior. Aspects of the environment such as one’s family, peers, and neighborhood contribute to the social learning that shapes behavior and personality. Having learned this, I have been able to understand people’s behavior better by first looking at the environment in which they live or were brought up. Criminal behavior such as robbery and burglary in an individual for example, may be quickly interpreted as a cause of poverty that drives them to earn a living in this way. However, research has shown that individuals who are brought up in an abusive environment have a high chance of turning to such criminal behavior (Jones, 2005). They may be living comfortable lives but still turn to criminal behavior as a way of punishing other people in a similar manner that they feel they were treated growing up.

In the same token, I have learned that observational learning is a powerful tool that leads to the formation of personality and behavior. Jones (2005) further cites the development of aggressive behavior in children as a product of observing the same in their parents, peers, or siblings. This has alerted me to realize that how we behave within our social setting plays a big role in the development of either desirable or bad behavior in others within our environment, and especially children. It is therefore important for society to portray positive behavior in all aspects of our lives consciously in order to aid in developing positive behavior, attitudes, and personalities in children as they grow up. This would help in ridding society of such undesirable behavior as abuse, aggression, violence and antisocial behavior.

One of the major roles of each individual in society is to create a favorable environment for themselves and for other people either in school, in the family or at the work place. Having learned the concepts of social learning and traits theories in the development of behavior and personality, my role is reinforced with helpful knowledge on how I can help individual’s develop desirable behavior through providing adequate learning experiences. When an individual’s expected outcome of certain behavior is not reinforced, they develop low expectancies so that they are no longer motivated to repeat the behavior. Raising the expectancy for reinforcement especially in children will help them develop and sustain desirable behavior. This can be done through helping them develop rational expectancies and encouraging them to behaving in ways that they have been avoiding for the fear that they will fail.

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In my interactions with others, the knowledge on social learning and traits theories gives me the ability to understand all kinds of people that I meet. They may be introverted, extroverted, hostile, or lacking in confidence but I will be in a position to reach out to them since I am able to understand their different traits. This is as opposed to dismissing people for example on the grounds of being hostile and therefore seemingly unapproachable. It is thus possible for me to approach such an individual and teach them how to take control of their anger and hostility. I can do this by helping them shift their personal ideals and educating them on how negatively they affect their environment, like their children or siblings with such behavior.


Social learning plays a huge role in the formation of traits and personality in individuals in society (Kreitner and Luthans, n.d.). Once behavior is formed in childhood, based on the conditions of our environment, it is very hard to change that behavior in future. As a result, it is imperative that society creates conducive environment for children to develop healthy personalities and desirable behavior. Development of self-evaluative ideals is also important as it helps individuals create standards for themselves that are at par with positive behavior.

Kreitner and Luthans (n.d.) insist that promoting healthy cognitive processes is another handy tool in promoting desirable behavior in social learning. Such processes would enable individuals within the society to reason logically when interpreting different aspects of their environment. This would in turn change such bad behavior as violence and aggression when peoples’ reasoning powers are increased. This is generally shaping peoples’ perceptions in ways that enables them to interpret their environment positively in order to develop healthy personalities and positive behavior.


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