Management Social Cognitive Theory
Alexander Stajkovic, Kayla Sergent
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0169


In conceptualizations presented in social cognitive theory (SCT), humans are not passive objects shaped and shepherded by contingent consequences of an environment. People are agentic; they proactively make their way through the intricacies and dualities of life. To attain desired outcomes, people make judgments about the interplay among environment, personal factors, and consequences of their behavior. SCT conceptualizes these cognitive appraisals in terms of triadic, reciprocal, and asymmetric influences among the environment, person, and behavior. The belief system formed by the model’s cognitive dynamics is shaped by one’s current working conception of the world. This belief system guides behavior adaptively toward desirable pursuits and away from undesirable consequences. As people set goals, devise accordant courses of action, and anticipate outcomes, they act on this thread of beliefs. People operate on the environment, they monitor and analyze their actions, reflect on the consequences, and react to course-correct. These behaviors rely on self-awareness, self-reflection, and adaptive self-regulation. To explain and predict the fluent vagaries of social life, nuanced conceptions of interactive factors are conferred by SCT in the triadic model. A transformative contributor to adaptive self-regulation in SCT is perceived self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a malleable belief formed by personal appraisal of how well a person can execute courses of action required to deal successfully with a given prospect. Self-efficacy does not signify people believe they can walk on water; it simply implies they believe they can enact the potential they already have. Even when people have acquired the knowledge and ability to succeed, cherished outcomes are forsaken if they harbor doubt in their capacity to self-regulate.

A Model of Triadic Influences

Triadic causation is the functional dependence among the environment, person, and behavior. The bidirectional influences connote a recursive influence among the three factors or between any pair of them. The asymmetric causation denotes the strength of influences between and among the factors; this is not fixed in reciprocal causation because behavior is socially situated. The relative influences exerted by one, two, or all three factors vary with circumstances, individuals, and activities. Bandura 1986 explained the cognitive morphology that facilitates the interactions among the three factors. Bandura 1989 expanded on these conceptions by analyzing the central role of cognitive, vicarious, self-reflective, and self-regulatory processes though which human agency is exercised. Then Bandura 2001 elaborated on the role of functional consciousness in supporting the operation of these cognitive mechanisms. Additional underlying cognitive mechanisms include symbolizing, forethought, Vicarious Learning, self-regulation, and self-reflection; these were further elaborated upon in Stajkovic and Luthans 1998 in relation to organizational dynamics and in Stajkovic and Luthans 2003 in relation to work motivation. Bandura 2006 expanded upon his agentic theory of human development, adaptation, and change to articulate the core properties of human agency that transcend diverse spheres of life and cultures.

  • Bandura, Albert. Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1986.

    This is Bandura’s most frequently cited book; it presents a comprehensive theory of human motivation and action from a social cognitive perspective. In it, Bandura emphasizes the reciprocal causation of cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors in explaining psychosocial functioning.

  • Bandura, Albert. “Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory.” American Psychologist 44.9 (September 1989): 1175–1184.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.44.9.1175

    This article addressed the psychological mechanisms through which personal agency is exercised, the hierarchical structure of self-regulatory systems, and avoidance of self-construal as a dichotomous choice of either agent or object, as well as describing the properties of a nondualistic but nonreductional conception of human agency. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Bandura, Albert. “Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic Perspective.” Annual Review of Psychology 52 (February 2001): 1–26.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.1

    This article reviewed social cognitive theory and emphasized the agentic nature of human functioning. In it, Bandura distinguished among three models of agency: direct personal agency, proxy agency, and collective agency. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Bandura, Albert. “Toward a Psychology of Human Agency.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1.2 (June 2006): 164–180.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00011.x

    This article took a deeper dive into the core properties of human agency. It discussed their role in the coevolution process and their influence at both individual and collective levels across cultural systems. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Stajkovic, Alexander, and Fred Luthans. “Social Cognitive Theory and Self-Efficacy: Going beyond Traditional Motivational and Behavioral Approaches.” Organizational Dynamics 26.4 (March 1998): 62–74.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0090-2616(98)90006-7

    In this article, the authors explain the power of SCT in relation to organizational dynamics and outline the three key dimensions of self-efficacy. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Stajkovic, Alexander, and Fred Luthans. “Social Cognitive Theory and Self-Efficacy: Implications for Motivation Theory and Practice.” In Motivation and Work Behavior. Edited by L. Porter, G. Bigley, and R. Steers, 126–140. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2003.

    This chapter reviewed the five basic human capabilities identified in social cognitive theory. The focus was on explaining how SCT, and its main construct of self-efficacy, contribute to a better understanding of work motivation.

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