PSYC 332 Chapter 3: SOCIAL LEARNING AND CULTURE
Central Chapter Theme = The social environment
Goal: to appreciate the tremendous power of the environment in determining who we are and
the intricate ways in which virtually every aspect of our lives is situated in a complex social
and cultural context.
B.F Skinner – famous psychologist Behaviorism
‐ Wrote a novel of a utopian society built on the principles of behaviorism
‐ Behavioral training was accomplished without punishment but instead though
positive reinforcement (rewarding socially desirable behavior)
‐ He believed that anyone’s behavior could be changed or shaped by changing the
environment in which we live.
‐ The power of social environments to shape human behavior was emphasized
o Biologically ingrained differences between people were downplayed
‐ Skinner argued that human behavior and persons lives are primarily products of
social learning in culture.
Behaviorism & Social Learning Theory
American Environmentalism: The Behaviorist Tradition
‐ Behaviorism‐ brand of psychology that explores the ways in which observable
behavior is learned and shaped by the environment
‐ Was the dominant force in American academic psychology from 1920 through the
‐ B.F Skinner = behaviorisms biggest enthusiast and spokesman
‐ John Watson = founder of behaviorism
o He said he could take virtually any infancy at random and raise him/her to
become any kind of adult you might imagine by just creating the right kind of
environment. ‐ Similar to British philosopher John Locke (1960) who believed the mind is like a
blank slate in which experience “writes” upon it giving the mind its characteristic
o Rejected the idea of innate ideas and argued that environment shapes a
o All humans are born psychologically equal.
o Individual differences are a function of different environmental exposures.
o PERSONALITY IS MADE (by the environment), not inborn.
How? Through learning
‐ Utilitarianism – in the 18 and 19 centuries, the idea that the “good” society should
make for the greatest happiness or pleasure for the greatest number of people.
o Utilitarian’s were pragmatic and non‐dogmatic, insisting that principles need
to be flexible to accommodate changing ethical circumstances.
o Behaviorism was steeped in a utilitarian ideology.
‐ Learning occurs though the process of association of actions with either positive
(pleasurable) or negative (painful) events.
‐ Associationism‐ various objects and ideas that are contiguous in time or space come
to be connected/associated with each other into meaningful units.
‐ Classical Conditioning – form of simple learning
o In Pavlov’s famous experiments, a dog learns to salivate in response to a
neutral stimulus (a tone) because that neutral stimulus has become associated
with a stimulus (meat) that typically elicits salivation naturally.
o Unconditioned stimulus = the meat; unconditioned response = the salivation
o Conditioned stimulus = tone; conditioned response =salivation upon hearing
o Thus, the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus become
associated because the tone is played immediately preceding the presentation
‐ Famous study of “Little Albert” (Watson and Raynor, 1920)
o An 11 month old was conditioned to fear white rats by being repeatedly
exposed to a white rat and a loud frightening noise simultaneously.
o Albert’s fear of rats expanded over time to include other furry white objects
(stimulus generalization) ‐ Higherorder conditioning – conditioned stimuli, which have obtained their eliciting
power through associations with unconditioned stimuli, come to be associated with
other neutral stimuli, which themselves become conditioned stimuli by virtue of the
o Ex. a man developing an aversion to a type of a aversion to a woman’s cologne
that his mom wore the same summer his girlfriend broke up with him.
‐ How does it work?
o Classical conditioning enables the organism to form an accurate
representation of the world.
o Ie. the tone becomes associated with the bell not because the two arrive at on
the scene at about the same time but rather because one stimulus (the tone)
provides information about another (the meat).
‐ Phobias are formed by classical conditioning – they are learned responses
o They can be unlearned through the same kinds of processes that established
them in the first place.
‐ Instrumental conditioning / Operant conditioning – behavior is modified by its
consequences (ie. positive consequences increase the likelihood of the behavior
occurring again and negative consequences decrease it) – Ex. daily parent‐child care
o Shaping‐ the process of reinforcing closer and closer approximations to a
desired behavior in an attempt to elicit that behavior
o Organisms also learn when and where to perform or refrain from certain
Ex. quiet behavior in the classroom but not playground
• Discriminant stimuli are used to discriminate between the two
environmental settings (ex. classroom desks)
Generalization – when certain response patterns are reinforced in a
great variety of environmental settings – learns that the behavior is
virtually always appropriate
• Ex. telling the truth at home, in the classroom, on the
o Parents underestimate the power of partial reinforcement (particular
response is reinforced intermittently)
o Continuous reinforcement – the response is reinforced every time it occurs o Extinction‐ when a behavior is no longer reinforced and the behavior thus
decreases in frequency and eventually dies out.
a behavior that has been partially reinforced is much harder to
extinguish than a continuously reinforced behavior.
o Conditioned generalized reinforcers‐ reinforcers that acquire their power
because of their association with a variety of other reinforcers.
Ex. money (it allows us to purchase a great variety of other
Social reinforcers can be split into:
• Stimulation rewards –receiving attention from others
= general response from others
• Affective rewards – receiving respect, praise, and affection
= emotional response from others
‐ Behavior modification (or behavior therapy, or cognitive behavior therapy – CBT)
o Practical techniques for changing problematic behaviors
‐ Social learning theories – theories that retain some of behaviorisms emphasis on
environmentalism and learning, while adopting a broader view of human behavior
that incorporates important cognitive variables that cannot be directly observed.
Expectancies and Values
‐ Julian Rotter – one of the first psychologists to introduce cognition into behaviorist
accounts of personality
o Rotter viewed the person as actively constructing his or her own reality,
rather than merely passively responding to it.
o Most human learning occurs in a social context as people learn to anticipate
what others will do and then act on those anticipations
‐ Expectancy‐ a subjectively held probability that a particular reinforcement will occur
as the outcome of a specific behavior.
o we learn to expect to be reinforced in some situations (such as working hard
on a paper) but not all (such as working hard in a relationship)
o generalized expectancies the nature of reinforcement in the world at large
‐ Locus of control: (an extremely important social‐cognitive variable in personality) o People with an internal locus of control expect reinforcements and rewards to
follow their own actions
ie. they believe their own behavior controls the consequences that
follow – subsequent reinforcing events are contingent on their
o People with an external locus of control expect that his/her behavior will not
lead to predictable reinforcement; reinforcement is dispensed by external
sources of control (such as power, chance, luck) and are not contingent on
o Can be measured by self report scales
IE Scale is the most well known
• Contains 29 items asking people to choose between internal
and external options – very generalized across many domains
Other scales have been developed to assess beliefs about specific
domains (marriage, affiliation situations, intellectual functioning,
o Research suggests that people with an internal locus of control is associated
with many positive outcomes in life
Ex. better academic achievement, better relationships, less
compliance, greater perceived competence/independence, greater
knowledge about own heath, positive attitudes towards exercise …)
Healthy and independent information seekers who adapt well to life’s
It is not always an asset: Ex. nonresponsive environments (where
their efforts to exert control are repeatedly thwarted)
‐ Reinforcement value – subjective attractiveness of a particular reinforcement
o Ex. a college student may work harder at their relationship because the
reinforcement value for this is much higher than working on her paper, even
thugh her expectancies dictates that she will be more “successful” if she acts in
the opposite manner.
o Behavioral potential (BP) is the likelihood that a particular person will
perform a given behavior
o BP = E (expectancy) + RV (reinforcement value) o People are most likely to act to obtain goals for which
They expect to be reinforced (ie. high E)
The expected reinforcements are highly valued (ie. high RV)
‐ Social learning conception of personality was extended by Walter Mischel who added
cognitive/social learning/person variables (characteristic strategies or styles of
o They are thought to grow out of the individuals previous experiences with
both situations and rewards.
o Competencies – what a person knows and can do
Each person approaches a situation with his/her own set of
o Encoding strategies – the manner in which people interpret information
Each person has a different point of view
o Selfregulatory systems and plans – the ways we regulate and guide our own
behavior through self‐imposed goals and standard.
Ex. how a student who wants to get into law school would behave
versus one who is only there because their parents forced them.
Plans provide us with guidelines and agendas. They specify how we
might achieve important goals, and they help us determine what is
worth doing and what is not at particular times and situations.
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory
(Albert Bandura‐ the most wide‐ranging influential social‐learning theorist today )
‐ Certain learning occurs outside of the bounds of pleasure/rewards and
‐ Observational learning – learning by watching others behave, reading about what
other people do and generally observing the world.
‐ The process has 4 steps through which a person observes another person’s behavior
(the model) and eventually imitates it:
o Step 1: attentional process Certain features of the model may increase the likelihood that the
person will notice or pay attention to what the model is doing
Ex. attractiveness, familiar, strange
Also includes characteristics of the observer
• Person must have eye‐sight, be motivated to observe,
o Step 2: retention process
Person must be able to encode, remember and make sense of what the
model does in order to learn
Ex. this is why a newborn will not learn math by flashing cards – they
don’t have the ability to make sense of it yet.
o Step 3: motor reproduction processes
The capabilities of performing what is observed and the availability of
such performance in the observer’s repertoire of behavior.
Ex. why not every baseball fan is an all‐star player – don’t have the
o Step 4: motivational processes
Observer must want to imitate the behavior for it to occur
Where reinforcement (rewards and punishments) may come into play
Can come in the form of self‐reinforcement or vicarious‐reinforcement
(ie. by seeing or imagining someone else being reinforced for their
‐ Take home message: first, people can learn to act in aggressive manners by imitating
aggressive models; second, the more a person observes violence, the greater the
likelihood that he or she will become an especially aggressive person.
‐ However, the relation may be circular (that is more aggressive people tend to watch
‐ Children are more likely to imitate models of their own sex, models who are
perceived as powerful, and models whose behavior is observed to be reinforced by
Self‐Efficacy ‐ Selfefficacy – a person’s belief that he/she can successfully carry out “courses of
action required to deal with prospective situations containing many ambiguous,
unpredictable, and often stressful elements”
o Ie. our belief in our own behavioral competence in a particular situation
‐ Outcome expectancies – a person’s beliefs about what the outcome of a particular
action is likely to be in a given situation
o Positive outcome expectancy – “I believe … produce a desired result”
o It is possible to have a high self‐efficacy + a low outcome expectancy
Ex. explain to friend why he should divorce his wife (high SE) but be
sure that it won’t do much good (low OE)
‐ SE judgments help determine whether we undertake particular goal‐directed
activities, the amount of effort we put into them, and the length of time we persist in
striving for goals in particular situations.
‐ Study (Manning and Wright, 1983) on the relation between SE judgments and
o 52 pregnant women attending childbirth classes that were meant to teach
them how to master the pain of labor and delivery without medication
o Completed SE and OE questionnaires before and during labor
o After the babies were born, the mothers were interviewed to assess the timing
and amount of medication used in labor and delivery
o Results: women who manifested a high SE judgment were ultimately able to
cope with pain better during labor and delivery and to resist the use of
medication, compared with women scoring low in SE.
‐ SE is a mechanism whereby people are able to exercise control over threatening
o Situations are perceived as threatening only when a person believes that the
personal resources at hand are not adequate to meet the demands of the
o Heightened SE reduces anxiety and moves the persons thinking process In the
direction of effective interaction with the environment
o Thus, SE has “empowering effects”
‐ SE has been shown to have clinical applications and health benefits o “mastery modeling” problem, is a program in which women master physical
skills to defend themselves against unarmed sexual assaults, has been shown
to enhance SE, decrease perceived vulnerability and reduce the incidence of
intrusive negative thinking and anxiety in encounters with me.
o Another program to reduce anxiety about snakes with people who had
extreme phobias (to the point where they could not garden, go camping, swim
in lakes) found that:
Increases in SE were associated with enhanced immunological
Stress (from the anxiety of the snake) experienced in the process of
building up mastery and SE may actually strengthen the body’s
Therefore, heightened immune system functioning and thus better
health, is associated with high levels of SE, but the benefits of SE
training begin to show up even before SE has had a chance to improve.
The social Ecology of Human Behavior
‐ Social ecology‐ environments that situate human behavior
o Consists of the many different environments that influence a person’s
behavior and shape his/her life.
‐ Microcontexts of social ecology are the immediate environmental influences that
shape our behavior at a given time and in a given place.
‐ Macrocontexts of social ecology are the most encompassing and distal contexts for
behavior; including social class, gender, race, culture, and the historical context within
which we live.
‐ A full understanding of behavior and of a person who displays behaviors requires our
situation that behavior and that persons life in a number of overlapping contexts,
ranging from the micro to the macro.
Micro‐contexts: The Social Situation
‐ Rudolph Moss made a taxonomy of human environments:
1. Dimensions of the physical ecology 2. Behavior settings or episodes
3. Organizational structure
4. Characteristics of persons in the situation
5. Organization climate
6. Functional and reinforcement proeteries
‐ Barba Krahe offers an alternative outline that arranges situational characteristics into
a nested hierarchy
o Lowest level = situational stimuli – single objects or acts inherent in a situation
Ex. the situation “taking an exam at the end of the term” and the
stimuli would be exam booklets, desks etc.
o Second level = situational events
Ex. being told to begin the exam
o Third level = total situation – events combine into an overall picture
What is characteristic of the total situation is its unique occurrence in
time and space
Ex. may be the first exam the student has taken at university
o Fourth level = situations are defined in generalized terms
o Fifth level = life situations – the totality of social and physical factors which
affect the person and are affected by his/her actions at a certain stage of
Ex. being an undergrad student in her first year of college
‐ It has been found, when people are asked to classify social situations they tend to
perceive situations in terms of their own subjective criteria, classifying environments
in terms of what those environments make possible for them.
o People perceive psychological rather than physical terms
‐ People often characterize particular situations in terms of their psychological
affordances – what opportunities for behavior and experience the situations afford or
offer the participant
‐ Study by Magnusson found that there are key dimensions upon which the situations
could be ordered
o How rewarding the situation was
o The extent to which it induced negative feelings
o Overall goodness of the situation o Ect
‐ There are a large number of dimensions upon which immediate situations can be
compared and contrasted and little agreement about which dimensions are most
‐ Forgas found that introverted people tended to organize information about situation
in terms of self confidence dimensions
o Extraverts, by contrast, categorized situations in terms of how pleasant the
situations were and how strong they afforded interpersonal involvement
o Therefore, introverts and extroverts are usually in different situations (in
terms of their subjective perceptions) even when it appears from the outside
that they are in the same situation
‐ People may routinely formulate elaborate personal taxonomies specifying situation
‐ Situational prototypes –an abstract set of features about a given class of situations
o Serves as working model for the person, telling him or her what to expect and
how to behave in situations of a particular type
o May include information about the physical setting, the physical features of
the people involve and a common behaviors exhibited by people in the
• Macrocontexts: Social Structure
• In all societies power and resources are un