Social Cognitive Theory:Applications, Related Theoretical Conceptions, and
Questions to be answered in this chapter
• Cognitive personality variables (reminder)
o Peoples beliefs about the self and the world
o Their personal aims or goals
o The evaluative standards that people use to judge the goodness or worth of their
own actions and those of others.
Cognitive components of personality: beliefs, goals, and evaluative standards
BELIEFSABOUT THE SELFAND SELF-SCHEMAS
• It is human nature to be self0reflective. People do not merely interact with the world.
They reflect on their own interactions and, in so doing, develop beliefs about what they
themselves are like. Self-referent beliefs are central to personality functioning.
• The idea that schemas has a long history. The 18 -century German philosopher Immanuel
Kant recognized that we make sense out of new experiences by interpreting events in
terms of pre-existing ideas in the mind. These pre-existing mental structures are what he
referred to as schemas. Schemas are knowledge structures that we use to bring order to
what otherwise might be a chaotic jumble of stimuli.
• Schemas are structures of the mind that we use to make sense of the world around us.
• Phrased more technically, schemas are knowledge structures that guide and organize the
processing of information.A schemas, is far more than just a stored list of facts. A schema
instead is an organized network of knowledge that commonly is of such complexity that it
may be impossible for a person to state its contents.
• Self-schemas: we develop generalized knowledge structures concerning ourselves. These
elements of self-knowledge guide and organize information processing when we
encounter new situations.
• Self-schemas may account for the relatively unique ways in which idiosyncratic
individuals think about the world around them.
Self-Schemas and Reaction-Time Methods
• A key research method employed by Markus was reaction-time measures. Reaction-time
measures are experimental methods in which an experimenter records not only content of
a person’s response but also how long it takes the person to respond to the question.
• Reaction-time measures are directly relevant to the central idea associated with the notion
of self-schemas. The idea is that schemas guide information processing.
• Any given individual does not possess merely one self-schema. Instead, people tend to
live complex lives in which they develop a number of different views of themselves.
• Different situational cues may cause different self-schemas to enter working memory and,
this, to be part of the working-self-concept, that is, the subset of self-concept that is in
working memory at any given time. • Self-concept thus is dynamic; the information about the self that is in consciousness, and
guides behaviour, at any given time, changes dynamically as people interact with the ever-
changing events of the social world.
• Each of us has a family of selves, the contents and organization of which are unique.
Within this family of selves there may be a prototype self, a self-concept in relation to
which we say “this is what I am really like.” And within this family of selves there may
be fuzzy selves, or parts of us that we are not sure how they fit in relation to the other
Self-Based Motives and Motivated Information Processing
• Self-schemas also motivate people to process information in particular ways. Motivational
processes are often self-based.
• Two motives in relation to the self have been emphasized in research on social cognition
and personality: motives for self-enhancement and for self-verification.
o Self-enhancement: a motive to maintain or enhance positive views of the self.
o Self-verification: a motive to obtain information that is consistent with one’s self-
• People often are biased toward positive views of the self.
• The psychologist Whilliam Swann suggests that people have a self0verification motive, a
motive to solicit from others information that confirms aspects of their self-concept.
• A person with a negative self-schema will seek out information and social feedback that
confirms the negative self-schema, becoming in a sense his or her own worst enemy.
• Generally we prefer positive feedback but would rather have negative feedback in relation
to negative self-views.
LEARNING VERSUS PERFORMANCE GOALS
• Difference between learning goals and performance goals – goals are different ways in
which people may think about a challenging activity.
o Learning goal: striving to learn from others, in order to increase your ability and
o Performance goal: the aim of putting on a good performance for others who will
be evaluating your abilities
• People with learning versus performance goals experience activities differently,
particularly if they are not confident in their abilities.
• The findings show that performance goals can create a pattern of thought and emotion
that we commonly call “test anxiety”.
Causes of Learning versus Performance Goals: Implicit Theories
• Implicit theories are ideas that guide our thinking, but that we may not usually state in
words; we possess the ideas implicitly, even if we do not state them explicitly.
• People who hold an entity theory of intelligence believe that intelligence levels are fixed.
According to another set of beliefs, know as an incremental theory, intelligence is
acquired gradually and naturally changes over time. • Different implicit theories lead people to set different goals that, in turn, have different
implications for emotion and motivation.
• If one could change people’s implicit theories – turning entity theorists into incremental
theorists – one should be able to reduce their test anxiety and boost their performance.
STANDARDS OF EVALUATION
• Goals are aims one hopes to achieve in the future. Standards are criteria used to evaluate
events in the present.
Self-Standards, Self-Discrepancies, Emotions, and Motivation
• The critical distinction is the difference between standards that represent “ideals” versus
“oughts”. Some evaluative standards represent achievement that people ideally would
like to reach. They represent types of behaviour that one values positively. Higgins calls
these ideal standards, or aspects of the “ideal self”.
• Alternatively, some evaluative standards represent standards of achievement that people
feel they should or ought to achieve. The standards represent duties of responsibilities.
These are termed ought standards, or elements of the “ought self”.
• These are two steps to Higgin’s reasoning:
o (1) People experience negative emotions when they detect a discrepancy between
how things really are going for them – or their “actual self” – and a personal
standard. These self-discrepancies are cognitive mechanisms that contribute t
o (2) Discrepancies with different (ideal versus ought) standards trigger different
emotions. Discrepancies between the actual and ideal self cause people to feel sad
or dejected; failing to meet one’s ideal standards is a loss of positive outcomes
that brings on sadness. Discrepancies between the actual and ought self cause
agitation and anxiety; the possibility of not achieving one’s obligations is a
potential negative outcome that is threatening.
• Self-discrepancies are cognitive basis for individual differences in emotional experience.
• Different types of self-discrepancies are correlated with different emotional reactions.
• Clinical researchers have begun to develop therapeutic techniques to reduce
discrepancies between the actual and ideal self.
• Higgins emphasizes that evaluative standards have implications not only for emotional
experiences but also for motivation. People who evaluate their actions primarily through
ideal standards ten to have a “promotion” approach to their activities. In other words,
they are motivated toward promoting well-being, which they do by focusing on positive
outcomes (either attaining positive outcomes or avoiding their loss once they have been
• Different motivational processes come into play when one is prevention versus
promotion-focused and people’s actions feel more natural to them when their activities fit
their primary motivational orientation.
• “Personality variables” explain what people do on average, and “situational factors”
explain variations around the average. As Higgins recognizes, this sort of thinking yields
a very unsatisfying science of persons. It is unsatisfying because different, and seemingly unrelated, theoretical principles have to be invoked to explain one versus another
behaviour by the same person.
• Higgin’s work yields general principles; he describes it as a general principles approach
to understanding personality and situational influences.
o People’s knowledge – including their ideal and ought standards for knowledge is
an enduring aspect of personality. But knowledge mechanisms also explain
situational influences. Different situations activate different aspects of knowledge
and, in so doing, bring about different emotional and motivational patterns. Thus,
one obtains an integrated account of personal and situational influences on
emotion and behaviour in which one set of common, general principles explains
both consistency in thought and action that results from personal influences and
variability in thought and action that results from situational influences.
• There is no one theory or technique of cognitive therapy. Instead, there are different
approaches, often tailored to specific problems, that share some common assumptions.
o Cognitions are viewed as critical in determining feelings and behaviours. Thus,
there is an interest in what people think and say to themselves.
o The cognitions of interest tend to be specific to situations or categories of
situations, though the importance of some generalized expectancies and beliefs is
o Psychopathology is viewed as arising from distorted, incorrect, maladaptive
cognitions concerning the self, others, and events in the world. Different forms of
pathology are viewed as resulting from different cognitions or ways of processing
o Faulty, maladaptive cognitions lead to problematic feelings and behaviours, and
these in turn lead to further problematic cognitions. Thus, a self-fulfilling cycle
may set in whereby persons act so as to confirm and maintain their distorted.
o Cognitive therapy involves a collaborative effort between therapist and patient to
determine which distorted, maladaptive cognitions are creating the difficulty and
then to replace them with other more realistic, adaptive cognitions. The
therapeutic approaches tend to be active, structured, and focused on the present.
o In contrast with other approaches, cognitive approaches do not see the
unconscious as important, except insofar as patients may not be aware of their
routine, habitual ways of thinking about themselves and life. Further, there is an
emphasis on changes in specific problematic cognitions rather than on global
PSYCHOPATHOLOGY AND CHANGE: MODELING, SELF-CONCEPTIONS, AND
• Once behaviours have been learned through observational learning, it is quite likely that
they have been maintained because of direct and vicarious reinforcement.
• It is suggested that observational learning and vicarious conditioning may account for a
great proportion of human fears and phobias.
• Dysfunctional expectancies: In social cognitive theory, maladaptive expectations
concerning the consequences of specific behaviours. • Dysfunctional self-evaluations: In social cognitive theory, maladaptive standards for self-
reward that have important implication for psychopathology.
Self-Efficacy, Anxiety, and Depression
• Research indicates that those who believe they cannot manage threatening events
experiences great distress.
• Although perc