Psychology: Social Cognitive Theory Essay


Discuss about the Psychology for Social Cognitive Theory.



Stress is activated in most human while learning to have control over the environmental demands by expanding and developing core competencies. While struggling to master over the threatening situation in academic environment, stress is aroused in students. As per the health assessment data collected from different countries, there is a high prevalence of stress among students studying in universities, which is increasing the demand for counselling services (Schofield et al., 2016). Therefore, student retention and progression is a matter of prime concern for the universities. The paper is the literature review of two theories, the theory of social cognitive theory and the theory of planned behaviour. The theories are explained in the context of their application in reducing stress among university students.

Literature Review

Social Cognitive Theory or SCT developed by Bandura was derived from social learning theory. SCT proposes that an individual in addition to direct instruction also learns through other’s behaviour by observation. Learning occurs by observing other’s behaviour, encoding the images of behaviour observed, reproducing them, and being motivated to perform that behaviour. The consequences that follow a particular behavior is the motivating component for an individual to perform that particular behavior. If a behvior results in rewards and being valued then an individual is highly likely to engage in such behvior and if it results in punishment then one is highly likely to refrain from it. It includes the role of cognition in determining particular behavior (Rosenthal, & Zimmerman, 2014). Schunk & Usher, (2012) mentioned that this theory can be applied to understand and alter the self regulatory behaviour of human beings as their functioning is an interplay of behavior, cognitive, personal and environmental influences.

The study executed by Swearer et al., (2015) applied social cognitive theory or SCT in understanding the bullying behaviour that is the common cause of harassment among university students. Bullying has been reported to be the cause of victimisation of students worldwide. Bullying has resulted in increasing level of stress among other students. Therefore, SCT was applied to understand the psychological, cognitive and social characteristics in students that are responsible for bullying. Bandura had explained aggressive behvior using SCT. It will eventually help in developing interventions to transform the bullying behaviours in students into prosocial interactions. Therefore, this study identified various reasons such as growing in an environment with violent behavior, domestic violence in home, childhood abuse, and similar others. Observing such behvior and not learning it as unacceptable leads to engagement in bullying in some but not all students. Therefore, cognitive behavioural interventions address the dysfunctional behavior, cognition and attitudes surrounding the bullying behavior. The study results showed application of SCT as skills training or management training was effective in reducing disruptive behavior and stress among students.

University students are highly stressed during examinations and presentation of dissertations due to various factors such as time limitations, pressure from parents, peers, and professors to achieve high grades for acceptance in higher education programs, and fear of failure. High stress leads to cheating incidents and not reporting the same (Schofield et al., 2016). Burnett et al., (2016) applied SCT as a framework to understand varying factors that cause students to perceive cheating as an option due to stress. Therefore, framing the student’s perception by identifying the viewpoints and motivational component of cheating helped reduce the behavior. According to Haider et al., (2012) high stress among university students and associated ill health is the cause of lack of physical activity. Engaging in exercises has been found to reduce the level of stress and anxiety and associated health risks such as chronic heart disease, stroke likely to occur in older adults. Social cognitive theory was applied to exercise behavior in South Asian college students using persuasion and reinforcement. The results showed decreased stress level by implementing exercise behavior. Similar study by B?r? et al., (2014) used social cognitive intervention to reduce stress in university students of Hungary. In this study when the students were provided with a credit course of social cognitive intervention, it showed a reduction in mental distress. The intervention was related to provision of information such as stress reduction by use of the psychoactive substance, development of skills for reducing stress, improving communication and problem solving skills. Prior to the intervention student’s mental stress was assessed and compared to the results obtained after intervention. The results showed moderate but significant reduction in psychological distress. Therefore, this study implied that social cognitive theory can be integrated as a course curriculum for education in higher students.

Icek Ajen proposed the Theory of planned Behavior or TPB. The theory explains human behavior and perceived behavioural control. According to this theory, an individual’s behaviours and intentions are shaped by the three components, which are perceived behavioural control, subjective norms and attitude towards behavior (Ajzen, 2011). The available literature shows the application of TBP in predicting human intentions in health related field such as diet, exercise, and leisure. It has been used for developing intervention strategies by using behavioural constructs of TPB. For eliciting behavioural change in health, it is necessary to measure knowledge, self-efficacy, behavioural control, and intentions (De Leeuw et al., 2015).

The cause of stress among university stress is related to low self-efficacy, and lack of self-control. Students who can feel that particular activity is achievable it determines their intention (Li et al., 2012). For example, intention to exercise depends on their attitude towards it (it I pleasant exercising next week), subjective norms (my parents feel I should exercise next week) and perceived behavioural control (I don’t know if it is possible but I want to exercise next week). Perceived behavioural control in many cases has been used a predictor of willingness among university students to seek professional help during stress. It was found that the willingness was strong when the student had previous counselling experiences (Nam et al., 2013). Australian universities are witnessing growing rate of international student enrolment. Various international students studying in Australia reported tress and other emotional issues as major obstacle in studying. The concerning issues behind stress involve cultural shock, financial crisis, family separation, and language barrier (Bexley et al., 2013). Therefore, Montano and Kasprzyk (2015) applied the TPB as framework to investigate the help seeking behavior in these students while addressing the adjustment issues and utilization of their campus counselling services. The theory has helped to identify various factors inhibiting resolution of stressful situation that assist in developing interventions to reduce stress among the students. Considering the perceived behavioural factors several researchers have examined the impact of particular behaviour and special skills on an individual’s behavior that may not be under their control (Ajzen, 2011).

Nam et al., (2013) studied help seeking behaviour of university students in stress using TPB. Majority of the respondents showed willingness to reduce stress consulting a psychiatrist. Similar studies were conducted with non-depressed students. They were exposed to the vignette of the depressed people. They were later asked if they were in the similar position would they like to see mental health services. Majority of the participants agreed to consult psychiatrist in such situations. Ability of most of the university students to overcome stress is the outcome of their control beliefs and behaviour. Those unable to reduce stress seeking professional help was mainly the lack of help seeking intentions (Li et al., 2014). Louis et al., (2009) tend to address the stress among university situations by predicting the intention to eat unhealthy food which further increases the stress level this is attenuated with the subjective norms and perceived behavioural control.

The strength of the application of SCT is that an individual can be made to proactively engage in personal development. All it needs is to enable them to practice and control their thoughts and feelings so as to bring adaptation and change. However, its limitations include. However, it is difficult to apply theory in its entirety as it lacks one unifying principle. It is highly likely to focus on concept such self-efficacy (Schunk & Usher, 2012). The strength of TPB includes provision of constructs (attitudes, perceived power and control) based on which it is easy to determine an individual’s control over the behaviour responsible for a phenomenon say stress. However, the limitation of TPB is that it does not explain how to develop skills to reduce mental depression, state of anxiety and stress. The theory fails to understand that the behaviour can change over time. The theory only assumes that the behaviour of human is the result of linear decision-making process criticised (Ajzen, 2011). Moreover, the construct of perceived behavioural control is an added construct of the theory but it does not address the time frame between the “intention and the behavioural action”. It also does not explain the actual control over behaviour.


There is a great body of literature showing successful application of SCT in reducing stress among university students. However, there is a lack of data on application of SCT on teachers to modify their teaching skills and its effect on reducing stress among students. This area may need intense research. The studies using TPB helped to develop interventions such as health eating, exercises and tendency to seek professional mental help for students in mental stress by analysing their intention and subjective norms. However, due to the limitations of TPB there are fewer studies on reducing stress in university students. It has only helped in developing interventions by predicting behaviour rather than explaining the way to change the behaviour making SCT is more effective in this context.


Ajzen, I. (2011). The theory of planned behaviour: reactions and reflections. Psychology & health, 26(9), 1113-1127.

Bexley, E., Daroesman, S., Arkoudis, S., & James, R. (2013). University Student Finances in 2012: A Study of the Financial Circumstances of Domestic and International Students in Australia's Universities. Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

B?r?, ?., Veres-Balajti, I., ?d?ny, R., & K?sa, K. (2014). Social cognitive intervention reduces stress in Hungarian university students. Health promotion international, dau006.

Burnett, A. J., Smith, T. M. E., & Wessel, M. T. (2016). Use of the Social Cognitive Theory to Frame University Students’ Perceptions of Cheating. Journal of Academic Ethics, 14(1), 49-69.

De Leeuw, A., Valois, P., Ajzen, I., & Schmidt, P. (2015). Using the theory of planned behavior to identify key beliefs underlying pro-environmental behavior in high-school students: Implications for educational interventions. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 128-138.

Haider, T., Sharma, M., & Bernard, A. (2012). Using social cognitive theory to predict exercise behavior among south Asian college students. Journal of Community Medicine & Health Education, 2012.

Li, W., Dorstyn, D. S., & Denson, L. A. (2014). Psychosocial correlates of college students’ help-seeking intention: A meta-analysis. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(3), 163.

Louis, W. R., Chan, M. K. H., & Greenbaum, S. (2009). Stress and the theory of planned behavior: Understanding healthy and unhealthy eating intentions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39(2), 472-493.

Montano, D. E., & Kasprzyk, D. (2015). Theory of reasoned action, theory of planned behavior, and the integrated behavioral model. Health behavior: Theory, research and practice (.

Nam, S. K., Choi, S. I., Lee, J. H., Lee, M. K., Kim, A. R., & Lee, S. M. (2013). Psychological factors in college students' attitudes toward seeking professional psychological help: A meta-analysis. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 44(1), 37.

Rosenthal, T. L., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2014). Social learning and cognition. Academic Press.

Schofield, M. J., O'Halloran, P., McLean, S. A., Forrester?Knauss, C., & Paxton, S. J. (2016). Depressive Symptoms Among Australian University Students: Who Is at Risk?. Australian Psychologist, 51(2), 135-144.

Schunk, D. H., & Usher, E. L. (2012). Social Cognitive Theory and. APA educational psychology handbook, 1.

Swearer, S. M., Wang, C., Berry, B., & Myers, Z. R. (2014). Reducing Bullying: application of social cognitive theory. Theory Into Practice, 53(4), 271-277.

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