Theory and Practice

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Have you ever heard the saying “people are a product of their environment”? How much weight does that statement actually carry? Could you think of an example where it holds true? Interestingly enough, within academia there are many ideas that touch upon this saying. One such idea is called Social Cognitive Theory (SCT).

Developed from research and commentary by Albert Bandura of Stanford University, SCT states that human behavior is a result of the dynamic interaction between personal, behavioral, and environmental influences. Personal, or cognitive, influences consist of the way people think an external stimulus directly contributes to their behavior. A behavioral influence consists of actions or reactions to external stimuli (e.g. a specific event, spoken statement, etc.). Lastly, environmental influences consist of physical, biological, and social surroundings that add to one’s perceptions and actions. Ultimately, SCT seeks to provide a complete understanding of both why and how an individual changes their health behaviors as well as the social and physical environments influencing them.

So what does all of this jargon actually mean, and why should you know about SCT? Basically, this broad theory sheds some light onto the saying “people are a product of their environment”. Since SCT is grounded in academia, it is obviously complex. However, there are some areas within SCT worth noting, such as its major concept called reciprocal determinism. Reciprocal determinism basically asserts that individuals and groups are influenced by environmental factors, but individuals and groups can also influence their environments and control their own behavior. Not clear enough for you? Well, let’s look at an example.

To date, crime rates in Chicago, Illinois are at an all time high. The windy city was reported as having 500 murders in 2012. This surpassed even New York, giving many reason to call Chicago “the murder capital of the U.S.”. People living in one of Chicago’s rougher neighborhoods (let’s say Englewood) are constantly bombarded by wrongdoings in the physical environment (e.g. street pollution) as well as possible social pressures to join in crime activity. However, these same people can decide to take charge and actively work to fix the problems being faced (e.g. instituting better school systems). This, in a nutshell, is an illustration of reciprocal determinism.

One last area of SCT that should be noted is this idea of collective efficacy, or the beliefs of a particular group to bring about desired change. The idea was derived from Bandura’s implementation of self efficacy into SCT. Self efficacy, or a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation, is the concept for which SCT is most widely recognized. Going back to the Chicago example, high collective efficacy is necessary for the city’s communities to begin bringing about change in  rougher neighborhoods. As a group, people in Chicago can enact positive environmental change on both a physical and social level. Individually, people can also change their mindsets towards the city and look to behave in more productive ways.

If you want to know more about SCT, feel free to click on this link. Finally, as a reminder of how rough cities such as Chicago can be, check out the music video below. See if you can figure out a way to apply the knowledge learned from this post to the images seen (WARNING: This video contains graphic language and imagery):

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