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Bandura, A. (2001). 'Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective.' Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26.
Psychological thinking about learning and problem solving has moved away from extremes that emphasise the internal psychology of the individual (such as a person's needs and drives) on the one hand, and the environmental contingencies (such as the effects of rewards and punishments) on the other, towards a social-cognitive approach: the way we relate to others and how we view this. (Dweck, 1986)
Bandura (1997; 2001) argues for a transactional view of self and society in which:
internal personal factors in the form of cognitive, affective, and biological events; behaviour; and environmental events all operate as interacting determinants that influence one another [from each direction] … [each] influence will vary for different activities and under different circumstances. (Bandura, 1997, p. 6)
The social-cognitive perspective is represented in the diagram below.
In the social-cognitive approach, people are viewed as having control over 'the motivational, affective, and social determinants of their intellectual functioning, as well as the cognitive aspects' (Bandura, 1993, p. 136). That is, people can potentially control their own motivation, their behaviour and the social side of their life.
In his 2001 article, Bandura works from his social-cognitive theory to further develop the concept of personal agency. He argues that the 'essence of humanness' is contained in a 'capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one's life'. This is called 'agency'. People exhibit agency through developing intentions and thought before events; self-regulation through self-reaction; and self-reflectiveness about one's capabilities, performance, and the meaning and purpose of what one does in life.
In social-cognitive theory, people do not operate in isolation, but rather are the products and producers of social systems. Within such social systems, people exert three kinds of agency: direct personal agency, a proxy agency that relies on others to act on one's behalf, and a collective agency achieved through coordinated and interdependent efforts.
A key concept in developing individual and collective agency is self-efficacy. Bandura states:
Among the mechanisms of personal agency, none is more central or pervasive than people's beliefs in their capability to exercise some measure of control over their own functioning and over environmental events (Bandura, 1997). Efficacy beliefs are the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired results and forestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Whatever other factors may operate as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce effects by one's actions. (Bandura, 2001, p. 11)
Therefore, developing children's and adults' beliefs in their own self-efficacy is an essential first step to developing people's individual and collective control. This cycles us back to Bandura's fundamental point that agency is the essence of humanness (and of the mental health and wellbeing of an individual).
Bandura, A. (1993). 'Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning.' Educational Psychologist, 28, 117-148.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Dweck, C. S. (1986). 'Motivational processes affecting learning.' American Psychologist, 41(10), 1040-1048.