Social Cognitive Theory

Bussey and Bandura's (1999) most recent account proposes that children's development of sex-typed knowledge and competencies is promoted by modeling, enactive experience, and direct tuition. As in previous versions of their theory, observational learning continues to take center stage as the major conveyor of gender-typed information. Through cognitive functions such as attentional and representational processes, symbolic conceptions derived through modeling are able to be translated into behavioral courses of action. Whether children will actually perform the learned behaviors, however, will depend on the incentive motivators (i.e., direct, vicarious, or self-evaluative) associated with the outcomes. Through these social experiences, children also develop outcome expectancies and self-efficacy beliefs that become linked to sex-typed roles and conduct. These cognitions are then expected to regulate children's sex-typed behavior. For example, if a girl observes other girls in her classroom receive disapproval for engaging in rough and tumble play, she will expect that a similar outcome will occur if she attempts to perform the same behaviors. Thus, gender-linked sanctions serve an informational and motivational function that will influence subsequent courses of action. While these sanctions are originally socially prescribed, social cognitive theory asserts that they eventually become internalized to form personal standards that will allow children to regulate and exert direct influence over their own behaviors.

Based on the outline of Bussey and Bandura's (1999) recent description, it is clear that social learning theory has come a long way from just relying on simple stimulus-response principles to explain behavior. In fact, they promote a triadic reciprocal model of causation in which personal (e.g., cognitive, affective, biological factors), behavioral, and environmental factors interact to determine sex-linked conduct. Additionally, children are no longer seen as passive recipients of environmental influences, but are now viewed as active contributors to their gender development. Even though these theoretical additions have increased the overlap between social and cognitive perspectives, there continues to be confusions and differences regarding the necessary cognitive precursors of same-sex modeling, the evaluative and motivational consequences of gender identity, and the factors that are associated with children's active role in acquiring knowledge (see Martin et al., 2002).

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