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Using Social Cognitive Theory in Practice

Originated by: Diana Wilson

Submitted: 17 Aug 2012

Last updated on: 17 Aug 2012

Related Health Topics: Weight management, Physical activity

Overview

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is one of the most frequently used and robust health behavior theories. This theory describes a dynamic, ongoing process in which personal factors (including behavior), environmental factors, and human behavior all interact. SCT evolved from research on Social Learning Theory, which asserts that people learn not only from their own experiences, but by observing the actions of others and the benefits of those actions. Albert Bandura later added the construct of self-efficacy. SCT has been used successfully as the underlying theory for behavior change in areas ranging from dietary change to pain control (NCI, 2005).

Constructs and Applications

SCT integrates concepts and processes from cognitive, behaviorist, and emotional models of behavior change so it includes many constructs (NCI, 2005). The constructs of SCT follow, along with ways to incorporate these constructs into successful programs:

  • Environment: Factors that are physically external to the person. Provide opportunities and social support (Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2002).
  • Situation: Persons perception of the environment. Correct misperceptions and promote healthful norms (Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2002).
  • Behavioral capability: Knowledge and skill to perform a given behavior. Promote mastery learning through skills training (NCI, 2005).
  • Expectations: Anticipated outcomes of a behavior. Model positive outcomes of healthful behavior (NCI, 2005).
  • Expectancies: The values that the person places on a given outcome and incentives. Present outcomes of change that have a functional meaning (Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2002).
  • Self-control: Personal regulation of goal-directed behavior or performance. Provide opportunities for decision making, self-monitoring goal setting, problem solving, and self-reward (Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2002).
  • Observational learning (modeling): Behavioral acquisition that occurs by watching the actions and outcomes of others’ behavior. Offer credible role models who perform the targeted behavior (NCI, 2005).
  • Reinforcements: Responses to a person’s behavior that increase or decrease the likelihood of reoccurrence. Promote self-initiated rewards and incentives (NCI, 2005).
  • Self-efficacy: Confidence in one’s ability to take action and overcome barriers. Approach behavior change in small steps to ensure success; be specific about the desired change (NCI, 2005).
  • Emotional coping responses: Strategies or tactics that are used by a person to deal with emotional stimuli. Provide training and practice in problem solving and stress management skills (Baranowski, Perry, & Parcel, 2002).
  • Reciprocal determinism: The dynamic interaction of the person, behavior, and the environment in which the behavior is performed. Consider multiple ways to promote behavior change, including making adjustments to the environment or influencing personal attitudes (NCI, 2005).

Case Example

SCT can be used with a variety of populations and in a variety of settings and was instrumental in planning an online, research-driven, freshman weight management programs I conducted. The program is organized into six modules corresponding to six themes identified in a needs assessment. Each module contains the same content sections including a pretest, an introductory reading, a message board discussion, homework, a posttest, and email feedback. Four constructs of SCT were used to determine objectives, plan activities, and evaluate success: reciprocal determinism, behavioral capability, expectations, and self-efficacy. Following is an example of how SCT is used in Module 2: “Get Active.”

The overall goal of Module 2 is to increase exercise in the daily life of participants. Some of the objectives to be met by participants through completion of this module follow along with the construct and activity used to meet the objective. Evaluation is done through the posttest and homework components.

1. Recognize social support for increasing exercise (Reciprocal Determinism)

Message board - What are some things that help you be more active?  What are some things that get in the way of being active?

Message board - What are some steps you can take to increase how often you exercise?

Homework - Find a friend (someone from the program or someone else) to exercise with.  Email the leader and tell her what you did together.  Also tell her about how having a friend helped you exercise.

2. Identify social and environmental factors that influence exercise (Reciprocal Determinism)

Message board - What are some things that help you be more active?  What are some things that get in the way of being active?

Message board - What are some steps you can take to increase how often you exercise?

Homework - Find a friend (someone from the program or someone else) to exercise with.  Email the leader and tell her what you did together.  Also tell her about how having a friend helped you exercise.

3. Explain ways to increase exercise (Behavioral Capability)

Message board - What are some fun ways to incorporate exercise into your life?

Message board - What are some steps you can take to increase how often you exercise?

Homework - Find a friend (someone from the program or someone else) to exercise with.  Email the leader and tell her what you did together.  Also tell her about how having a friend helped you exercise.

4. Decrease negative expectations for exercise (Expectations)

Pretest/Posttest question - When you exercise, do you consider it work or fun?

Introductory reading - Explain that exercise should be enjoyable and explain the importance of finding an activity that you enjoy.

5. Increase positive expectations for exercise (Expectations)

Pretest/Posttest question - When you exercise, do you consider it work or fun?

Introductory reading - Provide information about the importance of physical activity in terms of health, weight management, enjoyment, and feeling better overall.

Introductory reading - Define and explain how it can play a role in weight management.

Introductory reading - Explain that exercise should be enjoyable and explain the importance of finding an activity that you enjoy.

6. Feel able to increase exercise (Self-Efficacy)

Pretest/Posttest question - How confident are you that you can increase exercise in your life?

Message board - What are some fun ways to incorporate exercise into your life?

Message board - What are some steps you can take to increase how often you exercise?

Homework - Find a friend (someone from the program or someone else) to exercise with.  Email the leader and tell her what you did together.  Also tell her about how having a friend helped you exercise.

Citations

Baranowski T, Perry CL, Parcel GS. How individuals, environments, and health behavior interact. In: Glanz K, Rimer BK, Lewis FM, eds. Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2002: 165-184.

National Cancer Institute. Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice. 2nd ed. 2005 Accessed on July 22, 2012 from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cancerlibrary/theory.pdf

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