I. Overview of Cognitive Social Learning Theory
Both Julian Rotter and Walter Mischel believe that cognitive factors, more than
immediate reinforcements, determine how people will react to environmental forces.
Each suggests that our expectations of future events are major determinants
II. Biography of Julian Rotter
Julian Rotter was born in Brooklyn in 1916. As a high-school student, he became
familiar with some of the writings of Freud and Adler, but he majored in chemistry
rather than psychology while at Brooklyn College. In 1941, he received a Ph.D.
in clinical psychology from Indiana University. After World War II, he took
a position at Ohio State, where one of his students was Walter Mischel. In 1963,
he moved to the University of Connecticut and has remained there since retirement.
III. Introduction to Rotter's Social Learning Theory
Rotter's interactionist position holds that human behavior is based largely
on the interaction of people with their meaningful environments. Rotter believes
that, although personality can change at any time, it has a basic unity that
preserves it from changing as a result of minor experiences. His empirical law
of effect assumes that people choose a course of action that advances them toward
an anticipated goal.
IV. Predicting Specific Behaviors
Human behavior is most accurately predicted by an understanding of four
variables: behavior potential, expectancy, reinforcement value, and the psychological
A. Behavior Potential
Behavior potential is the possibility that a particular response will occur
at a given time and place in relation to its likely reinforcement.
People's expectancy in any given situation is their confidence that a particular
reinforcement will follow a specific behavior in a specific situation or situations.
Expectancies can be either general or specific, and the overall likelihood of
success is a function of both generalized and specific expectancies.
C. Reinforcement Value
Reinforcement value is a person's preference for any particular reinforcement
over other reinforcements if all are equally likely to occur. Internal reinforcement
is the individual's perception of an event, whereas external reinforcement refers
to society's evaluation of an event. Reinforcement-reinforcement sequences suggest
that the value of an event is a function of one's expectation that a particular
reinforcement will lead to future reinforcements.
D. Psychological Situation
The psychological situation is that part of the external and internal world
to which a person is responding. Behavior is a function of the interaction of
people with their meaningful environment.
E. Basic Prediction Formula
Hypothetically, in any specific situation, behavior can be predicted by the
basic prediction formula, which states that the potential for a behavior to
occur in a particular situation in relation to a given reinforcement is a function
of people's expectancy that the behavior will be followed by that reinforcement
V. Predicting General Behaviors
The basic prediction is too specific to give clues about how a person will
A. Generalized Expectancies
To make more general predictions of behavior, one must know people's generalized
expectancies, or their expectations based on similar past experiences that a
given behavior will be reinforced. Generalized expectancies include people's
needs-that is, behaviors that move them toward a goal.
Needs refer to functionally related categories of behaviors. Rotter listed six
broad categories of needs, with each need being related to behaviors that lead
to the same or similar reinforcements: (1) recognition-status refers to the
need to excel, to achieve, and to have others recognize one's worth; (2) dominance
is the need to control the behavior of others, to be in charge, or to gain power
(3) independence is the need to be free from the domination of others;
(4) protection-dependency is the need to have others take care of us and to
protect us from harm; (5) love and affection are needs to be warmly accepted
by others and to be held in friendly regard; and (6) physical comfort includes
those behaviors aimed at securing food, good health, and physical security.
Three need components are: (1) need potential, or the possible occurrences of
a set of functionally related behaviors directed toward the satisfaction of
(2) freedom of movement, or a person's overall expectation of being reinforced
for performing those behaviors that are directed toward satisfying some general
need; and (3) need value, or the extent to which people prefer one set of reinforcements
to another. Need components are analogous to the more specific concepts of behavior
potential, expectancy, and reinforcement value.
C. General Prediction Formula
The general prediction formula states that need potential is a function of freedom
of movement and need value. Rotter's two most famous scales for measuring generalized
expectancies are the Internal-External Control Scale and the Interpersonal Trust
D. Internal and External Control of Reinforcement
The Internal-External Control Scale (popularly called "locus of control
scale") attempts to measure the degree to which people perceive a causal
relationship between their own efforts and environmental consequences.
E. Interpersonal Trust Scale
The Interpersonal Trust Scale measures the extent to which a person expects
the word or promise of another person to be true.
VI. Maladaptive Behavior
Rotter defined maladaptive behavior as any persistent behavior that fails to
move a person closer to a desired goal. It is usually the result of unrealistically
high goals in combination with low ability to achieve them.
In general, the goal of Rotter's therapy is to achieve harmony between a client's
freedom of movement and need value. The therapist is actively involved in trying
to (1) change the importance of the client's goals and (2) eliminate their unrealistically
low expectancies for success.
A. Changing Goals
Maladaptive behaviors follow from three categories of inappropriate goals: (1)
conflict between goals, (2) destructive goals, and (3) unrealistically lofty
B. Eliminating Low Expectancies
In helping clients change low expectancies of success, Rotter uses a variety
of approaches, including reinforcing positive behaviors, ignoring inappropriate
behaviors, giving advice, modeling appropriate behaviors, and pointing out the
long-range consequences of both positive and negative behaviors.
VIII. Introduction to Mischel's Cognitive-Affective Personality System
Like Bandura and Rotter, Mischel believes that cognitive factors, such as expectancies,
subjective perceptions, values, goals, and personal standards, are important
in shaping personality. In his early theory, Mischel seriously questioned the
consistency of personality, but more recently, he and Yuichi Shoda have advanced
the notion that behavior is also a function of relatively stable personal dispositions
and cognitive-affective processes interacting with a particular situation.
IX. Biography of Walter Mischel
Walter Mischel was born in 1930, in Vienna, the second son of upper-middle-class
parents. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, his family moved to the United
States and eventually settled in Brooklyn. Mischel received an M.A. from City
College of New York and a Ph.D. from Ohio State, where he was influenced by
Julian Rotter. He is currently a professor at Columbia University.
X. Background of the Cognitive-Affective Personality System
Mischel originally believed that human behavior was mostly a function of the
situation, but presently he has recognized the importance of relatively permanent
cognitive-affective units. Nevertheless, Mischel's theory continues to recognize
the apparent inconsistency of some behaviors.
A. Consistency Paradox
The consistency paradox refers to the observation that, although both lay-people
and professionals tend to believe that behavior is quite consistent, research
suggests that it is not. Mischel recognizes that, indeed, some traits are consistent
over time, but he contends that there is little evidence to suggest that they
are consistent from one situation to another.
B. Person-Situation Interaction
Mischel believes that behavior is best predicted from an understanding of the
person, the situation, and the interaction between person and situation. Thus,
behavior is not the result of some global personality trait, but by people's
perceptions of themselves in a particular situation.
XI. Cognitive-Affective Personality System
However, Mischel does not believe that inconsistencies in behavior are due solely
to the situation; he recognizes that inconsistent behaviors reflect stable patterns
of variation within a person. He and Shoda see these stable variations in behavior
in the following framework: If A, then X; but if B, then Y. People's pattern
of variability is their behavioral signature of personality, or their unique
and stable pattern of behaving differently in different situations.
A. Behavior Prediction
Mischel's basic theoretical position for predicting and explaining behavior
is as follows: If personality is a stable system that processes information
about the situation, then individuals encountering different situations should
behave differently as situations vary. Therefore, Mischel believes that, even
though people's behavior may reflect some stability over time, it tends to vary
as situations vary.
B. Situation Variables
Situation variables include all those stimuli that people attend to in a
C. Cognitive-Affective Units
Cognitive-affective units include all those psychological, social, and physiological
aspects of people that permit them to interact with their environment with some
stability in their behavior. Mischel identified five such units. First are encoding
strategies, or people's individualized manner of categorizing information they
receive from external stimuli. Second are competencies and self-regulatory strategies.
One of the most important of these competencies is intelligence, which Mischel
argues is responsible for the apparent consistency of other traits. In addition,
people use self-regulatory strategies to control their own behavior through
self-formulated goals and self-produced consequences. The third cognitive-affective
units are expectancies and beliefs, or people's guesses about the consequences
of each of the different behavioral possibilities. The fourth cognitive-affective
unit includes people's goals and values, which tend to render behavior fairly
consistent. Mischel's fifth cognitive-affective unit includes affective
responses, including emotions, feelings, and the affects that accompany physiological
XII. Related Research
The theories of both Rotter and Mischel have sparked an abundance of related
research, with Rotter's locus of control being one of the most frequently researched
areas in psychology and Mischel's notion of delay of gratification and his cognitive-affective
personality system also receiving wide attention.
A. Locus of Control and Health-Related Behaviors
One adjunct of the locus of control concept is the health locus of control,
and research in this area suggests that self-mastery of health and people's
belief about their personal control over health-related behaviors predict subsequent
health status. This body of research has included such health-related behaviors
as smoking, abusing alcohol, and unwise eating. In general, this research indicates
that people high on internal locus of control, compared with those high on external
locus of control, are more likely to enact health-related behaviors.
B. An Analysis of Reactions to the O. J. Simpson Verdict
Mischel, Shoda, and two of their colleagues used the cognitive-affective personality
system to analyze the verdict in the O. J. Simpson murder trial. They found
that European Americans and African Americans had different ways of looking
at the Simpson verdict. Although their reactions tended to follow along racial
lines, participants' race itself was not as important as their thoughts and
feelings in determining their reactions to the verdict. More specifically, European
Americans who agreed with the verdict had thoughts and emotions very similar
to those of African Americans who were elated by the verdict. Moreover, African
Americans who disagreed with the verdict thought and felt much the same as European
Americans who were dismayed by the not-guilty verdict.
XIII. Critique of Cognitive Social Learning Theory
Cognitive social learning theory combines the rigors of learning theory with
the speculative assumption that people are forward-looking beings. It rates
high on generating research and on internal consistency, and it rates about
average on its ability to be falsified, to organize data, and to guide action.
XIV. Concept of Humanity
Rotter and Mischel see people as goal-directed, cognitive animals whose perceptions
of events are more crucial than the events themselves. Cognitive social learning
theory rates very high on social influences, and high on uniqueness of the individual,
free choice, teleology, and conscious processes. On the dimension of optimism
versus pessimism, Rotter's view is slightly more optimistic, whereas Mischel's
is about in the middle.