Social Media and Social Cognitive Theory

Image as seen at PeopleINT blog

Human beings are social animals. We do not float through existence in bubbles composed only of our own experiences. We are constantly interacting with others and drawing on these relationships to co-construct our reality.

According to Social Cognitive Theory, people acquire much of their knowledge by observing others , often through media influences, such as social media.

Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely
solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human
behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea
of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a
guide for action (Bandura, 1977)

This knowledge forms a person’s understanding of the world around them and how to act within it. The more a person derives their understanding of reality based on what they observe through media sources, the greater the impact of those media sources.

Bandura identifies two “communication pathways” used in mass communication:

  1. The “direct pathway” (the traditional mass media approach): Communications directly promote certain information or encourage people to take specific action.
  2. The socially mediated pathway (the social media approach): Communications connect people to social networks that provide a tailored experience, with “personalized guidance, as well as natural incentives and social support”

Bandura asserts the superiority of using the socially mediated pathway, saying “the absence of individualized guidance limits the power of one-way mass communications….tailored communications are viewed as more relevant and credible, are better remembered, and are more effective in influencing behavior than general messages” (Bandura, 2001).

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