Social cognitive theory of morality
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The social cognitive theory of morality attempts to explain how moral thinking, in interaction with other psychosocial determinants, govern individual moral conduct. Social cognitive theory adopts an "interactionist" perspective to the development of moral behavior. Personal factors of the individual, such as individual moral thought, emotional reactions to behavior, personal moral conduct, and factors within their environment, all interact with, and affect each other. Social cognitive theory contests, in many ways, with the stage theories of moral reasoning. Social cognitive theory attempts to understand why an individual uses a lower level of moral reasoning when they are, theoretically, at a higher level. It also attempts explain the way social interactions help to form new, as well as change existing, moral standards. The influence of modeling and other such social factors are explored as functions of growth and development. Albert Bandura also believes that moral development is best understood by considering a combination of social and cognitive factors, especially those involving self-control.
Theories grounded in the belief that different types of moral thinking appears in a sequence, from one way of thinking to another, invariantly, are considered stage theories. Both Kohlberg and Piaget's theories about the development of moral reasoning argue that development occurs in stages and that less complex reasoning strategies from lower stages are abandoned in favor of the more complex strategies from the next. In essence, a preference for higher levels of moral thinking is the underlying proposition of stage theories, although what makes higher level moral thinking superior to lower level moral thinking is unclear. However, stage theories tend to downplay the effect of social learning on the individual and the influence the environment can have in certain situations of moral reasoning. For example, even for individuals who are at a higher level stage in their moral development some reasoning may take into consideration the rule of law, some may be concerned with social consequences, and some may yet be concerned with personal feelings. As such, it is possible that developmental trends in moral reasoning do exist but the influence of society and the learning that takes place from it is much too varied to produce uniform moral types in the development of all individuals.
Bandura argues that in developing a moral self, individuals adopt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and restraints for conduct. In this self-regulatory process, people monitor their conduct and the conditions under which it occurs, judge it in relation to moral standards, and regulate their actions by the consequences they apply to themselves. They do things that provide them satisfaction and sense of self-worth. They often refrain from engaging in ways that violate their moral standards in order to avoid self-condemnation. Therefore, self-sanctions keep conducts inline with internal standards. In Bandura's view, morality is rooted in self-regulation rather than abstract reasoning. He also argues that moral reasoning follows the same developmental continuum as other mental processes; from concrete to abstract.
Societal and familial contribution
The social cognitive theory of morality argues that personal values and standards of conduct of each individual arise from many difference sources of influence and are maintained by institutional promotion. It also argues that a broad and dynamic social reality is what governs that adoption of personal values and standards of conduct. It says that learning from the social environment is a continuous process and personal values and standards that are acquired as the individual develops his/her moral thinking can be elaborated and modified or dropped in favor of new values and standards. The social cognitive theory of morality is an interactionist theory that posits that the development of moral reasoning is a product of both the family of the individual and the society that he/she is a part of. Hence, because children are repeatedly exposed to the values and standards of conduct of not only their parents but those of their peers, possible siblings, as well as other adults that they have interaction with in their lives, they tend to develop values and standards that are composites of different features of their familial and social worlds.
There are three interacting sources of influence; "behavior, cognition and other personal factors, and environmental factors". Moral conduct is thought to be regulated by the influence of thought and self-imposed sanctions, behavioral conduct, and the society one is a part of. Behavior itself can produce two sets of consequences, "self evaluative reactions and social effects" and these two consequences can be complementary or opposing influences on the behavior of an individual. Often, to increase the compatibility between the personal standards one holds and social standards, individuals will generally chose to interact with others who share their standards. Behavior itself is particularly influenced by external influences, especially in the absences of a strong internal standard. When this is the case, individuals can adopt a 'pragmatic' style, which makes is possible for them to fit their behavior to the situation they are in. It is also common for individuals' personal moral standards to come into conflict with societal pressures. However, it is possible for individuals to defend their actions with different types of moral reasoning, even in the face of participating in hurtful or detrimental behavior.
- Bandura, A. (2011). Social cognitive theory. Handbook of social psychological theories, 349-373.
- Social cognitive theory of moral thought and action, Albert Bandura (PDF file)
- Theories of cognitive and moral development, Dr. Jan Garrett