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Rotter and Mischel: Cognitive Social Learning Theory

Psychology of Personality

Lecture, Chapter 17


Overview of Cognitive Social Learning Theory

Cognitive factors help shape how people react to environment.

Rather than Skinner’s idea that behavior is shaped by immediate reinforcement, Rotter and Mischel suggest that one’s expectations of future events shape behavior.

Rotter has an interactionistic perspective, in that both environment and individual together predict actions.

Mischel adds to Bandura’s and Rotter’s theories emphasizing cognition the idea of delay of gratification and its influence on consistency or inconsistency of personality.


Assumptions of Rotter’s Social Learning Theory

Humans interact with their meaningful environments.

Human personality is learned.

Personality has a basic unity.

Motivation is goal directed; all things being equal, people are most strongly reinforced by the empirical law of effect, behaviors that move them in the direction of anticipated goals.

People are capable of anticipating events.


Predicting Specific Behaviors

Behavior potential (BP) is the possibility that a particular response will occur at a given time and place; function of both expectancy and reinforcement value.

Expectancy (E) is a person’s expectation that some specific reinforcement or set of reinforcements will occur in a given situation; can be general (GE) or specific (E prime).

Reinforcement value (RV) is the preference a person attaches to any reinforcement when the probabilities for the occurrence of many reinforcements are all equal (internal-individual’s perceptions; external-societal or cultural value). Reinforcement-reinforcement sequences are clusters of reinforcement

Psychological situation is that part of the external and internal world to which a person is responding; interaction of person with meaningful environment.

Basic prediction formula:


Predicting General Behaviors

Useful in situations where rigorous control of pertinent variables is not possible; generalized expectancies result when previous attempts were successful and one has freedom of movement.

Needs – behaviors moving people in the direction of a goal. Includes: recognition-status, dominance, independence, protection-dependency, love and affection, and physical comfort.

Components of needs include need potential (NP), freedom of movement (FM), and need value (NV).

General prediction formula


Internal and External Control of Reinforcement

Locus of control refers to the degree to which people perceive a causal relationship between their own efforts and environmental consequences; misconceptions about the I/E Scale:

            Indicates generalized expectancies, not determinants.

            Is not specific and cannot predict

            Implies a gradient of generalization, not internal/external.

            Extreme in either direction is undesirable


Interpersonal Trust Scale

Interpersonal trust is a generalized expectancy held by an individual that the word, promise, or statement of another can be relied upon.

Rotter’s 25 item scale measures interpersonal trust on a likert-type scale.

Those who score high are less likely to lie, probably less likely to cheat or steal, more likely to give others a second chance, more likely to respect the rights of others, less likely to be unhappy, somewhat more likable and popular, more trustworthy, neither more nor less gullible, and neither more nor less intelligent.


Maladaptive Behavior and Psychotherapy

Maladaptive behavior involves any persistent behavior that fails to move a person closer to a desired goal; maladjusted individuals are characterized by unrealistic goals, inappropriate behaviors, inadequate skills, etc.

Goal of therapy is to bring freedom of movement and need value into harmony, reducing defensive and avoidance behaviors.

Therapist is teacher and attempts to:

            Change importance of goals.

            Eliminate unrealistically low expectancies for success.


Overview of Mischel’s Personality Theory

Personality theories fall in two categories:

            Personality as dynamic entity focused on processing of drives, needs, and goals.

            Personality as a function of relatively stable traits or personal dispositions.

Mischel has reconciled between these to develop the cognitive-affective personality theory, suggesting that behavior stems from relatively stable personal dispositions and cognitive-affective processes interacting with a particular situation.


Background of Cognitive-Affective Personality System

Consistency Paradox involves the conflicting evidence in the intuitive belief that people’s behavior is relatively consistent vs. empirical evidence of much variability in behavior.

Person-Situation Interaction. Although Mischel recognized traits, he believed that behavior rested on their interactions with the situations.

Behavior is thus a product of both situation and stable personality traits.


Cognitive-Affective Personality System

The cognitive-affective personality system accounts for variability across situations as well as stability of behavior within a person.

A person’s consistent manner of varying his behavior in a particular situation is his behavioral signature of personality.

Cognitive affective units include psychological, social, and physiological aspects causing a person to interact predictably with his/her environment. These units include:


Cognitive-affective Units

Encoding strategies, or people’s ways of categorizing information received from external stimuli into self-concept, view of others, and world view.

Competencies, our beliefs in what we can do, help us to construct our own version of the real world; self-regulatory strategies help people control their own behavior through self-imposed goals and self-produced consequences.

Although infinite numbers of behavioral potentials are likely to exist, how people behave depends on their specific expectancies (such as behavior-outcome and stimulus-outcome). Inconsistency in behavior may be due to our inability to predict the behavior of others.

Subjective goals, values, and preferences

Affective responses, including feelings and emotions as well as the effects that accompany physiological reactions



Did Rotter and Mischel use science in their theory development? Were their theories able to generate research, be falsified, organize data, guide action, be internally consistent, and be parsimonious?

Where do Rotter and Mischel’s theories fall on the basic issues concerning the nature of humanity?

            Determinism vs. free choice

            Pessimism vs. optimism

            Causality vs. teleology

            Conscious vs. unconscious

            Social vs. biological influences

            Uniqueness vs. similarities