Social Cognitive Theory and Gaming

What is Social Cognitive Theory and what could it possibly have anything to do with gaming?  In life, we are influenced by things and people around you.  Your environment can affect your feelings and thoughts of your own life.  Positive and negative influences happen to you whether you want them to or not, but it is how you react to them that matters.  Albert Bandura a leading psychologist in behavior theory theorized that your subconscious will react to biological, cognitive and affective events.


In life, we do not always have control over things that will happen, but we do have control over how we are affected by them.  Bandura did a study on phobias and hired actors to pretend they were afraid of snakes along with a group of people that were afraid of snakes, but the actors became less and less afraid of the snakes and by example the others also because less afraid of snakes.  Some found this study unethical, but it worked.

There are four mediational processes proposed by Bandura (1):

  1. Attention: The extent to which we are exposed/notice the behavior. For a behavior to be imitated, it has to grab our attention. We observe many behaviors on a daily basis, and many of these are not noteworthy. Attention is therefore extremely important in whether a behavior influences others imitating it.
  2. Retention: How well the behavior is remembered. The behavior may be noticed but is it not always remembered which obviously prevents imitation. It is important therefore that a memory of the behavior is formed to be performed later by the observer.
  3. Reproduction: This is the ability to perform the behavior that the model has just demonstrated. We see such behavior on a daily basis that we would like to be able to imitate but that this not always possible. We are limited by our physical ability and for that reason, even if we wish to reproduce the behavior, we cannot.
  4. Motivation: The will to perform the behavior. The rewards and punishment that follow a behavior will be considered by the observer. If the perceived rewards outweigh the perceived costs (if there are any), then the behavior will be more likely to be imitated by the observer. If the vicarious reinforcement is not seen to be important enough to the observer, then they will not imitate the behavior.

In gaming, we have an interest in a game but these four steps will be the catalyst deciding if we will continue to play the game, enjoy the game and ultimately succeed in the game.  We play individually but also as a team, if either piece is missing the team will not do well in the final outcome of the game.

“Positive and negative influences happen to you whether you want them to or not, but it is how you react to them that matters.”

Parents often have the opposite effect on parenting by calling out the thing they want to be changed such as playing video games or not helping with chores thinking it will make them change their behavior, but it can work the opposite way.  Positive comments can work much better than negative.  In gaming you can avoid bad habits and influence those other players in the game by giving positive comments and staying positive yourself, this will help keep people focused and happy.  Many want to blame peer pressure on the social cognitive theory and in a way, yes, it could be considered a small part of bullying or peer pressure.  The power of influence is strong but the same can be said of the power of a positive influence vs a negative influence.  In gameplay, it is more fun and more productive to have a positive influence and outlook.  Do your best while playing, learn from your game history, listen to the comments, analyze the outcome and constantly be learning to improve yourself and your attitude of performance.

Do you feel that there is a difference in overall performance and play if you keep a positive attitude?  Let us know in the comments what your experiences have been with positive gameplay.  If you would like to learn more about social cognitive theory in gaming, you can watch my video here Social Cognitive Theory and Gaming


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc.








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