Teaching the Social-Cognitive Perspective

Document created by David Williams on Apr 12, 2016
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I begin this unit by re-introducing Albert Bandura, who my students should be familiar with due to a prior discussion of the "Bobo Doll Experiment." I write the term "Reciprocal Determinism" on the board and then draw two-headed arrows between its components, i.e., Behavior, Cognition, Environment. Following a discussion of this concept, I distribute copies of an 18-item, locus of control scale I developed for classroom use. Of course, you may use Rotter's (1966) original 29-item scale (six items are purported to measure social desirability), a 10-item scale measuring one component of locus of control (personal efficacy) found in the instructor's resources manual for Exploring Psychology, or some other measure of the locus of control construct.


As students fill out the locus of control measure, I draw the x and y axes of a graph on the board. The abscissa is labeled "0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18." These values correspond to locus of control scores. I also write "Internal" under these numbers on the left side and "External" on the right. Higher scores indicate greater externality. The ordinate is labeled "0, 1, 2, 3, etc. for number of students."


A show of hands for each score category, i.e., 0-3, 4-6, etc., is graphed to construct a histogram of these data by number of students on the ordinate. Typically, students in my community college classes score heavily in the internal direction. I explain to the class that in the 1960's and 70's college students usually scored in the external direction, and tie this to a brief review of historical events that took place in this era such as the Vietnam War, assassinations of Dr. King and the Kennedy brothers, racial strife, problems with school desegregation, poor economic conditions, and so forth. I point to the components of reciprocal determinism and explain that people, for quite justifiable reasons at that time, felt a lack of control over personal and societal events. Gradually, locus of control scores shifted to the internal side as the environment in which people found themselves became more stable.


All this changed dramatically with the events of September 11, 2001, and an anthrax attack shortly after. I explain to my current students that locus of control scores following these dreadful events had shifted to the external direction when I assessed students right after these horrific occurrences. This illustrates that our "thinking" about being in control of our lives can change very quickly following severe incidents such as these. Given that many years have passed since September, 2001, and subsequent instances of terrorism in the United States have been on a much smaller scale, locus of control scores, at least with my students, have reverted to internal dominance. I hope this activity will be beneficial to you with your students.


Rotter, J. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80 (1), 1-28.