The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

In this blog post, we will talk about a relative new theory, the Social Cognitive Career Theory. We will speak about the 3 key elements of the SCCT: self-efficacy, outcome expectations and personal goals. We will also discuss the implication of the Social Cognitive Career Theory  for society and personal interests. 

What is the Social Cognitive Career Theory? 

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) is derived mainly from Albert Bandura’s general social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986). 

Emphasizing the interplay between self-referent thought and social processes in guiding human behaviour, Social Cognitive Career Theory has proven to be immensely heuristic, finding application in a wide range of psychosocial domains such as educational achievement, health behaviours, organizational management, and affective reactions (Bandura, 1986, 1997).

In formulating Social Cognitive Career Theory, Duane Brown and Associates tried to adapt, elaborate, and extend those aspects of Bandura’s theory that seemed most relevant to the processes of interest formation, career selection, and performance. They also took a good deal of liberty in suggesting certain theoretical paths and connections that do not follow directly from general social cognitive theory.

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Social Cognitive Career Theory is linked to two branches of career inquiry that have evolved from Bandura’s general framework: Krumboltz’s social learning theory of career decision making (Krumboltz, 1979; Krumboltz, Mitchell, & Jones, 1976; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996) and the application of the self-efficacy construct to women’s career development by Hackett and Betz (1981). 

Conceptually, Social Cognitive Career Theory is most closely aligned with Hackett and Betz’s position, although it also builds on the major conceptual foundation of Krumboltz’s theory.

The 3 elements of the Social Cognitive Career Theory

Social Cognitive Career Theory incorporates three central variables from general social cognitive theory: (1) self-efficacy,(2) outcome expectations, and (3) personal goals.  These three variables are seen as basic “building blocks” of career development. 

Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy beliefs are acquired and modified via four primary sources of information (or types of the learning experience): (1) personal performance accomplishments, (2) vicarious learning, (3) social persuasion, and (4) physiological and affective states (Bandura, 1997).

Although the specific effects of these sources on self-efficacy depend on several factors, personal attainments are typically seen as the most potent or compelling source of self-efficacy. The experience of success with a given task or performance domain tends to raise self-efficacy, whereas repeated failures lower them.

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Outcome expectations

Outcome expectations are personal beliefs about the consequences or outcomes of performing particular behaviours. Whereas self-efficacy beliefs are concerned with one’s capabilities (Can I do this?), outcome expectations involve the imagined consequences

of performing given behaviours (If I do this, what will happen?).

Outcome expectations include several types of beliefs about response outcomes, such as beliefs about extrinsic reinforcement (receiving tangible rewards for successful performance), self-directed consequences (such as pride in oneself for mastering a

challenging task), and outcomes derived from the process of performing a given activity (for instance, absorption in the task itself).

Outcome expectations are acquired through learning experiences similar to those that inform self-efficacy. For instance, outcome expectations regarding particular career actions derive from people’s appraisal of the outcomes (such as rewards) they received for performing relevant actions in the past; observation of the outcomes produced by other people; attention to self-generated outcomes (such as self-approval) and the reactions of others; and sensitivity to physical cues (such as level of emotional arousal or sense of well-being) during task performance. 

Outcome expectations are probably also influenced by self-efficacy when outcomes are determined by the quality of one’s performance.

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Personal goals

Goals may be defined as the determination to engage in a particular activity or to effect a particular future outcome (Bandura, 1986). By setting personal goals, people help to organize, guide, and sustain their behaviour, even though overly long intervals,

without external reinforcement. 

Thus goals constitute a critical mechanism through which people exercise personal agency or self-empowerment. Although environmental events and personal history undoubtedly help shape behaviour, the behaviour is not wholly determined by the vicissitudes of a nonspecific reinforcement history, by genes, or by other nonvolitional factors; it is also motivated, in part, by people’s self-directed goals and by the other social-cognitive factors with which goals interrelate.

SCCT posits a complex interplay among goals, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations in the self-regulation of behaviour (Bandura, 1986). 

For instance, self-efficacy and outcome expectations affect the goals that one selects and the effort expended in their pursuit. Personal goals, in turn, influence the development of self-efficacy and outcome expectations (for example, goal attainment enhances

self-efficacy). 

As with outcome expectations, goals (defined in various ways) are represented in a variety of other psychological theories, such as the theory of work motivation and performance that Locke and Latham (1990) proposed. The goal construct also plays an important, if generally implicit, role in virtually all theories of

career choice and decision making (Lent et al., 1994).

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Generalizability of the Social Cognitive Career Theory

Social Cognitive Career Theory was designed to aid understanding of the career development of a wide range of students and workers, including persons who are

diverse concerning race-ethnicity, culture, gender, socioeconomic

status, age, and disability status. 

Many of the research and practical applications of the theory have thus far reflected this focus on diversity and individual difference. In this section, we review some of these

applications and consider the theory’s potential to aid understanding

of career development within a changing societal context.

Diversity

In the earliest effort to extend the social cognitive theory to career behaviour, Hackett and Betz (1981) demonstrated how the construct of self-efficacy might be applied to women’s career development. 

They noted, for example, how gender-role socialization processes tend to provide girls and young women with biased access to the four sources

of efficacy information (for example, gender-traditional role models, differential encouragement to pursue culturally prescribed activities), which, in turn, promotes self-efficacy for traditionally female activities but limits self-efficacy in nontraditional domains. 

Subsequent research has tended to support Hackett and Betz’s theoretical analysis. For instance, women tend to report more self-efficacy for performing occupations that are traditionally held by women than for those that are male-dominated (Betz & Hackett, 1981). Such findings suggest that women’s career pursuits can be constricted by the

self-limiting effects of low self-efficacy. 

In other words, environment imposed barriers may become internalized in the form of biased self-efficacy beliefs.

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Societal and Economic Shifts

Several recent or anticipated societal, demographic, and economic mega-trends have the potential to materially affect or reshape the career development climate over the next several decades (Hesketh, 2000; Lent, in press). 

A few such trends include the increasing representation of workers of colour, advances in technology, and corporate contractions wrought by global economic presses.

Some economic and technological trends portend far less job security for many workers. Although some writers may see such flux as likely to render existing theories of career development obsolete or irrelevant, we believe that Social Cognitive Career Theory’s emphasis on personal agency, learning experiences, and contextual factors can provide a useful template for career development across generations and despite

economic shifts. 

Expanding Interests and Facilitating Choice

As implied by Social Cognitive Career Theory’s interest and choice models, self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectations are central to the cultivation of

academic-career interests and to the range of occupational options

that people view as viable for themselves. 

Thus it is believed that many individuals prematurely foreclose on potentially rewarding

career pursuits either because their environments offer a restricted range of efficacy-building experiences or because they develop inaccurate self-efficacy beliefs or occupational outcome expectations.

Methods for fostering reliable self-efficacy and outcome expectations and for maximizing the development of abilities may be most useful during the school years when students’ self-percepts and occupational beliefs are likely to be relatively malleable.

SCCT suggests that psychoeducational interventions designed to promote optimum career development (or to prevent future choice or adjustment problems) need to focus not only on students’ emergent interests, values, and talents but on the cognitive bases of these characteristics.

 It is particularly important, from a social cognitive perspective, to ensure that children’s and adolescents’ self-efficacy beliefs are relatively consonant with their developing abilities and that their career-related outcome expectations are based on accurate information. Thus students’ zone of acceptable choice alternatives (Gottfredson, 1996) is not constrained by misperceptions of personal capabilities or work reinforcers (conditions).

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about a relative new theory, the Social Cognitive Career Theory. We spoke about the 3 key elements of the SCCT: self-efficacy, outcome expectations and personal goals. We also discussed the implication of the Social Cognitive Career Theory  for society and personal interests. 

Social Cognitive Career Theory has proven to be immensely heuristic, finding application in a wide range of psychosocial domains such as educational achievement, health behaviours, organizational management, and affective reactions.

Social Cognitive Career Theory incorporates three central variables from general social cognitive theory: (1) self-efficacy,(2) outcome expectations, and (3) personal goals.  These three variables are seen as basic “building blocks” of career development. 

If you have any comments or questions on the content, please let us know!

FAQ about the Social Cognitive Career Theory

What is the social cognitive career theory?

Social Cognitive Career Theory incorporates three central variables from general social cognitive theory: (1) self-efficacy,(2) outcome expectations, and (3) personal goals.  These three variables are seen as basic “building blocks” of career development. 

What are the 3 key concepts of Albert Bandura?

The 3 key concepts of Albert Bandura are observation, imitation, and modelling. Bandura asserted that most human behaviour is learned through these key concepts. 

How is the social cognitive theory used today?

Social cognitive theory is used nowadays in media studies pertaining to sports, health, education and beyond. 

What are the components of social cognitive theory?

The components of Social Cognitive Theory  are: self-observation, self-evaluation, self-reaction and self-efficacy (Redmond, 2010)

Further reading

Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, by Bandura A. 

Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies, by Bandura A.

Social Learning Theory (Prentice-Hall Series in Social Learning),by Albert Bandura  

Social Foundations of Thought & Action, a Social Cognitive Theory, by Albert Bandura  

The Art of Social Theory, by Richard Swedberg

References

Career Choice and Development, edited by Duane Brown

Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (2008). Social Cognitive Career Theory and Subjective 

Well-Being in the Context of Work. Journal of Career Assessment, 16(1), 6–21. 

Gibbons, M., & Shoffner, M. (2004). Prospective First-Generation College Students: Meeting Their Needs Through Social Cognitive Career Theory. Professional School Counseling, 8(1), 91-97. Retrieved August 1, 2020

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (an overview)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.