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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Social Cognitive Theory and Art Therapy

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

Albert Bandura is the pioneer of social cognitive theory. Social cognitive theory is based on the agentic approach that individuals are enabled and guided to take steps to improve their lives. Goode (New York Times, 2021), explains how Bandura's theory emphasizes an individual's capacity for self-reflection, personal agency, and self-efficacy. His theory has been applied across all domains, cultures, and disciplines including education, public health, and drug and alcohol abuse programs.

“The road he has traveled is very much in keeping with the agentic perspective toward human self-development, adaptation, and change that underpins his social cognitive theory.” - Albert Bandura (American Psychological Association, 2006, p. 406).

Bandura's social cognitive theory is used to understand human behavior as three interacting regulatory systems: external stimulus events (the environment), cognitive mediational processes (our thoughts), and external reinforcement (our behavior). Bandura initially named this theory reciprocal determinism which is the way people think, behave, the nature of the environment, and how they all impact one another (Bernstein, et al., 1991). Environmental factors on behavior are governed by how we cognitively process an event so we must therefore take into consideration the impact of this interaction (Corsini & Wedding, 1989).

In more current literature, this is referred to as triadic reciprocal model of causality where external environmental factors, personal attributes, and overt behavior are linked (Niles & Harris-Bowlsby, 2017). For example, if an individual has negative thoughts, it can cause offensive behavior which creates a hostile environment. This leads to altered perceptions about the world and environment, causing a perceived threat.


Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed at a particular event. Bandura believed that self-efficacy controls overt behaviors. The higher the person's self-efficacy, the greater the person's actual accomplishments will be. Self-efficacy impacts the outcome of behaviors and the result shapes a person's psychological well-being (Bernstein, et al., 1991).

There are four sources that shape our self-efficacy beliefs:

  1. Personal performance accomplishments

  2. Vicarious learning

  3. Social persuasion

  4. Physiological states and reactions

Our personal accomplishments are the most influential in shaping our self-efficacy. The more successful outcomes we achieve, the greater our self-efficacy we will have in that particular area. Outcome expectations tend to influence behavior to a lesser degree than self-efficacy beliefs. (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2017). The individual is therefore the agent of change and the emphasis is on the human capacity for self-directed behavioral change.

When an individual has the “I can do this” attitude, goals are then created. This is very much an action-centered approach to living. If an individual utilizes the self-efficacy framework in their daily lives, it will offer a different perspective to challenging situations. Alternatively, if an individual suffers from anxiety and feels they can't complete anything they start, they will then feel bad about themselves.

In adopting the self-efficacy approach, we should ask ourselves “what am I able to accomplish today?”

This internal conversation shifts our mind into thinking what we can do, how we can accomplish the tasks, and it allows us to pay attention to any feelings that are associated with challenges. Being an agent of change puts the responsibility on the individual and not on the environment. It is how the individual makes choices in how they will think about an environmental factor which will determine their behavior, hence, Bandura's reciprocal determinism.

Meditative art therapy practices support mental health and help individuals cope with environmental factors. By practicing meditative art therapy, a person can strengthen their cognitive processes and be a positive agent for change within themselves. Self-efficacy and agentic perspective are great frameworks to aid in our goals in living a better life. The following art directive is a way to quiet the mind and is a simple method that can be done under any circumstances. Try the following art therapy method and gain a sense of accomplishment in achieving mindfulness. Any accomplishment, big or small, will strengthen your self-efficacy.

Art Therapy Project to Strengthen Cognition

Materials Needed:

Paper and pen or other drawing materials if available (crayons, color markers).


Choose a drawing utensil of your choice. Sit comfortably and take a few deep breaths.

To begin, breathe in and count to 7. As you count, draw a line up the paper. Then, as you breath out, count to 7 again while drawing a line down the paper.

Continue to do this and focus on the count of 7 on the in-breath and then the count of 7 on the out-breath. This activity is for all ages and is an effective tool to help us focus and draw attention to how our body is feeling. Once we are aware of how our body is feeling, the mind is able to rest and recharge.

For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:



American Psychological Association. (2006). Gold medal award for life achievement in the science of psychology, American Psychologist, 61(5), 405-407.

Bandura, A. (2019). Applying theory for human betterment, Perspectives on psychological science, 14(1), 12-15.

Bernstein, D., Roy, E., Srull, T., & Wickens, C. (1991). Psychology (2nd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company.

Corsini, R., & Wedding, D. (1989). Current Psychotherapies (4th ed.). F.E. Peacock, Inc.

Goode, E. (2021, July 29). Albert bandura, leading psychologist in aggression, dies at 95. NY Times.

Niles, S. & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2017). Career development interventions (5th ed.). Pearson.

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