Social Learning Theory and Human Reinforcement

Jonathan R. Brauer, Charles R. Tittle

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Scholars differ in their assumptions about the strength of accumulated evidence concerning social learning theory. One area of potential weakness is a possible dearth of evidence regarding differential reinforcement, the theory's central causal mechanism. We report results from a systematic review of (1) a sample of experimental studies concerning human reinforcement learning as well as (2) criminological/sociological studies cited by proponents as supportive of social learning theory. This review is designed to assess the empirical basis for reinforcement and social learning. It suggests that results of experimental research, though supportive of the reinforcement process, may be limited in applicability to social learning theory's hypotheses regarding differential reinforcement, and direct tests of differential reinforcement hypotheses are rare in the non-experimental literature. We conclude that the strength of social learning theory could be enhanced by more thorough and direct testing of reinforcement hypotheses and we offer suggestions about how to accomplish that.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-177
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Spectrum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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