What Is Reciprocal Determinism?

Reciprocal Determinism
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According to psychologist Albert Bandura, reciprocal determinism is a model composed of three factors that influence behavior: the environment, the individual, and the behavior itself. Essentially, Bandura believes that an individual's behavior influences and is influenced by both the social world and personal characteristics.

The environmental component is made up of the physical surroundings around the individual that contain potentially reinforcing stimuli, including people who are present (or absent).

The environment influences the intensity and frequency of the behavior, just as the behavior itself can have an impact on the environment.

The individual component includes all the characteristics that have been rewarded in the past. Personality and cognitive factors play an important part in how a person behaves, including all of the individual's expectations, beliefs, and unique personality characteristics.

And finally, the behavior itself is something that may or may not be reinforced at any given time or situation.


  • "Albert Bandura speculates that personality is the product of three interacting forces: environment, behavior, and thoughts. Bandura called the constant interaction among these three factors reciprocal determinism. We choose to place ourselves in certain environments, and these environments then influence our behavior and the way we think. However, the way we think - our attributions, goals, values, and perceptions - may guide which environments we choose to be in as well as the behavior we exhibit. Our behavior, in turn, may change the environment as well as the way we think. All three variables influence each other in a reciprocal manner."
    (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, What Is Psychology?: Essentials, 2013)
  • "Reciprocal determinism suggests that individuals function as a result of a dynamic and reciprocal interaction among their behavior, environment, and personal characteristics. Personal characteristics include one's thoughts, emotions, expectations, beliefs, goals, and so forth. Behavior is conceptualized as a person's skills and actions. Lastly, environment is considered to be a person's social and physical surroundings. All three systems interact with each other; therefore, a change in one will influence the others as well. Reciprocal determinism indicates that people do have a say in their future, because of reciprocal interactions."
    (Lee, Encyclopedia of School Psychology, 2005)

    Examples of Reciprocal Determinism

    Let's imagine that Anna is a shy student who usually keeps to herself (the personal/cognitive component). She enters a room on the first day of class to find that all of the other students are already present (the environment).

    In most cases, she would just quietly slip into a seat at the back of the class in order to avoid becoming the center of attention (the behavioral component). In this instance, another student at the front of the room boisterously greets Anna and invites her to sit down in an adjacent seat.

    In this instance, the environment has introduced a new reinforcing stimuli (the friendly student) that has led to a change in Anna's normal routine. As a result, her behavior has changed.

    More Examples

    • "For example, suppose a motorist is cut off by another motorist on the road. The first motorist may think angering thoughts, such as "I'm going to teach that guy a lesson." These thoughts or cognitions increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior (e.g., cutting in front of the other motorist). The aggressive behavior, in turn, affects the social environment (the other motorist responds aggressively). The other motorist's actions then lead the first to have even more angering thoughts ("I can't let him get away with that!"), which, in turn, lead to more aggressive behavior. This vicious cycle of escalating aggressive behavior and angering thoughts may lead to an incident of road rage, which can have tragic consequences."
      (Nevid, Psychology: Concepts and Applications, 2013)
    • "Suppose that a 4-year-old discovers that he can gain control over desirable toys by assaulting his playmates. In this case, control over a desired toy is a satisfying outcome that reinforces the child's aggressive behavior. But note that the reinforcer here is produced by the child himself - through his aggressive actions. Not only has the bullying behavior been reinforced (by obtaining the toy), but the character of the play environment has changed. Our bully becomes more inclined to victimize his playmates in the future, whereas those playmates who are victimized may become even more inclined to "give in" to the bully."
      (Shaffer, Social and Personality Development, 2009)

      Learn more about Bandura's theories:


      Lee, S. E. (2005). Encyclopedia of School Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

      Nevid, J. S. (2013). Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

      Pastorino, E. E. & Doyle-Portillo, S. M. (2013). What Is Psychology?: Essentials. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

      Shaffer, S. R. (2009). Social and Personality Development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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