A brief look at the development of personality.

The current understanding of the development of self involves an interaction between nature and nurture. We are born with certain characteristic elements that have been predetermined and embodied within our genes. Still, probably the more meaningful contribution to our adult character comes from life experiences, especially social experiences.


Amongst theorists, this could then trigger their genetic pool associated with their learning capacity and cognitive function. And a large body of evidence supports the conclusion that individual differences in most, if not all, are influenced by genetic factors.

One theory of personality development is the learning approach based on the classical and operant conditioning principles. 

Operant conditioning suggests that any behaviour that results in a reward is more likely to be repeated, whereas punishments decrease the likelihood of the behaviour; this explains how any behaviour is acquired and how we get our temperament characteristics. For example, individuals might develop the personality trait of kindness towards others because they are rewarded when displaying such behaviour.

Albert Bandura believed that learning through trial and error and reward and punishment would be too long a process, so he proposed the social learning theory. Social learning is considered a powerful tool for lasting change. It involves people learning from each other and adapting their behaviour as a result.

He also suggested that reinforcement or punishment could take place indirectly. If an individual sees someone else being compensated, they are likely to mirror that behaviour. This is called ‘vicarious reinforcement’ (learning through modelling).

He suggested that children can learn new behaviour through observation, with repetition of the behaviour occurring only if the behaviour turns out to be rewarding for the child (direct reinforcement).

If the behaviour doesn’t produce rewards, then the behaviour will not be repeated. Thus, social learning relies on observation, vicarious reinforcement and imitation and, finally, it is underpinned through direct reinforcement.

Individuals that are observed are called models. In society, children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents within the family, characters on children’s TV, friends within their peer group and teachers at school.

These models provide examples of behaviour to observe and imitate, e.g., masculine and feminine, pro and anti-social, etc.

Therefore, the two components of vicarious reinforcement are:

  1. The behaviour of a model produces reinforcement for a particular behaviour.
  2.  A positive emotional reaction is aroused in the observer.

According to Bandura, personality development is based on the principles of social learning theory. All aspects of our personality and identity are learned through direct instead of indirect reinforcement or through punishment. So personality characteristics may be strengthened or weakened during a child’s development, depending on whether the child is directly or indirectly rewarded or punished.

            ~ Madhur Anand ~

The power of “social learning”:

When people learn from each other and change their behaviour accordingly.

Social learning-Post pandemic

The prolonged school lockdowns and social distancing have limited the child social and emotional wellbeing.
Social skills were taught or experienced regularly within the classroom and playground.
Children may not invariably benefit from partner or group work because they do not know how to interact effectively due to their poor acquired social-emotional awareness skills.

The education policy and practice we call “social and emotional learning” (SEL) has long been necessary for student development and future academic success. Still, the pandemic has emphasised the need to elevate its importance to build a sound foundation at the elementary level.

Since the pandemic began, mental health-related issues have soared at all academic levels and are estimated to be twice as many as during the peak of the Great Recession. Perhaps the main question we should be asking is, will the current generation acquire the necessary social skills to succeed as an adult?

It is essential to recognise that our ability to learn socially also has a dark side because unwanted behaviours can likewise be transferred quickly. For example, we see media pictures of empty stores or notice that the person next to you in the supermarket is buying large quantities of items, resulting in widespread hoarding and panic behaviour.

Other individuals might refuse to follow guidelines because their social environment believes the COVID-19 threat is being exaggerated.

Further Reading:

Social Fear Learning: From Animal Models to Human Function

J. Debiec and A. Olsson Trends Cogn Sci. 2017 Jul; 21(7): 546–555.

Vicarious Trauma, Mirror Neurons, and COVID-19

M. O’Reilly-Landry. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychological-trauma-coping-and-resilience/202012/vicarious-trauma-mirror-neurons-and-covid-19

What Is Vicarious Reinforcement: Definition, Examples, and Application


Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory


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