Behaviorism and social learning theory are two psychological theories used for explaining behavior. Although the two both deal with behavior, they focus on somewhat different elements in their attempts to explain why people behave the way they do. Behaviorism and social learning have strong bases of support, so there is no clear answer to which one does a better job at explaining behavior.
Behaviorism is a psychological theory that attempts to explain why people behave the way they do. Behaviorism focuses on what can be observed. To behaviorists, all behavior can be traced back to an external stimuli. Further, behaviorists believe that behavior can be modified through reinforcements and punishments. Reinforcements are stimuli designed to encourage a particular behavior to occur again; punishments are stimuli designed to discourage a particular behavior. Early behaviorists, such as John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner, developed behaviorism to move the focus of psychology into the observable and measurable.
Social learning theory expands the ideas found presented by behaviorism. Like behaviorism, social learning attempts to explain why people behave the way they do; however, social learning says that behavior is based on a combination of observable stimuli, and internal psychological processes. Social learning suggests three requirements for someone to learn a behavior: retention, reproduction and motivation. Retention is the individual's ability to remember behavior that he observed, and reproduction is the individual's ability to reproduce that behavior. Motivation is the individual's desire to engage in that behavior.
Behaviorism vs. Social Learning
Although social learning theory shares some similarities with behaviorism, it adds an element of internal thought processes to behavior, which behaviorism does not study. Social learning theorists argue that behavior is more complicated than stimulas and response. Social learning theory posits that in addition to behaviorism's external reinforcements, individuals learn through observation, and by imitating the behavior of the people around them. Peer influence can cause someone to go along with the crowd in a desire to fit in and be accepted, even when the observed behavior conflicts with personal values.
Both behaviorism and social learning theory have applications for society, and for everyday life. Parents who give their children an allowance for doing chores are using the behavior-modification process of behaviorism. Similarly, parents choosing not to smoke in front of their children are following the tenants of social learning theory; they don't want their children to observe them engaging in an unhealthy habit because their children may want to imitate what they observe. On a larger scale, proactive education programs can have elements of both behaviorism and social learning. For example, a campaign to reduce underage drinking can take a behaviorist approach by stressing legal consequences, along with a social learning approach using a social norm campaign to dispell myths that everybody drinks a lot in college.