Reciprocal determinism is a key term developed by Albert Bandura, best known for his psychological work in the area of social cognitive theory. The term refers to a model Bandura posits that demonstrates individual interaction environment. It incorporates some ideas of behaviorism, but emphasizes the notion that environment is not the only thing that influences behavior. Instead people are influenced by their own self-beliefs, thoughts, ideas and also the environment, but in addition, they influence through their behavior and attitudes the way the environment works; there is back and forth communication between the internal self, action, and the external world.
Discussion of reciprocal determinism often uses a visual aid, drawn form as a triangle. At the triangle’s top is the word, behavior, and the two corners of the triangles are described as personal and environmental factors. Arrows go back and forth between each word, showing that no one of these three things is solely influenced by another factor, and influence runs both ways. This visual depiction reiterates the basic concept that humans are shaped by their environment and shape it.
It may be difficult to understand reciprocal determinism without examples, and these are easy to find. A man might enter counseling because he cannot hold a job, his finances are poor, and he feels like a failure. One of his contentions could be that he hates work, but someone taking reciprocal determinism into account might wonder why that is.
If the man’s inability to hold a job has been due to poor work habits and his hatred of work, he may very well have influenced employers to not retain him as an employee. If his attitude at work was terrible, chances are that no manager or boss made that any easier and the situation would gradually worsen until the man was fired. Since outside or external stimuli can influence behavior, each job could get worse, and the man’s attitude would continue to be awful, influencing managers to dislike him. Behavior, environment (like socioeconomic status), and the man would suffer.
Fortunately, the human can study himself and get help through things like vocational counseling or psychotherapy to determine how to change the way he thinks and feels about work. Since he can change personal factors, he can also change his environment. This is a thoughtful process and the back and forth continues, which means if the man ends up having a terrible manager in his next job, it might be easy to slip back into negative influencing behaviors.
Essentially then, reciprocal determinism posits that there is a real possibility of change that exists within the person, given appropriate help, but that a person will always be influenced by outside factors too. Behavior is a complex matter that requires multiple areas of attack if it would be changed. This is possible, nevertheless, with well-designed programs that account for the importance of the person in changing the environment, and that are realistic about the environment changing the person.