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PSYC 812 Social Cognitive Development

Published : 22-Sep,2021  |  Views : 10


Select two (2) films which portray characters/personalities from different cultures (ie. Slumdog Millionnaire, Joy Luck Club, Divergent) and in detail, discuss how social cognitive theories of learning and behavior apply to the personalities in the films. Conclude with a discussion of how conceptions of personality vary across cultures.


Social Cognitive Theories of Learning and Behavior  

Human cognitive development is perceived as the process through which an individual forms concepts, thinks and comprehend his/her environment through integration of hereditary and acquired factors. According to Liverta Marchetti (2010) cognitive development involves five aspects which include; memory, reasoning, language development, intelligence and information processing. Basically, social cognitive theories contend that personality emanates from beliefs and behaviors learned through social experiences (Church, 2010). The focus of this discussion is to analyze the personalities of the characters of the films, Slumdog Millionaire and the Joy Luck Club divergent in line with social cognitive theories of learning and behavior. In addition the discussion will evaluate how conceptions of personality differ across cultures.

Social cognitive theories of learning and behavior operate of some assumptions. Firstly, these theories assume that people learn behaviors by observing others. That is, human beings learn behaviors and acquire some knowledge by simply observing a model. A model in this case is a person or that thing which exhibit the behavior or the knowledge being imitated. Secondly, learning is either internal or external thus it may or may not result to a given behavior. This means that learning may not be abrupt. The underlying meaning of this assumption is that an individual can adopt a new behavior without learning anything. The third assumption connotes that individuals set goals for themselves and then focus their behavior towards the attainment of the goals. The final assumption denotes that behaviors are self-regulated (Monteil & Huguet, 2010).

The Slumdog Millionaire film directed by Danny Boyle focuses on the main character Jamal and his journey of struggles from slum life to world of riches. The story also features several other characters including Jamal’s family and Latika who become part of his life. The film is climaxed as the point where Jamaal is arrested for questioning. Jamal has got just one more question to answer and he would be declared the winner of the grand prize. Nonetheless, the authorities accuse him of cheating as they cannot fathom how he has managed to answer the questions, something many people including professors had failed to achieve. Through flashbacks, Jamal derives his witty responses from his past life experiences. Life has indeed taught him a lot. First by losing their mother and were left to feed for themselves. His life in and off crime had a lot to help him answer the questions (Koehler, 2009). In this instance, the aspect of social cognitive theory of learning and behavior is evident. It is an expression of how learning through experience impacts cognition as well as behavior.

Jamal and his brother had learned to survive by chances. The story features their life in the hands of Maman who is a gangster and trains children to be beggars by literally blinding them. Their dissatisfaction with this life obliges them to escape and they engage in other activities at least to earn a living. They engage in pick pocketing, hawking of goods, dish washing, they also disguise as tour guides to tourists and even steal shoes. They later part ways when Salim decides to be Javed’s gangster. It is as a result of what life offered them that resulted to different behaviors.  A collection of these experiences later turn out to be Jamal’s life turning point of bridging the gap between poverty and wealth. Salim behaviors are also as a result of learning. He has chosen a life as a gangster, a behavior he first learnt from Maman and from the life he had adopted while in the streets. His fascination of gangster life leads him to join Javed, who is also Maman’s great rival. He eventually dies.

The Joy Luck Club is yet another story that depicts constrained relationships between Chinese born mothers and their American born daughters. June is called forth to replace her dead mother in the Mah-jongg game. June is an American-Chinese but is more integrated in the American culture. The activities that take place during the evening game give June insight about the dissonance between the two generations and conflicting cultures. She could then understand her mother’s personality. In addition, during the surprise party organized for June who was going to reunite with her twin sisters, she is unaware of how to deal with the situation. This is when it dawns to the Chinese mothers that what they had hoped for their Americanized daughters cannot be achieved. There is no cultural connection between them and their daughters. Hence social cognition theory of learning and behavior in this case shows that individuals learn from their immediate environment thus inculcating the Chinese culture in daughters who are in an American dominant culture would be futile (Dunlap, 2011).

Culture is a totality of attitudes, beliefs and customs that differentiates one group of people from the other. Culture shapes an individual’s personality. Thus people affiliated to different cultures tend to have varying personalities. Culture is an aspect of human life that influences people’s behavior, opinions and attitudes. One of the assumptions widely held by some scholars is that people who are born and brought up in the same culture express some similar traits (Schofield et al. 2012).


Church, A. T. (2010). Current Perspectives in the Study of Personality Across Cultures.

Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 441–449.

Dunlap, M. R. (2011). Teaching about Children and Families in a Multicultural Society.

Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, 11(1), 28–34.

Koehler, R. (2009). [Review of Slumdog Millionaire]. Cinéaste, 34(2), 75–77.

Liverta-Sempio, O., & Marchetti, A. (2010). Cognitive development and theories of mind:

Towards a contextual approach. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 12(1), 3–21.

Fong, Y. S. (2009). [Review of The Joy Luck Club]. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies,

11(2/3), 122–123.  

Monteil, J. M., & Huguet, P. (2010). The Social Context of Human Learning: Some Prospects

for the Study of Socio-cognitive Regulations. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 8(4), 423–435.

Schofield, T. J., Conger, R. D., Donnellan, M. B., Jochem, R., Widaman, K. F., & Conger, K. J.

(2012). Parent Personality and Positive Parenting as Predictors of Positive Adolescent Personality Development Over Time. Merrill-palmer Quarterly, 58(2), 255–283.

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