6 Real-Life Applications of Reciprocal Determinism and How It Can Impact Your Business

Do you change your behavior when your boss is in the room? Do you find yourself acting differently depending on the person who’s in your company? Do you realize that you act differently based on your environment? Albert Bandura took notice of this and tried to figure out why this happens. If you are curious to know what reciprocal determinism really is and how it can impact your business, then continue reading.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about reciprocal determinism and its applications in business.

What is Reciprocal Determinism?

Albert Bandura, one of the greatest psychologists of all time, presented the theory of reciprocal determinism in his famous book “Social Foundation of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory” in 1986. Reciprocal determinism is a theory that proposes that a person’s behavior is influenced by and influences personal characteristics and social factors.

It explains how we act is usually influenced by the environment, individual characteristics and behavior. Previously, it was believed that the environment is solely responsible for shaping an individual’s behavior, but Bandura contested otherwise in his theory. He admitted that the environment does play its part but there are other factors that impact human behavior as well.

Albert Bandura conducted an experiment called “Bandura’s Box.” In this experiment, he found that schoolchildren who experienced aggressive play were more likely to act in the same way. He even found a strong correlation between individuals, their behaviors and their environments. The theory of reciprocal determinism marked a shift from a behavioral perspective to a more social-cognitive approach when it comes to analyzing and studying human behavior.

Triadic Reciprocal Causation

Triadic Reciprocal Causation

Introduced by Bandura himself, Triadic reciprocal causation refers to the combined influence of three sets of factors.

  1. Individual Factors
  2. Behavioral Factors
  3. Environmental Factors

1. Individual Factors

Individual and unique personality traits play an important role in how a person behaves in different situations and individual factors deal with that. It includes feelings, emotions and ability to understand through thought, senses and experiences. Does the individual have faith in his or her abilities? Does he or she has what it takes to complete the action? Individual factors answer those questions.

Some individual factors are:

  • Knowledge
  • Expectations
  • Attitudes

2. Behavioral Factors

According to reciprocal determinism, human behavior is controlled and is influenced through cognitive processes and environmental factors such as social stimuli. The behavioral component also deals with the response a person receives after they take action. It entails giving the individual an opportunity to learn and perform the action correctly.

Behavioral factors include:

  • Skills
  • Practice
  • Self-efficacy

3. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors influence the ability of individuals to successfully complete an action or behavior. In order to boost his or her self-efficacy, you will have to provide an individual with a conclusive environment.

Some of the key environmental factors are as follows:

  • Social norms
  • Access in the community
  • Influence on environment
  • Influence on other people


According to Bandura, Self-Efficacy can be defined as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute a course of action required to achieve the goal.” Self-efficacy plays a pivotal role in shaping our approach and influence the way we approach different tasks.

People who have high self-efficacy tend to have faith in their abilities and are always ready to take on complex challenges. Additionally, they tend to recover more quickly from a setback as compared to individuals with low self-efficacy. On the contrary, individuals with lower levels of self-efficacy usually keep them occupied with a simple and easy task and try to avoid complicated tasks.

How to Boost Self-Efficacy?

Increase Self-Efficacy

There are four ways to increase your self-efficacy.

  • Verbal persuasion
  • Social modeling
  • Mastery Experience
  • Enhancing physical and mental states

Verbal Persuasion

Verbal persuasion is about encouraging people to complete a task or achieve a certain behavior through verbal communication.

Social Modelling

Social modeling gives you an identifiable model that highlights processes that can help you accomplish a behavior.

Mastery Experience

Mastery experience lets individuals settle in by allowing them to complete simple tasks first before moving on to more sophisticated tasks.

Enhancing Physical and Mental States

Make sure that the individual is relaxed and has rested before starting a new task or attempting a new behavior. The more comfortable the individuals are, the more likely they are to do well and achieve the goal.

Bandura explains self-efficacy with an example, “Very young children lack knowledge of their own capabilities and the demands and potential hazards of different courses of action. They would repeatedly get themselves into dangerous predicaments were it not for the guidance of others.

They can climb to high places, wander into rivers or deep pools, and wield sharp knives before they develop the necessary skills for managing such situations safely…Adult watchfulness and guidance see young children through this early formative period until they gain sufficient knowledge of what they can do and what different situations require in the way of skills

Business Applications of Reciprocal Determinism

Let’s look at some of the applications of reciprocal determinism in business.

1. Workplace

Employee motivation level has a direct impact on the performance of employees. The more motivated your employees are, the better they will perform. Consequently, workplace environment, recognition and rewards can increase employee motivation levels.

2. Employees

Similarly, an under-performing employee might struggle to hold on to a job for too long due to poor work habits. Due to this, he or she will start to see themselves as incompetent for the position. This sends a negative vibe to employers and they also begin mistreating them until their behavior becomes unbearable. They will get the warning letter and eventually get fired.

3. Leaders

Sim and Manz analyzed the behavior of leaders and published a research paper called “Observing Leader Behavior: Towards Reciprocal Determinism in Leadership Theory.” They identified that the behavior of leaders is influenced by both subordinate behavior and their performance. In this two-way relationship between a leader and a follower, reciprocal determinism is at work.

4. Marketing and Advertising

Technology has transformed our world into a global village. This means that now businesses can sell their products and services to a worldwide audience. There is no one size fits all formula here. Marketers and advertisers will have to adapt and tailor their ads and messaging based on the culture.

To align with the cultural norms, Coca-Cola rebranded itself as “kekou kele,” which means “tasty and happy” in China. Similarly, a Nokia ad showing a squirrel in a forest might mean different things in different regions of the world. The same ad can represent good reception and free movement in Finland, while Chinese might see the ad as showing an animal that lives far away from people in the forest.

That is why it is important for marketers and advertisers to have a deeper understanding of culture and values. Visual references also have varying cultural meanings and different languages have separate symbolic references. Each country has its unique history, art and culture. The better you understand these factors, the more effectively you will be able to target the customers.

5. Narrative Building and Storytelling

Reciprocal determinism also plays a vital role in storytelling and narrative building. Storytelling is also a behavior influencing factor, in which the storyteller is sharing experiences with the audience, who will perceive the story differently as they try to relate to it through their own experiences. As a result, they might have a different version of the story than the original anecdote, which the storyteller shared with them.

When the listener tells the same story, it will contain some more variations as the storyteller adds some new elements and drops some details from the story they have heard. This will present your narrative in a more broad and comprehensive manner.

6. User Satisfaction with ERP System

There are many studies conducted to find a relationship between the performance of a company and technology investment. The theory of reciprocal determinism suggests that user satisfaction of your ERP system will depend on environmental factors such as support from top management, culture of your organization.

Additionally, it also includes behavioral factors such as participation in ERP projects. Your belief in technology in general and ERP, in particular, also matters, as it is one of the personal factors. According to a study done on 289 ERP users, all the three factors mentioned above have a positive impact on user satisfaction levels, but how they affect consumer satisfaction varies from one element to another.

Problems and Issues

Nothing is perfect and reciprocal determinism is no exception to this rule. The concept of reciprocal determinism was nothing new and was present in nature well before Bandura proposed it. Many researchers such as J.S Haldane, Phillips and Orton and many more have proposed similar theories with some variation a century before Bandura’s reciprocal determinism theory.

Additionally, Bandura’s theory can easily be narrowed down into a one-dimensional causal relationship because all three factors are not impacting behavior simultaneously. What’s more, you can easily describe the ability of each factor to influence other two factors. It proves that reciprocal determinism is not as multi-dimensional as we might think. By far the biggest problem with reciprocal determinism theory is that it fails to explain what it proposes. It offers “infinite regress” but falls short when it comes to highlighting the reason behind the behavior.

How do you implement reciprocal determinism in your business? Let us know in the comments section below.

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