Social-cognitive and information-motivation-behavioural skills models

Bandura’s social-cognitive learning theory1 is a general theory of self-regulatory agency, which proposes that perceived self-efficacy lies at the centre of human behaviour. According to this model, effective self-regulation of behaviour and personal change requires that people believe in their ability to control their motivation, thoughts, affective states and behaviours. In other words, people are unlikely to change unless they want to, believe they can, feel they will and have the behavioural skills.

This model also proposes that people will require practice and feedback in order to develop self–efficacy in taking preventive action and that social supports for the desired personal changes will be essential.

This model does not offer a strong theoretical explanation for why people choose to change, but, as Bandura argues, “the major problem is not teaching people safer sex guidelines, which are easily achievable, but equipping them with skills and self–beliefs that enable them to put the guidelines into action consistently in the face of counteracting pressures”.

A refinement of the social-cognitive learning theory is the information-motivation-behavioural skills model.2 This is a feedback-loop model: it also assumes that the three components of information, motivation and behavioural skills exert potentiating effects on each other.

To this extent, the finding by Albarracin3 that information has positive influences on behaviour only when accompanied with active, behavioural strategies can be taken as evidence that the confluence of strategies is as important as the selection of each individual approach.

Examples of successful programmes which improved self-efficacy include controlled programmes with gay men4 and with African-American young people5 in the US. In both programmes, groups identified to be at high risk were taught how to negotiate safer sex in high-risk situations through role play with feedback. Both programmes used control groups. Recipients of the self-efficacy programmes reported (with all the caveats about the reliability of self-report) lower levels of unprotected sex with partners over extended periods of follow-up. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the African-American youth study was carried out first in young men and then replicated in young women5 in another neighbourhood with the same positive outcome.


  1. Bandura A Social cognitive theory and exercise of control over HIV infection in Preventing AIDS: theories and models of behavioural interventions. DiClemente RJ & Peterson JL Eds, Plenum Press, New York, 1994
  2. Fisher JD and Fisher WA Theoretical approaches to individual-level change in HIV risk behaviour. In JL Peterson and CC diClemente (eds.), Handbook of HIV Prevention, pp 3-55. New York: Springer, 2000
  3. Albarracin D et al. A test of major assumptions about behaviour change: a comprehensive look at the effects of passive and active HIV-prevention interventions since the beginning of the epidemic. Psychological Bulletin 131(6), 856-897, 2005
  4. Kelly J et al. Behavioural interventions to reduce AIDS risk activities. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57:1 pp60-67, 1989
  5. Jemmott JB et al. Reductions in HIV risk associated sexual behaviours among black male adolescents: Effects of an AIDS prevention intervention. Am J Pub Health 82 pp372-77, 1992
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