Overview of Julian Rotters Personality Theory

Mr. Rotter valued the driving force as an overriding aspect of behavior and personality, but changed the identity of that driving force: with the Empirical Law Of Effect and the driving force in human behavior. In studying behaviorism and personality, he focused on the desire for positive stimulation and the desire to avoid unpleasant situations rather than physiological drives and instincts as the driving force in determining matters.

In his social learning theory of personality, the personality is affected by the environment, and is not merely internal to the individual. When the individual personality is viewed as a construct of both life experience and stimuli in combination with ways in which the individual seeks the positive while avoiding the negative.

Behavior potential is a main component of Mr. Rotters social learning theory. The main point is that the individual personality is capable of maintaining some stability in potential ways of reacting to stimuli, but that the individual is always capable of change as a response to changing external factors. Although capacity for change may become reduced and fixed as individuals age, there is no fixed point in which change capacity diminishes or goes away. The traditional theories considered the personality as fixed and unchangeable, since they were beyond the individual’s control.

The component of expectancy is a behavioral construct that is based on the expectation that a positive outcome is likely to come from adoption of behaviors that lead to the desired outcome. Expectancy can be high, low, or a choice between the outcome that is more likely to pay off. Expectancy is dependent upon the next component of social learning theory, reinforcement value.

Reinforcement value is assigned to the desirability of the outcome that drives our behavior. Positive things have a high reinforcement value while negative outcomes have a low reinforcement value. Reinforcement that is a driving force, but which is considered to have minimal value is called a minimal goal. The same situation applies in choosing between goals with similar values: the one with the most likelihood of positive value is chosen. In some cases, negative reinforcement is chosen by neglected children because the lack of attention is worse than any punishment, which is some attention.

The final component of personality social learning theory is a formula where Behavior potential is a function of the combination of expectancy value and reinforcement value.


Mearns, Jack, 2008, “The Social Learning Theory Of Julian B. Rotter”