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Reciprocal Interactions

When I was doing my undergraduate work at the University of Northern Iowa, getting my BA in social work, I came across a book that I believe wa
s titled “Behavior Modification: A Procedural Guide for Social Workers.” It was in this book that I first came across Albert Bandura’s concepts on learning, behavior, self-efficacy and reciprocal determination, and I have been a fan ever since. A number of years ago, while teaching a workshop in Alberta, I met his nephew who was in the class, and I was in geek heaven!


I want to focus on the idea of reciprocal determination, which is shown in the diagram below:




Bandura’s idea was that what we do as human beings (behavior) has an impact on the social and physical environments in which the behavior(s) occur, and also changes our personal factors which include our thoughts and feelings and our biology. Likewise environmental factors have an impact on who we are and what we do. When Bandura developed this theory, epigenetics had not yet been discovered, but the model itself is flexible enough to integrate new ideas as they are discovered and developed.


I read an interesting article published in 2021 that suggested we change the medical model of understanding behavior to a “bioecosocial” model, which is, from my perspective, what Bandura was talking about. The article is called “Towards Neuroecosociality: Mental Health in Adversity,” by Nikolas Rose from Kings College in London and two others, Rasmus Birk from Aalborg University in Denmark and Nick Manning, also from Kings College, proposes a shift from an understanding of mental health as the result of an illness and instead look at mental health as the result of behavioral interactions between the person and the environments in which they live, learn, work and play.


As I thought about the article proposing a neurological, ecological and social model for understanding human behaviour it occurred to me that Bandura was way ahead of his time. His model of reciprocal determinism really does capture, from my perspective, the ways in which people grow and mature and develop based on interactions with other people, environmental factors and their own personal predispositions they inherit.


This idea of reciprocal interaction (instead of reciprocal determinism) explains how the interactions between ourselves and others, as well as the physical elements of our environments, interact through our behavioural choices to help us grow, or inhibit our growth based on our behaviours, and the behaviours of others. If the caregivers responsible for an infant’s health and welfare neglect and/or abuse the infant, the needs for subsistence and attaching relationships may be unmet to one degree or another. And in the same way, if the caregivers provide for all the needs of the infant, then their needs for subsistence and attaching relationships will most likely be met.


As we go through our lives, all our interactions will either support or inhibit people to meet their needs, as well as ours. Learning how to interact with others and ourselves in ways that are predominately positive and healthy is the challenge before us, and I hope we are all up to it.


Bob Bowen

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