Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 1 Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change By Greg Munno / email@example.com For Professor Makana Chock S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, Syracuse University December 15, 2011
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 2 Abstract Early childhood experiences effect people their whole lives. Exposure to substanceabusers, malnutrition, stress, and other negative experiences early in life have been shown tohave a lasting impact, leading to lower levels of educational attainment, higher rates ofincarceration, and elevated risk of chronic disease. Meanwhile, evidence shows that intervention programs that target parents of youngchildren have been effective in avoiding some detrimental outcomes. It has also been shownthat theory-based interventions, particularly those that utilize social cognitive theory, have hada greater impact than interventions that lack a theoretical framework. This paper reviews the literature on social cognitive theory, with a focus on its potentialapplication to early childhood education and development programs. The review leads to hypotheses that predict social cognitive approaches can beenhanced when executed within acommunity engagement framework. By involving the community in message creation, I predict that a program can increaseattention to its messages, increase identification with its messages, and, ultimately, can have agreater effect on parental self-efficacy.
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 3 Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change For Albert Bandura, the human ability to learn is both the cause, and potential cure, ofour individual and collective shortcomings. “Infants,” Bandura writes, “exhibit sensitivity tocausal relations between environmental events even in the first months of life” (2006, p. 169).In other words, our environment starts to shape us immediately. Yet humans also shape their environment and each other. We are capable of learningfar more than we experience directly. We can deduce from one experience what similar actionin a different context might bear. We can learn from watching other people, the process ofsocial learning. For Bandura, both deduction and social learning are made possible by theuniquely human trait of symbolic modeling. “It is with symbols that people process andtransform transient experiences into cognitive models that serve as guides for judgment andaction,” he writes (2001, p. 267). People, then, are “self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting, and self-regulating,” but arenonetheless subject to both biological and social-structural forces (Bandura, 2001, p. 266). Weare both products and producers of our physical and social realities. Parents and community provide the raw materialsyoung humans use to create thesymbolic models on which they base their beliefs and future actions. For this reason, applyingsocial cognitive theory to issues of early childhood development is particularly intriguing. Socialcognitive theory-based approaches may provide the basis for a “two-for-one” intervention,increasing the efficacy of two generations at once. If an intervention that models betterparenting leads to better parenting, then the power of the model is exponentially increased. This paper, then, seeks to:
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 4 1. Further examine social cognitive theory for the purposes of understanding how it might apply to efforts to improve parenting and childhood development; 2. Review relevant studies that test programs based on social cognitive theory; 3. Link social cognitive theory to the literature on community engagement, and to argue that such engagements could potential lead to more effective SCT-based interventions; 4. Build hypotheses, 5. Discuss a project the author is involved in that might provide the basis for testing those hypotheses. A Case for ActionEarly Childhood Development Bandura’s notion of human agency provides for the possibility that people canovercome difficult upbringings. People, he writes, “intentionally influence (their) functioningand life circumstances” (Bandura, 2006, p. 164). However, that doesn’t mean that experiencescan’t irreparably harm us, or that early experiences do not impact our abilities to act effectivelylater in life. Stress, poor nutrition, and neglect can have a lasting impact(Grason, et al, 2004, p. 3;Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008, p. 8).Middlebrooks and Audage, writing for the Centers forDisease Control, found that abused children grow up to experience higher instances of teenpregnancy, more involvement with domestic violence, and higher suicide rates (p. 8). Grasonand her colleagues at Johns Hopkinsfound that children who start school behind their cohortrarely catch up. And yet, they also concluded that interventions promoting positive behavior
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 5avoided more costly interventions later (p. 3). The value of such efforts, they added, has beenrecognized, as evidenced by several large initiatives underway, including the federal HealthySteps granting program (Grason, et al, p. 4; http://www.healthysteps.org/).Effect of Theory-based Intervention Public health programs are not created equal. Glanz and Bishop (2010) explicitlycompared the effectiveness of programs that were based on theory and those that were not.They found that “public health and health-promotion interventions that are based on social andbehavioral science theories are more effective than those lacking a theoretical base” (Glanz &Bishop, 2010, p. 399). The mechanism by which theory can aid the development andimplementation of a public health program is not well understood (p. 404). But Glanz andBishop speculate that the application of theory can help suggest innovative interventions.Another possibility is that theory-based strategies signal the presence of the rigor required forthe effective planning, implementation, and measurement of effective public health programs(p. 404). The authors identified four theories that have been used most often and mosteffectively in developing public health programs (Glanz & Bishop, 2010, pp. 402-404): 1. The Health Belief Model, which postulates that people’s perceptions of the risk and rewardsof action influence whether they actually act; 2. The Trans-theoretical and Stages of Change models, which provide a heuristic for moving people through the various stages that lead to real change; 3. Social Cognitive Theory itself; and, 4. The Social Ecological Model, which the authors see as consistent with Social
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 6 Cognitive Theory, but with an application focused on system-level factors that affect behaviors within a population as opposed to individuals. From Message to Adjustment Glanz and Bishop identify several components of Social Cognitive Theory as key to publichealth interventions, includingobservational learning, reinforcement, and self-efficacy.Attention, Identification & Reinforcement In a public health campaign, the delivery mechanism for modeled behavior is often amedia message. For it to have any impact, the audience must first pay some attention to it(Pajares, Prestin, Chen & Nabi, 2009, p. 287). The first part of the attention equation is simplyone of availability. We might ask: Are the message and its target audience located in the sameplace within space and time, thus giving the audience an opportunity to see it? Did the targetaudience actually see it? Did the audience have the ability to make any sense of the message,or was it, perhaps, in a language they don’t even understand? The next salient quality of attention is identification. As Pajares and his colleagues write:“For mediated content to positively affect audience members’ behaviors, audience membersmust pay attention to attractive or similar models realistically performing relevant behaviors”(p. 287). Such positive modeling by a model the receiver can identify with is the basis forobservational learning. Brown and Basil’s 1995 study of Ervin “Magic” Johnson’s announcement that he was HIVpositive offers a great example. Immediately after Johnson’s announcement, calls to theNational AIDS Hotline jumped by a factor of 10 to more than 40,000 in just one day (Brown &Basil, p. 346). Testing sights were similarly overrun.
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 7 But the effect of the announcement, along with Johnson’s message that, (1) anyone canget AIDS and (2) everyone should get tested, was not universal. Rather, those who had someknowledge of Magic Johnson were more likely to seek testing after the announcement thanthose who did not know of the celebrity sports figure (Brown & Basil, p. 361). This increase,however, was small. More significantly, those who felt “involved” with Johnson -- peoplewhofelt an emotional, parasocial attachment to him -- were far more likely to take his message toheart (p. 364). They identified with Johnson. Since many people had an attachment to Johnson -- and, crucially, since thatattachment was positive -- it had a large effect (Brown & Basil, p. 360-361). It was positivelyreinforced. If Johnson was despised, people would have dismissed his revelation thatheterosexual men were at risk of contracting HIV. Likewise, if Johnson had been harshlyreprimanded for his revelation -- let’s imagine that other NBA stars ostracized him -- then hisannouncement may have had the opposite effect, discouraging people from getting tested. So Johnson had all the attributes of a successful positive social model. He was wellknown, closely followed, and had the power to grab headlines (attention). By being forthrightand urging testing, he was modeling socially beneficial behavior. Since he was well liked, wellspoken, and open, people identified with him, giving that message salience. The media, histeammates, and others then praised him for his candor and his actions, positively reinforcingthe behavior.Self-Efficacy For Bandura and other social cognitive theorists, belief precedes actions. “Unless peoplebelieve that they can produce a desired effect and forestall undesired ones by their actions,
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 8they have little incentive to act,” Bandura writes (2001, p. 270). Efficacy beliefs, then, arebeliefs that cause people to think optimistically or pessimistically that a change in behavior willincrease their well-being. Pajares and his colleagues go further, saying “self-efficacy beliefs arebetter predictors of people’s accomplishments than their previous accomplishments,knowledge, or skills” (p. 286). Have never used an iPhone before but believe you will master the technology easily? Bythis theory, you have a good chance of success. This is not, however, some sort of magic -- willit and it will be! Rather, through your efficacy, you have set a goal and believe you can reach it. Thatbodes well for persisting when you encounter obstacles, which is also known asresiliency(Pajares, Prestin, Chen & Nabi, 2009, p. 286). Meanwhile, high self-efficacy “will notinfluence behavior when people lack the resources to undertake an activity … or do not valuethe expected outcome” (Pajares, Prestin, Chen & Nabi, 2009, p. 286). Again, it’s not magic. But if you can show people that certain actions will have a positive effect, and that theydo, in fact, have the resources needed to take those actions, you have a chance at increasingtheir self-efficacy and generating the desired behavior. Evidence of an EffectParenting Self-Efficacy A team of scholars from Arizona State University designed an ambitious study to testsocial cognitive theory among Mexican American families living in the Southwest (Dumka,Gonzales, Wheeler & Millsap, 2010, p. 522). Using a longitudinal design, they looked at: 1. Whether the parents of teens thought they were good parents who exerted “positive
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 9 control” over their children. This was measured using items from the Multicultural Inventory of Parenting Self-Efficacy, which the Arizona State team had developed in 2002. It asks questions such as “How good are you at praising (your child) and giving him/her encouragement? … How good are you at teaching (your child)? … How good are you at keeping control over (your child)?” (p. 527). 2. Actual parenting behavior, which was measured with questions of whether the mother had clearly communicated punishments to the child and followed through on them and whether the mother knew of the child’s whereabouts (p. 527). 3. Actual adolescent outcomes, a measure composed of reports from the mother, the teen him or herself, and two teachers (p. 527-528). The team concluded that the study demonstrated the generalizability of Bandura’s theoriesin a cross-cultural setting (Dumka, Gonzales, Wheeler & Millsap, 2010, p. 531). A belief thatmothers could positively control their children led to more control, which led to fewerproblems among the children of high self-efficacy mothers. Our results … showed that Mexican American mothers’ PSE (parental self-efficacy) had direct causal links with adolescents’ levels of conduct problems. … Adolescents’ self-efficacy may develop in response to observing their parents. Mexican American adolescents with parents who express high self-efficacy may develop confidence in their own abilities, which in turn, may lead to better outcomes including decreased conduct problems (p. 531). A study by Spoth, Redmond, Haggerty, and Ward, which used a very different design butasked similar questions, found a similar effect (1995, p. 449-464). Essentially, using a complexregression model, they showed that interventions aimed at increasing parents’ self-efficacy (1)did increase efficacy and (2) led to fewer problems among the adolescent children of thoseparents (p. 460). In additional to differences in scope and design, the Spoth, et al, study also
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 10looked at the effect on fathers in addition to mothers. The effect held true, but fathers hadsmaller increases in efficacy as a result of exposure to the messaging (p. 460).Adolescent Eating Behaviors In a more modest but nonetheless relevant study, scholars looked to see how social-cognitive factors such as self-efficacy influenced adolescent eating behavior (Ball, et al, 2009).They start with the knowledge that socioeconomic status is a strong predictor of diet, withhigher SES teens eating healthier foods (p. 496). They found that a significant mediating factor to SES on diet was self-efficacy,specifically (1) knowledge about a healthy diet, (2) a belief that the teen was capable ofobtaining, preparing, and enjoying healthy food, and (3) a conviction that a healthy diet couldmake a positive contribution to their well-being (p. 502). As a result, they call for “healthpromotion efforts (that) focus on cognitive factors such as self-efficacy and the value attachedto health-promoting behaviors” (Ball, et al, 2009, p. 502). Message Enrichment via Engagement Leung (2009) defines psychological empowerment essentially as the process of gainingself-efficacy, along with successful action based on that efficacy (p. 1330). “Empowerment,” hewrites, “is a process through which people gain mastery over their lives, improve strengths andcompetencies and develop proactive behaviors to manage their social affairs” (p. 1330). He then defines civic engagement as involvement in the decisions that affect us, andsays there is “strong theoretical and empirical support for the idea that psychologicalempowerment and civic participation are linked” (p. 1330). Meanwhile, self-efficacy itselfprovides the mechanism through which people can effectively engage civically, as it reflects on
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 11individual’s perceptions that they have the social and political skills necessary to participate,including knowledge about how to obtain the resources needed to act(Leung, 2009, p. 1330). He specifically looked at (1) whether people who generate content online had higherself-efficacy than those that do not, and (2) whether the creating of content developedpsychological empowerment that manifested itself in civic engagement (p. 1327). There wereseveral limitations to his study and his findings were mixed (pp. 1341-1345). Nonetheless,Leung’s research suggests a promising avenue to investigate while building an interventionprogram based on social cognitive theory.Seeing is Believing. Doing is Knowing. Directly engaging target audiences in the development of a public health messagingcampaign has the potential to increase the effects of social cognitive approaches. Various formsof outreach -- focus groups, surveys, social media, community forums, etc. -- can allow for thecollection valuable information that can (1) provide opportunities for baseline data collection,(2) lead to a better understanding of the gaps in knowledge about available local resources, and(3) utilize this data much like a strategic planner to tailor a campaign for maximum effect. AsGlanz and Bishop note: The most successful public health programs and initiatives are based on an understanding of health behaviors and the context in which they occur. Strategic planning models provide a structured framework for developing and managing public health interventions and improving them through evaluation (2010, p. 400) But in addition to serving this planning and evaluation purpose, I believeengagementcan also increase efficacy in and of itself. People who voluntarily attend communityfunctions are likely to have greater self-efficacy than those who do not before they even walk inthe door. But there are other ways of recruiting subjects with lower self-efficacy, such as direct
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 12intervention in schools (if the target audience is teen mothers, for instance), and focus groupsthat offer incentives for participation. By partaking in these experiences, recruited participantswill see that they do, in fact, have the skills needed to participate in a conversation aboutparenting. It will also expose them to other parenting models and opportunities for positivereinforcement. The community can also be the source of images, slogans, and ideas for a campaign. Forthose who are directly involved, interest and attention are likely to be very high. For the others,they’ll see members of their own community modeling appropriate parental behavior. This willmake the message more authentic, and therefore believable. It should also increase attention -hey, that’s my neighbor! - as well as identification. If the mom I pass in Wegmans each weekcan calm her child using a timeout strategy, perhaps I can too.Leveraging Individual & Community Drawing on the social ecological model, community engagement may also help createthe climate for better parenting throughout a community, leading to population-level effects.As a team from the University of Exeter writes, The social environment comprising communities, families, neighborhoods, work teams, and various other forms of social group is not simply an external feature of the world that provides context for individual behavior. Instead these groups impact on the psychology of individuals through their capacity to be internalized as part of a person’s identity. If groups provide individuals with a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging, (i.e. a positive sense of social identity) they tend to have positive psychological consequences (Haslman, Jetten, Postmes & Haslam, 2009, p. 1). Waters, Cross, and Runions (2009) found some evidence of this effect. Their studyconcluded that an adolescent’s feelings of “connectedness” to her or her school was positivelycorrelated with the teen’s health and well-being (p. 516). Further, the study team found a
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 13strong correlation between the structural characteristics of a school and the connectednesseffect. Positive structural factors included small school size, levels of teacher collegiality, clearand fair expectations for discipline, student involvement in decision making, and highexpectations (p. 520). In other words, their approach holds the possibility that school-leveladjustments may do more to change individual-level behavior than individual-levelinterventions. Hypotheses Given this state of affairs, I propose that: H1: Media campaigns that incorporate authentic content generated from a specificcommunity via public outreach will increase attention to the media messages within thatcommunity. H2: Media campaigns that incorporate authentic content generated from a specificcommunity via public outreach will increase identification with the messages within thatcommunity. H3:There is an interaction between engagement and self-efficacy such that: 1. Those that voluntarily attend engagement events such as a community forum will begin the process with higher self-efficacy than harder-to-reach individuals. 2. Self-efficacy will increase for individuals directly engaged by the engagement effort, whether they are engaged voluntarily or more deliberately recruited and enticed to participate. 3. Those who directly participate in the creation of the messaging by supplying ideas, photos, votes, Facebook “likes,” etc., will experience a greater increase in
Community Engagement and Authentic Modeling: A Social Cognitive Theory of Change 14 self-efficacy than the target community members who do not actively participate. Born Learning Cayuga: A Social Cognitive Laboratory Fortunately, an opportunity to test these hypotheses has emerged. A coalition offoundations, nonprofits, and community groups has come together to launch a public healthcampaign built off of a community engagement model around the issue of early childhooddevelopment and parenting. Moreover, they’ve approached both the author and his mentor,Syracuse University Professor Makana Chock, to help with the effort. This coalition has requested surveys, focus groups, a series of op-ed pieces, a website, alogo contest, and other tools all with the purpose of: 1. Increasing awareness of the importance of early childhood development; 2. Promoting the positive aspects of investing in early childhood development; 3. Spreading knowledge about best practices and available community resources; 4. Creating buzz and excitement within the community around the prospect of increasing individual and community well-being by propagating positive and successful child- rearing models. Interestingly, they have not uttered the phrases “social cognitive theory” or “self-efficacy,”but clearly the members of this coalition have an innate sense of the power of Bandura’sinsights. There’s a good chance that we’ll be able to work evaluative instruments into the effortto help guide it, and to test the above hypotheses. I am particularly keen to involve thecommunity directly in content creation, and to measure the effect on self-efficacy of such anapproach.
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