Theories in Social Work

Role of theory in research.

Theories are important in research in that they provide parameters under which research is conducted by clarifying areas that have a high potential of yielding valid results. Additionally, in research, findings require to be backed up by theories so they can make sense. Therefore, the theories in research are also significant in providing meaning to the findings of a study.

Social Learning Theory and Its Principles

One of the theories of social work is social learning theory. According to this theory, an individual’s behavior is learned and adopted by observing certain behaviors and emulating them. For instance, if a child sees an older sibling smoking cigarette, there is a high chance that he/she may imitate them. Similarly, a child that sees a parent or a sibling reading a book regularly may develop that habit as well. Social learning theory has four major principles – attention, retention, motivation, and reproduction. Under attention, learning a habit is based on how much attention we pay to it. For instance, when a child pays enough attention to their parent’s reading habit, they are likely to imitate this behavior. On the other hand, retention involves memorizing information such that it can be used at a later date in a similar situation. For instance, most students learn through retention. By retaining the content taught in class, they can recall the information while doing tests or exams. Motivation as a principle of this theory involves emulating habits or actions to obtain similar results as those observed. For instance, a child that sees a sibling get rewarded for good behavior is likely to emulate them for the same benefits. Finally, reproduction entails duplicating skills or behavior in situations where they are required. This principle is often applied when a student completes their studies and is absorbed into the job market.

“What do I have to believe about the world and about human beings for me to accept or use this theory?”

Accepting the use of this theory means believing in the power of observation and its effect on an individual’s behavior.

Describe the extent to which the epistemological and ontological assumptions of your chosen theory align with the philosophical orientation that reflects your worldview.

The epistemological assumption of this theory is that constantly observing certain behaviors can trigger individuals to imitate them and adopt them at some point in their lives. The ontological assumption is that behavior is not obtained from within an individual but rather as a result of observing other behaviors for a given period. There epistemological and ontological assumptions of the social learning theory do not fully align with my philosophical orientation of the world. I agree that some – not all – behaviors can be learned through observation. The case of a child adopting a reading habit from observing their parent reading is one behavior that can be obtained from observation. However, if a child were to see their parent abusing their partner, it is not guaranteed that they emulate the behavior. On the contrary, the child may grow up traumatized by the situation and become an activist instead. 


Babbie, E. R. (2017). The basics of social research. Cengage Learning.

De Vaus, D. (2001). Research design in social research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gilbert, N. (2019, November 13). The Social Work Theories That Inform Social Work Practice. Noodle. Retrieved from

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