Julian B. Rotter was exposed to social injustice and became interested in the situation and environment's effects on the individual. In school, he developed an interest in psychology and studied and worked extensively to earn his PhD, and to work as a clinician and in the military.
At the time of Mr. Rotter's development, Freudian theory of human motivation was the dominant theory, which focused on deep seated, instinctual and natural motivations, combined with individual unawareness of those motives as the driving forces for all human behavior. In order to understand the behavior, extensive research into the childhood, assuming that the adult cannot figure out their own experiences and how they drive their behavior, is the only way to understand or treat problems. In other words, people are subject to their instinctive and unconscious drives, and not to the environment or their ability to change.
Mr. Rotter valued the driving force, but changed the conception of the 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 social learning theory, the personality is not independent of the environment or external factors, and is not merely a construct that is internal to the individual and independent of the environment. 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.
A major component of social learning theory, behavior potential, is that the individual personality is capable of maintaining relative stability in potential ways of reacting to stimuli, but as always capable of change as 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.
Finally, Rotter viewed the desire to seek positive results as far greater than the desire to merely avoid the negative. This is critical to the human capacity to establish and meet goals where the desired reward may be difficult to obtain or a long time in coming.
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 social learning theory is a formula where Behavior potential is a function of the combination of expectancy value and reinforcement value.