Ponyboy Curtis as an Outsider: A Case Study from the Viewpoint of Social-Cognitive Theory (Bandura)

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Ponyboy Curtis as an Outsider: A Case Study from the Viewpoint of Social-Cognitive Theory (Bandura)
A summary of the cognitive development stages that should be taken into account
The fifth psychosocial stage of identity vs. uncertainty during the unsettled teenage years is the developmental stage that this paper would focus on. The scene plays an important role in forming a sense of personal identity, which has long-term consequences for an individual’s actions and growth.
Why is this theorist being written about?
The Theorist to Be Written About and Why

The paper will use Bandura’s social cognitive theory. This is because the theory is useful in explaining the manner in which people acquire and maintain certain behavior patterns. Behavioral change evaluation is based on the environment and the people around. According to the theory, knowledge can be acquired through observation of others in the social interaction context as well as experiences.

The Movie to Be Watched

“The Outsiders” will be an excellent movie to watch and analyze Ponyboy Curtis, who is one of the main characters, who has shown some signs of depression because he is confused about his identity.


“The Outsiders” film is an adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel by the same name, whose director was Francis Ford. The film provides a story about class conflict between a group called Socials that consists of rich kids living in the west side of the city and a group called Greasers that consist of youths of low class. Ponyboy Curtis is Greasers’ youngest member that tells the story of a world of juvenile misbehavior that is divided by social class (Hinton, 1967). From the perspective of a developmental theorist, this paper will provide an understanding of Ponyboy Curtis’s life using Albert Bandura’s approach of Social-Cognitive Theory to scrutinize how his social environments have impacted on his identity, behavior and personal relationships.

Social-Cognitive Theory

There are many theories that try to explain the developmental stages that individuals go through in their lives. However, the proposed theories contrast in the human nature conceptions they assume and in what they honor to be the fundamental mechanisms of causes of human behavior and motivation. Human development is a constant process entailing changes in the psychosocial functioning of people. The range in social practices generates considerable variations in the cultivated capabilities as well as the undeveloped. Although Bandura agrees with the classical and operant conditioning of behaviorist learning, his social learning theory incorporates two more ideas. First, in social learning theory, there is a mediating process that occurs between the stimuli and the responses, and the recognition that individuals learn behavior from their surroundings through observational learning process.

Small kids notice individuals around them behaving in different manners. These observed individuals serve as models. In every society, kids are surrounded by varying influential models like parents, TV characters, friends and teachers, who offer behavior examples to copy such as feminine and antisocial. Young children pay particular attention to the surrounding models and go ahead to encrypt their behavior. They may copy the observed behavior later in life notwithstanding whether the behavior is appropriate or not, but they copy people that they perceive as similar to them. On the other hand, the models in turn respond to the behavior imitated from them by reinforcing or punishing.


The film depicts Ponyboy Curtis as a depressed young boy. Ponyboy Curtis is in his early teenage years and from the film, his world seems to have been turned upside down. He lost both of his parents in an automobile misfortune, and is taken in by his elder brother Darry. Ponyboy Curtis and his two brothers, Darry and Soda live in Tulsa’s poorest section and are members of Greasers, which is a close-knit group of participants from the same neighborhood. He associates with Greasers’ members, who fight with Socials.

Ponyboy Curtis hair is light and reddish in color, and has greenish eyes (Hinton, 1967). He is lean and small for his age. Since he runs tracks in school, he is built muscularly. He is the youngest freshman in his school and is characterized as intelligent because in all of his courses he earns straight A’s. Although he is emotional and sensitive, he loves to write, read, draw, and watch movies and daydream. It is important to note that other than losing his parents, he also lost Dallas and Johnny, who are his best friends. This depicts that Ponyboy Curtis has suffered great losses that have made him the person he is. According to Hoare (2002) the fifth psychosocial developmental stage entails identity vs. confusion, which occurs during the unsettled teenage years. The stage has a significant role in development of a sense of personal identity that continues to impact behavior as well as development for the rest of an individual’s life. The movie shows that Ponyboy is struggling with this stage and is confused because he cannot comprehend his identity.

Although Ponyboy smokes to steady his nerves, he desists from drugs and alcohol. His rapid weight loss can be associated with his noteworthy decrease in appetite. Since he lost his parents, he has been experiencing terrible nightmares that were not similar to what he had when he was little. Sometimes he wakes up screaming bloody murder, but could not recall what had happened in the dreams (Hinton, 1967). Moreover, he has lost interest in athletics and does not run or play football with his colleagues like he was used to. From the film, it is evident that his isolation has increased as he withdraws from his neighborhood friend. He is also having constant arguments with his brother Darry. Due to his reduced concentration and focus, he is more absent minded, which could be the reason why his performance at school has turned to be poor.

The principal tenet of Social-Cognitive Theory is founded on the belief that the social environment of an individual plays an important role in the formation of identify and personality of an individual. Human behavior is purposeful and goal driven and individuals are innately social beings that strive to belong to the society. The theory approves a model of causation that involves a triadic reciprocal determinism where behavior, cognition and personal aspects as well as environmental impacts interact with each other bi-directionally. Beliefs, expectations, gals ad self-perceptions provide shape and direction to human behavior. What an individual like Ponyboy feels, thinks and believes affect his behavior (Bandura, 1986). The family of an individual provides the basic social environment for learning how to communicate and relate to others in the society. Within the context of the family, people start identifying their beliefs about the world, other people and self.

In the current case, Ponyboy has experienced an emotional trauma since he lost his parents and two friends. According to Strauch (2001), the primary flexibility factor is social embeddedness. If an individual lacks the distinctive feeling of fitting to a social group, it becomes very difficult to deal with trauma in a useful way. After he lost his parents, Ponyboy was able to find security in his friends as they helped him fill the void that the loss of his parents had created. Strauch (2001) asserts that “the degree of social embeddedness that a person feels has a strong influence on the extent to which traumatic symptoms will later develop”.

As he was growing up, Ponyboy perceived that Darry affiliated with their mother that was no-nonsense and well-founded. On the other hand, his other brother Soda aligned with their father, who was easygoing and wild. In the film, Ponyboy confesses that he did not identify with either of his parents, and is thereby confused as far as the context of family is concerned. After Darry assumed the responsibility of providing and caring for his brothers, the relationship between him and Ponyboy is illustrated as strained. According to Ponyboy, Darry is too strict and unreasonable. On the other hand, Darry says that Ponyboy does not use his common sense. He wished that Ponyboy could use the opportunity he has in college and win a college scholarship.

The social environment provided for Ponyboy at school is difficult. He struggles with his identity because he is different from other classmates as he is the youngest. According to Bandura (1986), the beliefs, expectations, emotions and cognitive competencies of an individual are established and improved by social influences that transfer information and stimulate emotional reactions through social coaxing, instruction and molding. Moreover, according to Lerner (1982), varying reactions are evoked by people from their social environments by their physical features like age, sex, size, race and attractiveness. Ponyboy was also detached from the rich kids with whom he studied with by the socioeconomic status that grouped him as a Greaser. Ponyboy had struggled to gain acceptance and be involved in an environment that is socially meaningful. Snyder (1981) says that the elicited social reactions affect the conceptions of the recipients of themselves and others in manners that may strengthen or change the bias of the environment. For this reason, even though Cherry the Social’s cheerleader and Ponyboy had faced hardships becoming and remaining friends due to their varying socioeconomic backgrounds they both believed that there is a common good that is inherent in everyone.


From the film, it is evident that people can activate varying social reactions based on the roles and status that are socially conferred. Ponyboy belongs to a group called Greasers because he is from a poor background. Because the Greasers have a common misconception that they are innately delinquents, Ponyboy is confused because that is not his character. His social status affects his social environment by confusing him because other than involving in criminal deeds, he just embeds himself in the group because it serves as his family, but does not know whether he truly benefits. He is struggling to fit in, thereby forsaking his creative and emotional characteristics for those that make him look tough as dictated by the norms of the group.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice- Hall, Inc.

Hinton, S.E. (1967). The outsiders. New York, NY: Dell Publishing, Inc.

Hoare, C. H. (2002). Erikson on development in adulthood: New insights from the unpublished papers. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Lerner, R. M. (1982). Children and adolescents as producers of their own development. Developmental Review, 2, 342-370.

Snyder, M. (1981). On the self-perpetuating nature of social stereotypes. In D. L. Hamilton (Ed.), Cognitive processes in stereotyping and intergroup behavior (pp. 182-212). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Strauch, I. (2001). An Adlerian reconceptualization of traumatic reactions. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 57(3), 246-258.

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