Cognitive Behavioral and Social Engineering Compared

Paper Info
Page count 2
Word count 747
Read time 3 min
Topic Psychology
Type Coursework
Language 🇺🇸 US

Behavior refers to a response, simple or complex, of a person and behavior modification or behavior change is sought when a desired response is sought from a person (Schwebel and Fine, 1994). Sometimes behavior change is sought as a therapeutic measure to lead better lives and sometimes behavior change is sought to cause a social change. While Cognitive Behavioral model of behavior change is used mostly for therapeutic purposes in the field of psychology and psychiatry, the Social Engineering Model of behavior change is used by governments and people in authority desiring to manipulate the behavior of people to bring about a social change. Both these approaches are thus behavior change models.

According to the cognitive behavioral perspective, perceptions play a critical role in determining how individuals will respond to events. Cognitive-behavioral models are based on the assumption that individuals are proactive, autonomous agents capable of influencing their environments (Schwebel and Fine, 1994). According to this approach, changes in cognitions can be set in motion by internal forces through self introspection of individuals and analysis of their interactions with others or through external stimuli such as lessons being taught or training being provided (Schwebel and Fine, 1994). Therapists use this approach to induce behavioral change in their patients.

Social engineering is a behavioral change approach adopted by governments or private groups to induce change in popular attitudes and social behavior on a large scale. K. Mannheim explains that social engineering refers to the molding of human behavior and social relationships by interested agencies (Podgorecki et al, 1996). Adam Podgorecki points out that in social engineering, behavior change is brought about without first obtaining a complete change of attitudes (Podgorecki et al, 1996). This is the important difference between the cognitive behavioral approach where change is induced through change in attitudes and the social engineering approach.

Cognitive Behavioral models of behavior change are based on the central idea that it is not the events per se but rather the person’s assumptions, expectations, and interpretations of events which are responsible for the way people behave (Malchiodi, 2002). On the contrary Social Engineering model of behavior change is based on the central notion that people are basically trusting and cooperative by nature. Both the approaches are highly directive and structured in nature.

The key phases in cognitive behavioral therapy are the identification, restructuring, and or elimination of negative thoughts, teaching the client to control the autonomic responses that usually attend feelings of anxiety and panic and to use these skills to remain symptom free (Malchiodi, 2002). Social engineering happens in three phases: intelligence gathering, target selection and the attack. The actual attack can be of three types: attacks that appeal to the vanity or ego of the victim; attacks that take advantage of feelings of sympathy or empathy and attacks that are based on intimidation (Tipton and Krause, 2006).

Cognitive behavioral approach is used by therapists to induce positive behavioral change. According to this approach, mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, fear,etc causing negative behavior are caused by negative emotions and it is possible for clients to rectify those negative emotions by identifying false and negative rules and assumptions governing actions and then finding ways to replace or restructure assumptions with more realistic and positive rules and expectations. Beck’s techniques, Meichenbaum’s stress inoculation and Ellis’ REBT are all examples of cognitive behavioral strategies for behavioral change.

They deal with the elimination of symptoms. Some people find social engineering intuitively repulsive and ideologically distasteful. Yet sociologists, to solve social problems in general or design social programs in particular have to resort to social engineering. Headstart, affirmative action, the Supreme Court decision of 1954, as well as civil rights bills and their enforcement are all examples of social engineering as they all involve the modifications of somebody’s behavior (Homans et al, 1977).

The cognitive behavioral approach differs from the social engineering model as it involves a collaborative relationship between the therapist and the client. Social engineering approach has found great application in the business environment (Tipton and Krause, 2006) While this approach has no time limits, the cognitive behavioral therapy is generally time-limited and psychoeducational in nature Meichenbaum in his cognitive behavioral therapy makes use of principles of self talk and emphasizes skills in developing coping self-statements. In the context of Social engineering political decisions and public regulations are used to induce behavior change and principles of law and skills in governance are the determinants of successful behavior change through social engineering.


Schwebel, I. Andrew and Fine, A. Mark (1994). Understanding and Helping Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach. Hillsdale Publishers, NJ.

Malchiodi, A. Cathy (2002). Handbook of Art Therapy. Guilford Press.

Tipton, F. Harold and Krause, Micki (2006). Information Security Management Handbook. CRC Press.

Homans, C. George; Hamblin, Lee Robert and Kunkel, H. John (1977). Behavioral Theory in Sociology: Essays in Honor of George C. Homans. Transaction Publishers.

Podgorecki, Adam; Alexander, Jon and Shields, Rob (1996). Social Engineering: The Technics of Change. McGill-Queen’s Press, MQUP.

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EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 24). Cognitive Behavioral and Social Engineering Compared. Retrieved from


EssaysInCollege. (2022, May 24). Cognitive Behavioral and Social Engineering Compared.

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EssaysInCollege. "Cognitive Behavioral and Social Engineering Compared." May 24, 2022.