Self-Efficacy (Bandura – 1977)

The theory of self-efficacy, as presented by Bandura (1977a), was outlined as a theoretical framework “in which the concept of self-efficacy is assigned a central role, for analyzing changes achieved in fearful and avoidant behavior” (p. 193).  The theory was based on the principle assumption that “psychological procedures, whatever their form, serve as a means of creating and strengthening expectations of personal efficacy” (p. 193). The theory distinguishes between expectations of efficacy and response-outcome expectancies. An outcome expectancy is “a person’s estimate that a given behavior will lead to certain outcomes” (p. 193). An efficacy expectation is “the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the outcomes” (p. 193). Although a person may expect a certain activity to lead to a particular outcome, they may lack the motivation to perform the action, doubting their ability to do so:

Outcome and efficacy expectations are differentiated, because individuals can believe that a particular course of action will produce certain outcomes, but if they entertain serious doubts about whether they can perform the necessary activities such information does not influence their behavior. (Bandura, 1977a, p. 193)

Self-efficacy typically comes into play when there is an actual or perceived threat to one’s personal safety, or one’s ability to deal with potentially aversive events (Bandura, 1983). Increasing a person’s self-efficacy increases their ability to deal with a potentially averse situation. For example, experimental studies on the treatment of adult snake phobics have demonstrated that raising levels of self-efficacy is an effective technique to help them cope with threatening situations. Perceived self-efficacy mediates anxiety arousal (Bandura & Adams, 1977, p. 287). Similar findings were also reported in later studies (for example, Bandura, Adams, Hardy, & Howells, 1980; Bandura, Reese, & Adams, 1982).

Bandura (1994a) defined self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs about their a capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (p. 2). People with “high assurance in their capabilities” (p. 2):

  1. Approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered
  2. Set challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them
  3. Heighten or sustain their efforts in the face of failures or setbacks
  4. Attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable
  5. Approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them

In contrast, people “who doubt their capabilities” (p. 2):

  1. Shy away from tasks they view as personal threats
  2. Have low aspirations and weak commitment to goals they choose to pursue
  3. Dwell on personal deficiencies, obstacles they will encounter, and all kinds of adverse outcomes, rather than concentrating on how to perform successfully
  4. Slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties
  5. Are slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks
  6. Fall easy victim to stress and depression

Bandura (1977a, pp. 191, 195-200; 1994a, pp. 2-3) described four main sources of influence by which a person’s self-efficacy is developed and maintained: (a) performance accomplishments or mastery experiences; (b) vicarious experiences; (c) verbal or social persuasion; and (d) physiological, or somatic and emotional, states. Mastery experiences, or personal performance accomplishments, are the most effective way to create a strong sense of efficacy. “Successes build a robust belief in one’s personal efficacy. Failures undermined it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established” (Bandura, 1994a, p. 2). Vicarious experiences through observance of social models also influence one’s perception of self-efficacy. The most important factor that determines the strength of influence of an observed success or failure on one’s own self-efficacy is the degree of similarity between the observer and the model:

Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities master comparable activities to succeed. By the same token, observing others’ fail despite high effort lowers observers’ judgments of their own efficacy and undermines their efforts. The impact of modeling on perceived self-efficacy is strongly influenced by perceived similarity to the models. The greater the assumed similarity the more persuasive are the models’ successes and failures. If people see the models as very different from themselves their perceived self-efficacy is not much influenced by the models’ behavior and the results its produces. (Bandura, 1994a, p. 3)

Verbal or social persuasion also affects one’s perception of self-efficacy. It is “a way of strengthening people’s beliefs that they have what it takes to succeed” (Bandura, 1994a, p. 3). Verbal or social persuasion can provide a temporary boost in perceived ability. When it is effective in mobilizing a person to action, and their actions lead to success, the enhanced self-efficacy may become more permanent. “People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given activities are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self-doubts and dwell on personal deficiencies when problems arise” (p. 3). This increases their chances of success. Unfortunately, “it is more difficult to instill high beliefs of personal efficacy by social persuasion alone than to undermine it [since] unrealistic boosts in efficacy are quickly disconfirmed by disappointing results of one’s efforts” (p. 3).

People also rely on their somatic or emotional states when judging their capabilities. Stress and tension are interpreted as “signs of vulnerability to poor performance” (Bandura, 1994a, p. 3). Fatigue, aches and pains, and mood also effect perception of ability. Bandura notes, however, that it is not the intensity of the emotional or physical reaction that is important, but rather, how it is perceived and interpreted. People with a high sense of self-efficacy may perceive affective arousal as “an energizing facilitator of performance, whereas those who are beset by self-doubts regard their arousal as a debilitator” (p. 3).

Since “most human motivation is cognitively generated” (Bandura, 1994a, p. 4), self-beliefs of efficacy are an important factor in human motivation. Beliefs of self-efficacy work in coordination with component skill and incentive to act. Inasmuch as a person has both the component skills needed to succeed, and the incentive to engage, self-efficacy plays an important role in determining what activities a person will choose to engage in, how much effort they will expend, and how long that effort will be sustained when things get tough:

Expectation alone will not produce desired performance if the component capabilities are lacking. Moreover, there are many things that people can do with certainty of success that they do not perform because they have no incentives to do so. Given appropriate skills and adequate incentives, however, efficacy expectations are a major determinant of people’s choice of activities, how much effort they will expend, and of how long they will sustain effort in dealing with stressful situations. (Bandura, 1977a, p. 194)

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