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Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory Of Motivation

Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory Of Motivation

Key Takeaways

  • Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as people’s belief in their ability to control their functioning and events that affect their lives.
  • One’s sense of self-efficacy can provide the foundation for motivation, well-being, and personal accomplishment.
  • People’s beliefs in their efficacy are developed by four primary sources of influence, including (i) mastery experiences, (ii) vicarious experiences, (iii) social persuasion, and (iv) emotional states.
  • High self-efficacy has numerous benefits to daily life, such as resilience to adversity and stress, healthy lifestyle habits, improved employee performance, and educational achievement. The term’ self-efficacy” was first coined by psychologist Albert Bandura (1977), a Canadian-American psychologist and a professor at Stanford University. In his own words, he originally proposed the concept as a personal judgment of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations.”


How Does Self-Efficacy Develop?

1. Mastery Experiences (Performance Outcomes)

The most influential source is the interpreted result of one’s previous performance or mastery experience.

“Mastery experiences are the most influential source of efficacy information because they provide the most authentic evidence of whether one can muster whatever it takes to succeed. Success builds a robust belief in one’s personal efficacy. Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established” (Bandura, 1997).

One of the best-proven ways to learn a new skill or improve one’s performance in a given activity is by practicing.

How can one be sure that practicing and acquiring new skills will lead to mostly positive experiences? In most cases, part of the reason this works so well is that people – unknowingly throughout this process – are teaching themselves that they are capable of acquiring new skills.

This positive way of thinking – believing that one can achieve tasks they set out for themselves – is a boon because part of the struggle of getting better at anything or learning something new is ensuring the person believes they can carry out said task successfully.


2. Vicarious Experiences (Social Role Models)

The second important source of self-efficacy is the vicarious experiences provided by social models.

Vicarious experiences involve observing other people successfully completing a task.

When one has positive role models in their life (especially those who display a healthy level of self-efficacy) – one is more likely to absorb at least a few of those positive beliefs about the self.

Social role models include older siblings, older friends, camp counselors, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and employers.


3. Social Persuasion

Receiving positive verbal feedback while undertaking a complex task persuades a person to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed.

For example, if one were telling an elementary school child that they are capable of achieving greatness and that they should set out to achieve anything their heart desires – this would be how verbal persuasion looks in action.

Verbal persuasion works at any age, but the earlier it is administered, the more likely it is to encourage the building of self-efficacy.


4. Emotional and Physiological States

A person’s emotional, physical, and psychological well-being can influence their feelings about their abilities in a particular situation.

For example, if you are struggling with depression or anxiety, you might find it harder to have a healthy level of well-being. Is it impossible to build self-efficacy while suffering from some of these struggles? Of course not, but boosting your self-efficacy is much easier when one feels healthy and well (Bandura, 1982).

However, Bandura (1977) states, “It is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted.

People with a high sense of efficacy are likely to view their state of affective arousal as an energizing performance facilitator. In contrast, those who are beset by self-doubts regard their arousal as a debilitator.”

Thus, individuals can improve their sense of self-efficacy by learning how to manage anxiety and enhance their mood when experiencing challenging situations.

Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory Of Motivation

Imaginal Experiences/Visualization

James Maddux (2013) has suggested a fifth route to self-efficacy through “imaginal experiences,” the art of visualizing yourself behaving effectively or successfully in a given situation.”

Imaginal experiences (or visualization) are basically someone attempting to portray their goals as achievable.

It’s like the old saying that goes, “It’s so close you can almost taste it” – visualization is about putting yourself (in your head) in a pole position to being capable of achieving anything one sets your mind to.

With this method, in order to enhance one’s own self-efficacy or that of a child, the focus needs to be on painting a picture – making success seem like the most likely outcome (Maddux and Meier, 1995).

By painting oneself or others in a favorable position, Maddux (1995) hypothesized that the levels of self-efficacy in said individuals would rise given that they are now more susceptible – after portraying themselves at the finish line – to believe in themselves.


Building Self-Efficacy

“People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong” (Bandura, 1977b).


Emphasize Peer Modeling

Learning from examples set by those around you happens at any age (think of how a teacher is a role model for a student, but in a similar manner, an employer is a model for an employee).

This concept of peer modeling, while it can be applied to any age, is, of course, especially true for children on the early side of the spectrum and is most effective when a child’s direct peers (brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, friends) set the example (Bandura, 1988).

To put peer modeling into simple terms – it is when a child or an adult shows good social behaviors and is interested in passing on those same values to a new person.

Take, for example, a work setting – one employee takes center stage for the week and shows both business savvy and good social behaviors.

This employee will be a peer model to the rest of the company’s employees – they will want to learn how to act and behave in that manner, significantly if this good behavior helps them achieve more success or draw more praise from the boss.


Seek Feedback

The problem with understanding feedback is that some people tend to believe that getting no feedback is the same as being told that one is doing their job well (hence the common phrase: “No feedback is great feedback”).

When done with the right intentions in mind and the proper manner, feedback can be one of the most important sources of building levels of self-efficacy.

Employees and students alike tend to want to know how they are doing. For the feedback to work positively, feedback must be delivered both concisely and frequently.

Without frequent feedback, one can be confused as to whether they should remain doing what they are doing, and without concise feedback, the individual will not understand what in particular they should fix about themselves.

Self-efficacy and subsequent task performance improve after receiving higher, more detailed levels of performance feedback (Beattie, Woodman, Fakehy, Dempsey, 2015).


Encourage Participation

Participation tends to be essential in any work environment – it encourages the person to be active and engaged, outstanding qualities in someone that are usually influential in a person’s levels of self-efficacy.

Participation is especially important at an early age – those students who engage with the class are not only being more active in their learning, they are probably absorbing more information regarding the material. Active class participation also correlates to high critical and higher-level thinking skills.

Participation is also an essential quality of a peer model – this is a person who has previously engaged in active learning and can similarly teach others.

The level of thinking associated with an activity that requires participation goes beyond simple text comprehension – it engages both the instigator and the audience.

More importantly, participation helps fellow students learn from each other – and people tend to build their levels of self-efficacy depending on how those closest to them behave.


Allow People to Make Their Own Choices

When discussing the importance of letting people make their own choices, the term self-accountability usually comes to mind.

Whether the outcome is positive or negative – making one’s own decisions allows one to feel responsible (due to your cunning or your negligence, the person themselves is held accountable for if the outcome turned out in your favor or against you).

Another important reason to emphasize self-accountability – making one’s own choices and decisions allows one to make their own mistakes and – most importantly – allows one to learn from them.

Advice is not the same as a command – an individual can advise one on something, but it is a person’s own responsibility to do whatever they feel like with said information.

This is why a peer – although very helpful – is not enough; the person needs to understand that at the end of the day – if they want to model anyone – the only person capable of taking action is themselves.

Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory Of Motivation

Applications Of Self-Efficacy

High self-efficacy has been linked with numerous benefits to daily life, such as resilience to adversity and stress, healthy lifestyle habits, improved employee performance, and educational achievement.


Healthy Habits

According to health psychologists (Bandura, 1988), people are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors when they feel confident in their capabilities to carry out those behaviors successfully.

For example, having higher levels of self-efficacy could help one stick to an exercise routine. This tends to be a positive on multiple ends – the goal of finishing the workout is complete due to the higher levels of self-efficacy, and the finished exercise routine helps with your bodily and mental wellness.

Self-efficacy is also a factor that helps people adopt other healthy lifestyle choices – like trying to keep a healthy diet or trying to stop smoking. For whatever one would want to use it for, health psychologists believe that self-efficacy can be applied in ways that promote a healthy lifestyle.


Academic Success

Mart van Dinther (2011) and several of his colleagues researched the link between education and self-efficacy. Their conclusions state that self-efficacy is linked to factors such as the strategies students utilize, the goals they set for themselves, and their academic achievements.

In other words, higher levels of self-efficacy are related to – what people everywhere largely consider to be – healthy student life habits.

This means that those individuals with higher levels of self-efficacy could be subject to doing better in school and being more organized.


Treating Phobias

Bandura (1982) proposed that self-efficacy could be used in an effective manner to treat phobias. He wanted to test this by experimenting.

He started with two groups – one group would directly interact with their phobia (in this case, snakes), and the second group members would watch someone partake in activities with their phobia.

The point was to assess which group would still be more fearful of snakes after different ways of approaching a phobia. According to the experiment results, the participants who had directly interacted with the snake showed higher self-efficacy and less avoidance.

This suggests that personal experience is more effective than observation when it comes to developing self-efficacy and facing our fears.


How Is Self-Efficacy Measured?

Matthias Jerusalem and Ralf Schwarzer developed the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE) – the scale is composed of only eight items, rated on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

  1. “I will be able to achieve most of the goals that I have set for myself.”
  2. “When facing difficult tasks, I am certain that I will accomplish them.”
  3. “In general, I think that I can obtain outcomes that are important to me.”
  4. “I believe I can succeed at most any endeavor to which I set my mind.”
  5. “I will be able to overcome many challenges successfully.”
  6. “I am confident that I can perform effectively on many different tasks.”
  7. “Compared to others, I can do most tasks very well.”
  8. “Even when things are tough, I can perform quite well.”

The scores are then calculated by taking the average of all eight responses (these will respectively range from 1 to 5).

The way the test is supposed to work is so that the higher one’s score is, the greater the level of self-efficacy in said individual.


Self-Efficacy And Related Ideas

Self-esteem vs. Self-efficacy

Self-esteem is one’s sense of self-worth, while self-efficacy is the perception of one’s own ability to reach a goal.

To give an example, let’s say we have an individual who is a terrible horse rider. In regards to horse riding, this person would probably exhibit low levels of self-efficacy given that they themselves believe they are terrible at horse riding.

This person’s self-esteem – however – will probably not be affected if the person doesn’t rely on horseback riding to determine self-worth (and with how out of scope this activity is, it is improbable that this is the case).

Conversely, let’s say the individual is actually very skilled at horseback riding. Yet, this individual has set such a high standard and has based enough of their self-worth on this particular skill that their self-esteem is actually quite low. In any case, both examples illustrate how self-esteem and self-efficacy are indeed related, but they are not the same term.


Confidence vs. Self-Efficacy

When Bandura first began researching self-efficacy (1977), he wanted to demonstrate that the construct of self-efficacy needed a separate definition from a more colloquial term like “confidence.”

Why was this the case? The issue with a term like “confidence” and why it can’t mean the same thing as self-efficacy is that confidence is a nonspecific term that refers to the strength of belief but does not necessarily specify what certainty is about.

For example, individuals can be confident in their innate ability to screw up anything. The perception of self-efficacy is distinct – it refers to believing in one’s own capabilities and that one can produce given levels of attainment.

Therefore, the reason one can’t use confidence in the same vein as the term self-efficacy is that confidence(unlike self-efficacy) fails to include both an affirmation of a capability level and the strength of that belief.


Motivation vs. Self-Efficacy

Motivation is based on an individual’s desire to achieve a certain goal, while self-efficacy is based on their belief in their capacity to achieve said goal.

While in most cases, those same individuals with high self-efficacy often have high motivation and vice versa, it is essential to understand that this is not just a foregone conclusion.

Think of motivation as what makes one get out of bed, and think of self-efficacy as one’s own perception of believing that they have the necessary strength to get out of bed – the two terms go hand but are certainly not exchangeable.

Of course, logically speaking, it still remains true that when an individual maintains or increases their levels of self-efficacy, that usually tends to make these individuals get a boost in motivation to continue learning and making progress.

This relationship can go both ways; take, for example, an individual who is motivated to learn and succeed. When an individual is highly motivated to be successful, most of the time, it means that they are likelier to achieve whatever goals they set out for themselves, which contributes to increased self-efficacy.


Albert Bandura

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Tomasz Budziosz

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