According to psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to succeed in certain situations. The concept plays a major role in Bandura’s social learning theory, which focuses on how personality is shaped by social experience and observational learning.
Your sense of self-efficacy has a major influence on how you approach challenges and goals. When confronted with a challenge, do you believe that you can succeed or are you convinced that you will fail? People with strong self-efficacy are those who believe that they are capable of performing well. These people are more likely to view challenges as something to be mastered rather than avoided.
What Is Self-Efficacy?
Self-efficacy is essentially the belief in your own ability to control your own behavior, emotions, and motivations. It is your belief in your ability to solve a problem, reach a goal, complete a task, and achieve what you set out to do.
For example, a student who has a high level of self-efficacy in mathematics will feel confident in her ability to do well in a tough statistics class. Even if she is not particularly skilled at this particular type of math, her strong self-belief can help give her the motivation and will to persist even if the lessons and assignments are very difficult.
Psychologists are interested in many different aspects of self-efficacy and often look at it from a number of different psychological perspectives. For example, psychologists are interested in:
- How self-efficacy develops
- How it influences motivation
- How it impacts child development
- How environmental variables affect self-efficacy
- How self-efficacy and self-concept are related
- How cognitive processes influence self-efficacy
How Does Self-Efficacy Impact Behavior?
Self-efficacy can have a powerful influence on how people behave, including the motivation they have to pursue their goals. Consider your own goals, both large and small. Perhaps you have plans in your daily life such as hitting the gym, reading a book, or organizing your closet. You also have much bigger life goals such as earning a degree, finding a good job, finding a partner, buying a house, and having children. The amount of self-efficacy you possess can have an influence on how you pursue and whether or not you achieve these goals.
People who have higher levels of self-efficacy:
- Tend to view the challenges they face as things to be mastered.
- Rather than getting discouraged in the face of obstacles, they see it as an opportunity to learn new things, acquire new skills, and grow as a person.
- Setbacks are inevitable in life, but people who possess a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to recover quickly.
- They also tend to be more involved in the pursuit of their goals and take more active role in the activities in which they participate.
- Feel more intrinsically motivated to pursue goals.
By contrast, people with a weaker sense of self-efficacy may tend to:
- View challenges as overwhelming and something to be avoided.
- Get discouraged and give up when they face obstacles in the path of reaching their goals.
- Avoid getting deeply involved and are less committed to groups and activities.
Self-efficacy can also play a role in health and healthy behaviors. For example, it can play a role in how much people persist in changing risk behaviors (such as quitting smoking or sticking to an exercise regimen).
Research suggests that many choices that directly impact health, including physical exercise, seat belt use, self-exams, dental hygiene, and smoking are all dependent, at least in part, on self-efficacy. Levels of self-efficacy help control how people initiate health choices and behavior changes as well as how well they stick to their health resolutions.
How Does Self-Efficacy Develop?
Bandura described a number of different sources of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy begins to form early in childhood and is an essential part of self-knowledge. As children have new experiences and gain new knowledge, they gain a better understanding of themselves and others. Their experiences with different tasks, people, and situations help contribute to this always growing and evolving sense of self-efficacy.
Bandura believed that there were four major sources that contribute to the development of self-efficacy.
1. Mastery Experiences
Bandura believes that successfully tackling hands-on experiences is the best source of self-efficacy.
“Enactive 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. Successes build a robust belief in one’s personal efficacy. Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established.”
2. Vicarious Experiences
Observational learning can also play a role in the development of self-efficacy. By watching others, people can gain vicarious information that plays a role in their belief in their own abilities.
Watching other people model behavior or skill can serve an important way of learning, but it can also play a role in how well we think we would also be able to perform that task. This can be particularly true when we observe people who we feel are very similar to us performing a task or exhibiting a skill
“Efficacy appraisals are partly influenced by vicarious experiences mediated through modeled attainments. So modeling serves as another effective tool for promoting a sense of personal efficacy.”
3. Verbal Persuasion
Social pressure and verbal persuasion can also play a role in the development of self-efficacy. Essentially, people can be convinced that they have the ability to succeed at a task through positive verbal encouragement.
“It is easier to sustain a sense of efficacy, especially when struggling with difficulties, if significant others express faith in one’s capabilities than if they convey doubts. Verbal persuasion alone may be limited in its power to create enduring increases in perceived efficacy, but it can bolster self-change if the positive appraisal is within realistic bounds.”
4. Physical and Mental States
When judging their ability to complete a task, people rely in part on information from both their physiological and emotional states. Stress levels, moods, emotions, and arousal levels all play a role in helping people determine if they are capable of tackling a challenge. If you are facing a difficult task and you find yourself feeling shaky, stressed, and unsure, then it is unlikely that you will have the efficacy to overcome the challenge.
Bandura A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Bandura A. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Conner, M., Norman, P., Eds. (2005). Predicting health behaviour. Buckingham, England: Open University Press.