|Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy.
In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human
behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press.
(Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental
health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
of Self-Efficacy Beliefs
Benefits of Optimistic Self-Beliefs of Efficacy
and Exercise of Self-Efficacy Over the Lifespan
Affective Processes: Processes regulating emotional states
and elicitation of emotional reactions.
Processes: Thinking processes involved in the acquisition,
organization and use of information.
Activation to action. Level of motivation is reflected in choice of
courses of action, and in the intensity and persistence of
Perceived Self-Efficacy: People's beliefs about
their capabilities to produce effects.
Exercise of influence over one's own motivation, thought processes,
emotional states and patterns of behavior.
Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about
their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that
exercise influence over events that affect their lives.
Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate
themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects
through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational,
affective and selection processes.
A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and
personal well-being in many ways. People with high assurance in
their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be
mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious
outlook fosters intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in
activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain
strong commitment to them. They heighten and sustain their efforts
in the face of failure. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy
after failures or setbacks. They attribute failure to insufficient
effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They
approach threatening situations with assurance that they can
exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces
personal accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to
In contrast, people who doubt their capabilities shy away from
difficult tasks which they view as personal threats. They have low
aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose to pursue.
When faced with difficult tasks, they dwell on their personal
deficiencies, on the obstacles they will encounter, and all kinds of
adverse outcomes rather than concentrate on how to perform
successfully. They slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the
face of difficulties. They are slow to recover their sense of
efficacy following failure or setbacks. Because they view
insufficient performance as deficient aptitude it does not require
much failure for them to lose faith in their capabilities. They fall
easy victim to stress and depression.
I. Sources of
People's beliefs about their efficacy can be developed by four
main sources of influence. The most effective way of creating a
strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences. Successes
build a robust belief in one's personal efficacy. Failures undermine
it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is
If people experience only easy successes they come to expect
quick results and are easily discouraged by failure. A resilient
sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles
through perseverant effort. Some setbacks and difficulties in human
pursuits serve a useful purpose in teaching that success usually
requires sustained effort. After people become convinced they have
what it takes to succeed, they persevere in the face of adversity
and quickly rebound from setbacks. By sticking it out through tough
times, they emerge stronger from adversity.
The second way of creating and strengthening self-beliefs of
efficacy is through the vicarious experiences provided by social
models. 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.
Modeling influences do more than provide a social standard
against which to judge one's own capabilities. People seek
proficient models who possess the competencies to which they aspire.
Through their behavior and expressed ways of thinking, competent
models transmit knowledge and teach observers effective skills and
strategies for managing environmental demands. Acquisition of better
means raises perceived self-efficacy.
Social persuasion is a third way of strengthening people's
beliefs that they have what it takes to succeed. 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. To the extent that persuasive
boosts in perceived self-efficacy lead people to try hard enough to
succeed, they promote development of skills and a sense of personal
It is more difficult to instill high beliefs of personal efficacy
by social persuasion alone than to undermine it. Unrealistic boosts
in efficacy are quickly disconfirmed by disappointing results of
one's efforts. But people who have been persuaded that they lack
capabilities tend to avoid challenging activities that cultivate
potentialities and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. By
constricting activities and undermining motivation, disbelief in
one's capabilities creates its own behavioral validation.
Successful efficacy builders do more than convey positive
appraisals. In addition to raising people's beliefs in their
capabilities, they structure situations for them in ways that bring
success and avoid placing people in situations prematurely where
they are likely to fail often. They measure success in terms of
self-improvement rather than by triumphs over others.
People also rely partly on their somatic and emotional states in
judging their capabilities. They interpret their stress reactions
and tension as signs of vulnerability to poor performance. In
activities involving strength and stamina, people judge their
fatigue, aches and pains as signs of physical debility. Mood also
affects people's judgments of their personal efficacy. Positive mood
enhances perceived self-efficacy, despondent mood diminishes it. The
fourth way of modifying self-beliefs of efficacy is to reduce
people's stress reactions and alter their negative emotional
proclivities and isinterpretations of their physical states.
It is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions
that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted.
People who have a high sense of efficacy are likely to view their
state of affective arousal as an energizing facilitator of
performance, whereas those who are beset by self- doubts regard
their arousal as a debilitator. Physiological indicators of efficacy
play an especially influential role in health functioning and in
athletic and other physical activities.
Much research has been conducted on the four major psychological
processes through which self-beliefs of efficacy affect human
A. Cognitive Processes
The effects of self-efficacy beliefs on cognitive processes take
a variety of forms. Much human behavior, being purposive, is
regulated by forethought embodying valued goals. Personal goal
setting is influenced by self-appraisal of capabilities. The
stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goal challenges
people set for themselves and the firmer is their commitment to
Most courses of action are initially organized in thought.
People's beliefs in their efficacy shape the types of anticipatory
scenarios they construct and rehearse. Those who have a high sense
of efficacy, visualize success scenarios that provide positive
guides and supports for performance. Those who doubt their efficacy,
visualize failure scenarios and dwell on the many things that can go
wrong. It is difficult to achieve much while fighting self-doubt. A
major function of thought is to enable people to predict events and
to develop ways to control those that affect their lives. Such
skills require effective cognitive processing of information that
contains many ambiguities and uncertainties. In learning predictive
and regulative rules people must draw on their knowledge to
construct options, to weight and integrate predictive factors, to
test and revise their judgments against the immediate and distal
results of their actions, and to remember which factors they had
tested and how well they had worked.
It requires a strong sense of efficacy to remain task oriented in
the face of pressing situational demands, failures and setbacks that
have significant repercussions. Indeed, when people are faced with
the tasks of managing difficult environmental demands under taxing
circumstances, those who are beset by self-doubts about their
efficacy become more and more erratic in their analytic thinking,
lower their aspirations and the quality of their performance
deteriorates. In contrast, those who maintain a resilient sense of
efficacy set themselves challenging goals and use good analytic
thinking which pays off in performance accomplishments.
B. Motivational Processes
Self-beliefs of efficacy play a key role in the self-regulation
of motivation. Most human motivation is cognitively generated.
People motivate themselves and guide their actions anticipatorily by
the exercise of forethought. They form beliefs about what they can
do. They anticipate likely outcomes of prospective actions. They set
goals for themselves and plan courses of action designed to realize
There are three different forms of cognitive motivators around
which different theories have been built. They include causal
attributions, outcome expectancies, and cognized goals. The
corresponding theories are attribution theory, expectancy-value
theory and goal theory, respectively. Self-efficacy beliefs operate
in each of these types of cognitive motivation. Self-efficacy
beliefs influence causal attributions. People who regard themselves
as highly efficacious attribute their failures to insufficient
effort, those who regard themselves as inefficacious attribute their
failures to low ability. Causal attributions affect motivation,
performance and affective reactions mainly through beliefs of
In expectancy-value theory, motivation is regulated by the
expectation that a given course of behavior will produce certain
outcomes and the value of those outcomes. But people act on their
beliefs about what they can do, as well as on their beliefs about
the likely outcomes of performance. The motivating influence of
outcome expectancies is thus partly governed by self-beliefs of
efficacy. There are countless attractive options people do not
pursue because they judge they lack the capabilities for them. The
predictiveness of expectancy-value theory is enhanced by including
the influence of perceived self- efficacy.
The capacity to exercise self-influence by goal challenges and
evaluative reaction to one's own attainments provides a major
cognitive mechanism of motivation. A large body of evidence shows
that explicit, challenging goals enhance and sustain motivation.
Goals operate largely through self-influence processes rather than
regulate motivation and action directly. Motivation based on goal
setting involves a cognitive comparison process. By making
self-satisfaction conditional on matching adopted goals, people give
direction to their behavior and create incentives to persist in
their efforts until they fulfill their goals. They seek
self-satisfaction from fulfilling valued goals and are prompted to
intensify their efforts by discontent with substandard performances.
Motivation based on goals or personal standards is governed by
three types of self influences. They include self-satisfying and
self-dissatisfying reactions to one's performance, perceived
self-efficacy for goal attainment, and readjustment of personal
goals based on one's progress. Self-efficacy beliefs contribute to
motivation in several ways: They determine the goals people set for
themselves; how much effort they expend; how long they persevere in
the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures. When
faced with obstacles and failures people who harbor self-doubts
about their capabilities slacken their efforts or give up quickly.
Those who have a strong belief in their capabilities exert greater
effort when they fail to master the challenge. Strong perseverance
contributes to performance accomplishments.
C. Affective Processes
People's beliefs in their coping capabilities affect how much
stress and depression they experience in threatening or difficult
situations, as well as their level of motivation. Perceived
self-efficacy to exercise control over stressors plays a central
role in anxiety arousal. People who believe they can exercise
control over threats do not conjure up disturbing thought patterns.
But those who believe they cannot manage threats experience high
anxiety arousal. They dwell on their coping deficiencies. They view
many aspects of their environment as fraught with danger. They
magnify the severity of possible threats and worry about things that
rarely happen. Through such inefficacious thinking they distress
themselves and impair their level of functioning. Perceived coping
self-efficacy regulates avoidance behavior as well as anxiety
arousal. The stronger the sense of self-efficacy the bolder people
are in taking on taxing and threatening activities.
Anxiety arousal is affected not only by perceived coping efficacy
but by perceived efficacy to control disturbing thoughts. The
exercise of control over one's own consciousness is summed up well
in the proverb: "You cannot prevent the birds of worry and care from
flying over your head. But you can stop them from building a nest in
your head." Perceived self-efficacy to control thought processes is
a key factor in regulating thought produced stress and depression.
It is not the sheer frequency of disturbing thoughts but the
perceived inability to turn them off that is the major source of
distress. Both perceived coping self-efficacy and thought control
efficacy operate jointly to reduce anxiety and avoidant behavior.
Social cognitive theory prescribes mastery experiences as the
principal means of personality change. Guided mastery is a powerful
vehicle for instilling a robust sense of coping efficacy in people
whose functioning is seriously impaired by intense apprehension and
phobic self-protective reactions. Mastery experiences are structured
in ways to build coping skills and instill beliefs that one can
exercise control over potential threats. Intractable phobics, of
course, are not about to do what they dread. One must, therefore,
create an environment so that incapacitated phobics can perform
successfully despite themselves. This is achieved by enlisting a
variety of performance mastery aids. Feared activities are first
modeled to show people how to cope with threats and to disconfirm
their worst fears. Coping tasks are broken down into subtasks of
easily mastered steps. Performing feared activities together with
the therapist further enables phobics to do things they would resist
doing by themselves. Another way of overcoming resistance is to use
graduated time. Phobics will refuse threatening tasks if they will
have to endure stress for a long time. But they will risk them for a
short period. As their coping efficacy increases the time they
perform the activity is extended. Protective aids and dosing the
severity of threats also help to restore and develop a sense of
After functioning is fully restored, the mastery aids are
withdrawn to verify that coping successes stem from personal
efficacy rather than from mastery aids. Self-directed mastery
experiences, designed to provide varied confirmatory tests of coping
capabilities, are then arranged to strengthen and generalize the
sense of coping efficacy. Once people develop a resilient sense of
efficacy they can withstand difficulties and adversities without
Guided mastery treatment achieves widespread psychological
changes in a relatively short time. It eliminates phobic behavior
and anxiety and biological stress reactions, creates positive
attitudes and eradicates phobic ruminations and nightmares. Evidence
that achievement of coping efficacy profoundly affects dream
activity is a particularly striking generalized impact.
A low sense of efficacy to exercise control produces depression
as well as anxiety. It does so in several different ways. One route
to depression is through unfulfilled aspiration. People who impose
on themselves standards of self-worth they judge they cannot attain
drive themselves to bouts of depression. A second efficacy route to
depression is through a low sense of social efficacy. People who
judge themselves to be socially efficacious seek out and cultivate
social relationships that provide models on how to manage difficult
situations, cushion the adverse effects of chronic stressors and
bring satisfaction to people's lives. Perceived social inefficacy to
develop satisfying and supportive relationships increases
vulnerability to depression through social isolation. Much human
depression is cognitively generated by dejecting ruminative thought.
A low sense of efficacy to exercise control over ruminative thought
also contributes to the occurrence, duration and recurrence of
Other efficacy-activated processes in the affective domain
concern the impact of perceived coping self-efficacy on biological
systems that affect health functioning. Stress has been implicated
as an important contributing factor to many physical dysfunctions.
Controllability appears to be a key organizing principle regarding
the nature of these stress effects. It is not stressful life
conditions per se, but the perceived inability to manage them that
is debilitating. Thus, exposure to stressors with ability to control
them has no adverse biological effects. But exposure to the same
stressors without the ability to control them impairs the immune
system. The impairment of immune function increases susceptibility
to infection, contributes to the development of physical disorders
and accelerates the progression of disease.
Biological systems are highly interdependent. A weak sense of
efficacy to exercise control over stressors activates autonomic
reactions, catecholamine secretion and release of endogenous
opioids. These biological systems are involved in the regulation of
the immune system. Stress activated in the process of acquiring
coping capabilities may have different effects than stress
experienced in aversive situations with no prospect in sight of ever
gaining any self-protective efficacy. There are substantial
evolutionary benefits to experiencing enhanced immune function
during development of coping capabilities vital for effective
adaptation. It would not be evolutionarily advantageous if acute
stressors invariably impaired immune function, because of their
prevalence in everyday life. If this were the case, people would
experience high vulnerability to infective agents that would quickly
do them in. There is some evidence that providing people with
effective means for managing stressors may have a positive effect on
immune function. Moreover, stress aroused while gaining coping
mastery over stressors can enhance different components of the
There are other ways in which perceived self-efficacy serves to
promote health. Lifestyle habits can enhance or impair health. This
enables people to exert behavioral influence over their vitality and
quality of health. Perceived self-efficacy affects every phase of
personal change--whether people even consider changing their health
habits; whether they enlist the motivation and perseverance needed
to succeed should they choose to do so; and how well they maintain
the habit changes they have achieved. The stronger the perceived
self-regulatory efficacy the more successful people are in reducing
health-impairing habits and adopting and integrating
health-promoting habits into their regular lifestyle. Comprehensive
community programs designed to prevent cardiovascular disease by
altering risk-related habits reduce the rate of morbidity and
D. Selection Processes
The discussion so far has centered on efficacy-activated
processes that enable people to create beneficial environments and
to exercise some control over those they encounter day in and day
out. People are partly the product of their environment. Therefore,
beliefs of personal efficacy can shape the course lives take by
influencing they types of activities and environments people choose.
People avoid activities and situations they believe exceed their
coping capabilities. But they readily undertake challenging
activities and select situations they judge themselves capable of
handling. By the choices they make, people cultivate different
competencies, interests and social networks that determine life
courses. Any factor that influences choice behavior can profoundly
affect the direction of personal development. This is because the
social influences operating in selected environments continue to
promote certain competencies, values, and interests long after the
efficacy decisional determinant has rendered its inaugurating
Career choice and development is but one example of the power of
self-efficacy beliefs to affect the course of life paths through
choice-related processes. The higher the level of people's perceived
self-efficacy the wider the range of career options they seriously
consider, the greater their interest in them, and the better they
prepare themselves educationally for the occupational pursuits they
choose and the greater is their success. Occupations structure a
good part of people's lives and provide them with a major source of
III. Adaptive Benefits of
Optimistic Self-Beliefs of Efficacy
There is a growing body of evidence that human accomplishments
and positive well-being require an optimistic sense of personal
efficacy. This is because ordinary social realities are strewn with
difficulties. They are full of impediments, adversities, setbacks,
frustrations, and inequities. People must have a robust sense of
personal efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort needed to
succeed. In pursuits strewn with obstacles, realists either foresake
them, abort their efforts prematurely when difficulties arise or
become cynical about the prospects of effecting significant changes.
It is widely believed that misjudgment breeds personal problems.
Certainly, gross miscalculation can get one into trouble. However,
the functional value of accurate self-appraisal depends on the
nature of the activity. Activities in which mistakes can produce
costly or injurious consequences call for accurate self- appraisal
of capabilities. It is a different matter where difficult
accomplishments can produce substantial personal and social benefits
and the costs involve one's time, effort, and expendable resources.
People with a high sense of efficacy have the staying power to
endure the obstacles and setbacks that characterize difficult
When people err in their self-appraisal they tend to overestimate
their capabilities. This is a benefit rather than a cognitive
failing to be eradicated. If efficacy beliefs always reflected only
what people can do routinely they would rarely fail but they would
not set aspirations beyond their immediate reach nor mount the extra
effort needed to surpass their ordinary performances.
People who experience much distress have been compared in their
skills and beliefs in their capabilities with those who do not
suffer from such problems. The findings show that it is often the
normal people who are distorters of reality. But they display
self-enhancing biases and distort in the positive direction. People
who are socially anxious or prone to depression are often just as
socially skilled as those who do not suffer from such problems. But
the normal ones believe they are much more adept than they really
are. The nondepressed people also have a stronger belief that they
exercise some control over situations.
Social reformers strongly believe that they can mobilize the
collective effort needed to bring social change. Although their
beliefs are rarely fully realized they sustain reform efforts that
achieve important gains. Were social reformers to be entirely
realistic about the prospects of transforming social systems they
would either forego the endeavor or fall easy victim to
discouragement. Realists may adapt well to existing realities. But
those with a tenacious self-efficacy are likely to change those
Innovative achievements also require a resilient sense of
efficacy. Innovations require heavy investment of effort over a long
period with uncertain results. Moreover, innovations that clash with
existing preferences and practices meet with negative social
reactions. It is, therefore, not surprising that one rarely finds
realists in the ranks of innovators and great achievers.
In his delightful book, titled, Rejection, John White
provides vivid testimony, that the striking characteristic of people
who have achieved eminence in their fields is an inextinguishable
sense of personal efficacy and a firm belief in the worth of what
they are doing. This resilient self-belief system enabled them to
override repeated early rejections of their work.
Many of our literary classics brought their authors countless
rejections. James Joyce's, the Dubliners, was rejected by 22
publishers. Gertrude Stein continued to submit poems to editors for
20 years before one was finally accepted. Over a dozen publishers
rejected a manuscript by e. e. cummings. When he finally got it
published, by his mother, the dedication read, in upper case: With
no thanks to . . . followed by the list of 16 publishers who had
rejected his manuscript.
Early rejection is the rule, rather than the exception, in other
creative endeavors. The Impressionists had to arrange their own
exhibitions because their works were routinely rejected by the Paris
Salon. Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. Rodin
was rejected three times for admission to the 'cole des Beaux-Arts.
The musical works of most renowned composers, were initially
greeted with derision. Stravinsky was run out of town by enraged
Parisiens and critics when he first served them the Rite of Spring.
Entertainers in the contemporary pop culture have not fared any
better. Decca records rejected a recording contract with the Beatles
with the non-prophetic evaluation, "We don't like their sound.
Groups of guitars are on the way out." Columbia records was next to
turn them down. [And see this
Theories and technologies that are ahead of their time usually
suffer repeated rejections. The rocket pioneer, Robert Goddard, was
bitterly rejected by his scientific peers on the grounds that rocket
propulsion would not work in the rarefied atmosphere of outer space.
Because of the cold reception given to innovations, the time between
conception and technical realization is discouragingly long.
The moral of the Book of Rejections is that rejections
should not be accepted too readily as indicants of personal
failings. To do so is self-limiting.
In sum, the successful, the venturesome, the sociable, the
nonanxious, the nondepressed, the social reformers, and the
innovators take an optimistic view of their personal capabilities to
exercise influence over events that affect their lives. If not
unrealistically exaggerated, such self-beliefs foster positive
well-being and human accomplishments.
Many of the challenges of life are group problems requiring
collective effort to produce significant change. The strength of
groups, organizations, and even nations lies partly in people's
sense of collective efficacy that they can solve the problems they
face and improve their lives through unified effort. People's
beliefs in their collective efficacy influence what they choose to
do as a group, how much effort they put into it, their endurance
when collective efforts fail to produce quick results, and their
likelihood of success.
IV. Development and
Exercise of Self-Efficacy Over the Lifespan
Different periods of life present certain types of competency
demands for successful functioning. These normative changes in
required competencies with age do not represent lock-step stages
through which everyone must inevitably pass. There are many pathways
through life and, at any given period, people vary substantially in
how efficaciously they manage their lives. The sections that follow
provide a brief analysis of the characteristic developmental changes
in the nature and scope of perceived self-efficacy over the course
of the lifespan.
A. Origins of a Sense of Personal Agency
The newborn comes without any sense of self. Infants exploratory
experiences in which they see themselves produce effects by their
actions provide the initial basis for developing a sense of
efficacy. Shaking a rattle produces predictable sounds, energetic
kicks shake their cribs, and screams bring adults. By repeatedly
observing that environmental events occur with action, but not in
its absence, infants learn that actions produce effects. Infants who
experience success in controlling environmental events become more
attentive to their own behavior and more competent in learning new
efficacious responses, than are infants for whom the same
environmental events occur regardless of how they behave.
Development of a sense of personal efficacy requires more than
simply producing effects by actions. Those actions must be perceived
as part of oneself. The self becomes differentiated from others
through dissimilar experience. If feeding oneself brings comfort,
whereas seeing others feed themselves has no similar effect, one's
own activity becomes distinct from all other persons. As infants
begin to mature those around them refer to them and treat them as
distinct persons. Based on growing personal and social experiences
they eventually form a symbolic representation of themselves as a
B. Familial Sources of Self-Efficacy
Young children must gain self-knowledge of their capabilities in
broadening areas of functioning. They have to develop, appraise and
test their physical capabilities, their social competencies, their
linguistic skills, and their cognitive skills for comprehending and
managing the many situations they encounter daily. Development of
sensorimotor capabilities greatly expands the infants' exploratory
environment and the means for acting upon it. These early
exploratory and play activities, which occupy much of children's
waking hours, provide opportunities for enlarging their repertoire
of basic skills and sense of efficacy.
Successful experiences in the exercise of personal control are
central to the early development of social and cognitive competence.
Parents who are responsive to their infants' behavior, and who
create opportunities for efficacious actions by providing an
enriched physical environment and permitting freedom of movement for
exploration, have infants who are accelerated in their social and
cognitive development . Parental responsiveness increases cognitive
competence, and infants' expanded capabilities elicit greater
parental responsiveness in a two-way influence. Development of
language provides children with the symbolic means to reflect on
their experiences and what others tell them about their capabilities
and, thus, to expand their self-knowledge of what they can and
The initial efficacy experiences are centered in the family. But
as the growing child's social world rapidly expands, peers become
increasingly important in children's developing self-knowledge of
their capabilities. It is in the context of peer relations that
social comparison comes strongly into play. At first, the closest
comparative age-mates are siblings. Families differ in number of
siblings, how far apart in age they are, and in their sex
distribution. Different family structures, as reflected in family
size, birth order, and sibling constellation patterns, create
different social comparisons for judging one's personal efficacy.
Younger siblings find themselves in the unfavorable position of
judging their capabilities in relation to older siblings who may be
several years advanced in their development.
C. Broadening of Self-Efficacy Through Peer Influences
Children's efficacy-testing experiences change substantially as
they move increasingly into the larger community. It is in peer
relationships that they broaden self-knowledge of their
capabilities. Peers serve several important efficacy functions.
Those who are most experienced and competent provide models of
efficacious styles of thinking and behavior. A vast amount of social
learning occurs among peers. In addition, age-mates provide highly
informative comparisons for judging and verifying one's
self-efficacy. Children are, therefore, especially sensitive to
their relative standing among the peers in activities that determine
prestige and popularity.
Peers are neither homogeneous nor selected indiscriminately.
Children tend to choose peers who share similar interests and
values. Selective peer association will promote self-efficacy in
directions of mutual interest, leaving other potentialities
underdeveloped. Because peers serve as a major influence in the
development and validation of self-efficacy, disrupted or
impoverished peer relationships can adversely affect the growth of
personal efficacy. A low sense of social efficacy can, in turn,
create internal obstacles to favorable peer relationships. Thus,
children who regard themselves as socially inefficacious withdraw
socially, perceive low acceptance by their peers and have a low
sense of self-worth. There are some forms of behavior where a high
sense of efficacy may be socially alienating rather than socially
affiliating. For example, children who readily resort to aggression
perceive themselves as highly efficacious in getting things they
want by aggressive means.
D. School as an Agency for Cultivating Cognitive
During the crucial formative period of children's lives, the
school functions as the primary setting for the cultivation and
social validation of cognitive competencies. School is the place
where children develop the cognitive competencies and acquire the
knowledge and problem-solving skills essential for participating
effectively in the larger society. Here their knowledge and thinking
skills are continually tested, evaluated, and socially compared. As
children master cognitive skills, they develop a growing sense of
their intellectual efficacy. Many social factors, apart from the
formal instruction, such as peer modeling of cognitive skills,
social comparison with the performances of other students,
motivational enhancement through goals and positive incentives, and
teachers interpretations of children's successes and failures in
ways that reflect favorably or unfavorably on their ability also
affect children's judgments of their intellectual efficacy.
The task of creating learning environments conducive to
development of cognitive skills rests heavily on the talents and
self-efficacy of teachers. Those who are have a high sense of
efficacy about their teaching capabilities can motivate their
students and enhance their cognitive development. Teachers who have
a low sense of instructional efficacy favor a custodial orientation
that relies heavily on negative sanctions to get students to study.
Teachers operate collectively within an interactive social system
rather than as isolates. The belief systems of staffs create school
cultures that can have vitalizing or demoralizing effects on how
well schools function as a social system. Schools in which the staff
collectively judge themselves as powerless to get students to
achieve academic success convey a group sense of academic futility
that can pervade the entire life of the school. Schools in which
staff members collectively judge themselves capable of promoting
academic success imbue their schools with a positive atmosphere for
development that promotes academic attainments regardless of whether
they serve predominantly advantaged or disadvantaged students.
Students' belief in their capabilities to master academic
activities affects their aspirations, their level of interest in
academic activities, and their academic accomplishments. There are a
number of school practices that, for the less talented or ill
prepared, tend to convert instructional experiences into education
in inefficacy. These include lock-step sequences of instruction,
which lose many children along the way; ability groupings which
further diminish the perceived self-efficacy of those cast in the
lower ranks; and competitive practices where many are doomed to
failure for the success of a relative few.
Classroom structures affect the development of intellectual
self-efficacy, in large part, by the relative emphasis they place on
social comparison versus self-comparison appraisal. Self- appraisals
of less able students suffer most when the whole group studies the
same material and teachers make frequent comparative evaluations.
Under such a monolithic structure students rank themselves according
to capability with high consensus. Once established, reputations are
not easily changed. In a personalized classroom structure,
individualized instruction tailored to students' knowledge and
skills enables all of them to expand their competencies and provides
less basis for demoralizing social comparison. As a result, students
are more likely to compare their rate of progress to their personal
standards than to the performance of others. Self-comparison of
improvement in a personalized classroom structure raises perceived
capability. Cooperative learning structures, in which students work
together and help one another also tend to promote more positive
self-evaluations of capability and higher academic attainments than
do individualistic or competitive ones.
E. Growth of Self-Efficacy Through Transitional Experiences of
Each period of development brings with it new challenges for
coping efficacy. As adolescents approach the demands of adulthood,
they must learn to assume full responsibility for themselves in
almost every dimension of life. This requires mastering many new
skills and the ways of adult society. Learning how to deal with
pubertal changes, emotionally invested partnerships and sexuality
becomes a matter of considerable importance. The task of choosing
what lifework to pursue also looms large during this period. These
are but a few of the areas in which new competencies and
self-beliefs of efficacy have to be developed.
With growing independence during adolescence some experimentation
with risky behavior is not all that uncommon. Adolescents expand and
strengthen their sense of efficacy by learning how to deal
successfully with potentially troublesome matters in which they are
unpracticed as well as with advantageous life events. Insulation
from problematic situations leaves one ill-prepared to cope with
potential difficulties. Whether adolescents foresake risky
activities or become chronically enmeshed in them is determined by
the interplay of personal competencies, self- management efficacy
and the prevailing influences in their lives.
Impoverished hazardous environments present especially harsh
realities with minimal resources and social supports for
culturally-valued pursuits, but extensive modeling, incentives and
social supports for transgressive styles of behavior. Such
environments severely tax the coping efficacy of youth enmeshed in
them to make it through adolescence in ways that do not irreversibly
foreclose many beneficial life paths.
Adolescence has often been characterized as a period of
psychosocial turmoil. While no period of life is ever free of
problems, contrary to the stereotype of "storm and stress," most
adolescents negotiate the important transitions of this period
without undue disturbance or discord. However, youngsters who enter
adolescence beset by a disabling sense of inefficacy transport their
vulnerability to distress and debility to the new environmental
demands. The ease with which the transition from childhood to the
demands of adulthood is made similarly depends on the strength of
personal efficacy built up through prior mastery experiences.
F. Self-Efficacy Concerns of Adulthood
Young adulthood is a period when people have to learn to cope
with many new demands arising from lasting partnerships, marital
relationships, parenthood, and occupational careers. As in earlier
mastery tasks, a firm sense of self-efficacy is an important
contributor to the attainment of further competencies and success.
Those who enter adulthood poorly equipped with skills and plagued by
self-doubts find many aspects of their adult life stressful and
Beginning a productive vocational career poses a major
transitional challenge in early adulthood. There are a number of
ways in which self-efficacy beliefs contribute to career development
and success in vocational pursuits. In preparatory phases, people's
perceived self-efficacy partly determines how well they develop the
basic cognitive, self-management and interpersonal skills on which
occupational careers are founded. As noted earlier, beliefs
concerning one's capabilities are influential determinants of the
vocational life paths that are chosen.
It is one thing to get started in an occupational pursuit, it is
another thing to do well and advance in it. Psychosocial skills
contribute more heavily to career success than do occupational
technical skills. Development of coping capabilities and skills in
managing one's motivation, emotional states and thought processes
increases perceived self-regulatory efficacy. The higher the sense
of self-regulatory efficacy the better the occupational functioning.
Rapid technological changes in the modern workplace are placing an
increasing premium on higher problem-solving skills and resilient
self-efficacy to cope effectively with job displacements and
restructuring of vocational activities.
The transition to parenthood suddenly thrusts young adults into
the expanded role of both parent and spouse. They now not only have
to deal with the ever-changing challenges of raising children but to
manage interdependent relationships within a family system and
social links to many extrafamilial social systems including
educational, recreational, medical, and caregiving facilities.
Parents who are secure in their parenting efficacy shepherd their
children adequately through the various phases of development
without serious problems or severe strain on the marital
relationship. But it can be a trying period for those who lack a
sense of efficacy to manage the expanded familial demands. They are
highly vulnerable to stress and depression.
Increasing numbers of mothers are joining the work force either
by economic necessity or personal preference. Combining family and
career has now become the normative pattern. This requires
management of the demands of both familial and occupational roles.
Because of the cultural lag between societal practices and the
changing status of women, they continue to bear the major share of
the homemaking responsibility. Women who have a strong sense of
efficacy to manage the multiple demands of family and work and to
enlist their husbands' aid with childcare experience a positive
sense of well-being. But those who are beset by self-doubts in their
ability to combine the dual roles suffer physical and emotional
By the middle years, people settle into established routines that
stabilize their sense of personal efficacy in the major areas of
functioning. However, the stability is a shaky one because life does
not remain static. Rapid technological and social changes constantly
require adaptations calling for self-reappraisals of capabilities.
In their occupations, the middle-aged find themselves pressured by
younger challengers. Situations in which people must compete for
promotions, status, and even work itself, force constant
self-appraisals of capabilities by means of social comparison with
G. Reappraisals of Self-Efficacy With Advancing Age
The self-efficacy issues of the elderly center on reappraisals
and misappraisals of their capabilities. Biological conceptions of
aging focus extensively on declining abilities. Many physical
capacities do decrease as people grow older, thus, requiring
reappraisals of self-efficacy for activities in which the biological
functions have been significantly affected. However, gains in
knowledge, skills, and expertise compensate some loss in physical
reserve capacity. When the elderly are taught to use their
intellectual capabilities, their improvement in cognitive
functioning more than offsets the average decrement in performance
over two decades. Because people rarely exploit their full
potential, elderly persons who invest the necessary effort can
function at the higher levels of younger adults. By affecting level
of involvement in activities, perceived self- efficacy can
contribute to the maintenance of social, physical and intellectual
functioning over the adult life span.
Older people tend to judge changes in their intellectual
capabilities largely in terms of their memory performance. Lapses
and difficulties in memory that young adults dismiss are inclined to
be interpreted by older adults as indicators of declining cognitive
capabilities. Those who regard memory as a biologically shrinking
capacity with aging have low faith in their memory capabilities and
enlist little effort to remember things. Older adults who have a
stronger sense of memory efficacy exert greater cognitive effort to
aid their recall and, as a result, achieve better memory.
Much variability exists across behavioral domains and educational
and socioeconomic levels, and there is no uniform decline in beliefs
in personal efficacy in old age. The persons against whom the
elderly compare themselves contribute much to the variability in
perceived self-efficacy. Those who measure their capabilities
against people their age are less likely to view themselves as
declining in capabilities than if younger cohorts are used in
comparative self-appraisal. Perceived cognitive inefficacy is
accompanied by lowered intellectual performances. A declining sense
of self-efficacy, which often may stem more from disuse and negative
cultural expectations than from biological aging, can thus set in
motion self-perpetuating processes that result in declining
cognitive and behavioral functioning. People who are beset with
uncertainties about their personal efficacy not only curtail the
range of their activities but undermine their efforts in those they
undertake. The result is a progressive loss of interest and skill.
Major life changes in later years are brought about by
retirement, relocation, and loss of friends or spouses. Such changes
place demands on interpersonal skills to cultivate new social
relationships that can contribute to positive functioning and
personal well-being. Perceived social inefficacy increases older
person's vulnerability to stress and depression both directly and
indirectly by impeding development of social supports which serve as
a buffer against life stressors.
The roles into which older adults are cast impose sociocultural
constraints on the cultivation and maintenance of perceived
self-efficacy. As people move to older-age phases most suffer losses
of resources, productive roles, access to opportunities and
challenging activities. Monotonous environments that require little
thought or independent judgment diminish the quality of functioning,
intellectually challenging ones enhance it. Some of the declines in
functioning with age result from sociocultural dispossession of the
environmental support for it. It requires a strong sense of personal
efficacy to reshape and maintain a productive life in cultures that
cast their elderly in powerless roles devoid of purpose. In
societies that emphasize the potential for self-development
throughout the lifespan, rather than psychophysical decline with
aging, the elderly tend to lead productive and purposeful lives.
Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people's beliefs in
their capabilities to exercise control over their own functioning
and over events that affect their lives. Beliefs in personal
efficacy affect life choices, level of motivation, quality of
functioning, resilience to adversity and vulnerability to stress and
depression. People's beliefs in their efficacy are developed by four
main sources of influence. They include mastery experiences, seeing
people similar to oneself manage task demands successfully, social
persuasion that one has the capabilities to succeed in given
activities, and inferences from somatic and emotional states
indicative of personal strengths and vulnerabilities. Ordinary
realities are strewn with impediments, adversities, setbacks,
frustrations and inequities. People must, therefore, have a robust
sense of efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort needed to
succeed. Succeeding periods of life present new types of competency
demands requiring further development of personal efficacy for
successful functioning. The nature and scope of perceived
self-efficacy undergo changes throughout the course of the lifespan.
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