According to Albert Bandura, 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.
It is the strength of an individual’s belief that he or she can successfully perform a given activity. 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.
The concept of self-efficacy has often been used interchangeably with the concept of self-esteem which is the process of evaluating the self; however, self-efficacy is more accurately described as a precursor to self-esteem and is mediated by the individual’s self-attributions.
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. 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 depression.
Dr. Monica Frank, a Clinical Psychologist, argues that without confidence in one’s ability, an individual cannot perform to his or her potential. It is even possible that someone with lesser ability, but with confidence, can outperform this person because belief in oneself can be a powerful influence.
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. They fall easy victim to stress and depression.
Self-efficacy is very important in supporting people’s achievements throughout their lives. Whether one is a student, salesman, musician, manager, sportsman or woman and you name it, self-efficacy is very essential for these people to accomplish their goals and dreams in life.
How is self-efficacy increased?
Albert Bandura in his article “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” identifies four ways in which self-efficacy is learned and self-efficacy expectations acquired:
Firstly: “Building upon successful or mastery experiences”. Knowing the ingredients that make up elf-efficacy and the sources of information that change self-efficacy, we are capable of developing strategies to increase self-efficacy. For instance, previous performance is the strongest factor affecting self-efficacy; therefore, a teacher, employer or coach may want to set up situations that provide for successful experiences for the student, employee or athlete. An effective method can be to break down more complex skills into smaller, more specific components that challenge the student, employee or athlete but are within his or her current ability level.
In academics, sports, or even at work, teachers or mentors usually start with individual experience, then introduce simple or basic concepts/ skills and build upon it towards more complex skills or concepts. For instance, in reading lessons a student is first taught alphabets, then syllabi, later they learn a word, short sentence, complex sentence and later it is combined with extension techniques to obtain an essay.
The skills at each level are challenging but not overwhelming to the student. This allows the student to have successful experiences which increases self-efficacy.
Secondly: “Vicarious experiences”. Another method of increasing self-efficacy is having an athlete observe peer’s successfully performing a skill. An observation of peer’s success or failure helps to build one’s self efficacy. We all have our social models whom we learn their failure or success.
However, it is not enough to observe the skill but also believe that she has the ability to copy what she observed. In order to build self-efficacy one needs to observe a person with similar abilities do what one may have greater belief in their ability to copy the technique.
Thirdly: “Specific positive feedback or social persuasion”. Verbal persuasion can also be used to increase self-efficacy either in combination with the above methods or alone. Generally, with verbal persuasion it is important to be given very specific feedback which is best related to previous performance so as to convince the student, employee or athlete of his or her ability to accomplish a task. Therefore, saying “You can do it!” is not as effective as saying “You excellently passed Form Four exams, you can pass Form Six exams with flying colours.”
Fourth: Psychological skills training. Finally, helping people to learn to find and maintain their optimal level of physiological intensity to successfully perform can increase their belief in their ability. This can be done by teaching relaxation techniques to decrease intensity and self-talk to increase or decrease intensity level as needed. Mood also affects people's judgments of their personal efficacy. Positive mood enhances perceived self-efficacy, despondent mood diminishes it.
Self-efficacy, learning and career development
According to Bettina Brown, when individuals have low self-efficacy expectations regarding their behaviour, they limit the extent to which they participate in an endeavor and are more apt to give up at the first sign of difficulty.
Their efficacy beliefs serve as barriers to their career development. Low self-efficacy beliefs of women are thought to reflect the limited and disadvantaged position women have in the workplace and the limited range of career options presented to them.
Self efficacy has the following roles to play in learning and career development:
(a) Performance Accomplishments. The manner in which accomplishments are received has an influence on an individual’s self-efficacy expectations and actions. In the classroom, for example, poor grades and other negative assessments of ability can lower self-efficacy beliefs.
In the social environment, job discrimination, racism, prejudice, and sexism can do likewise. Whether such experiences reinforce or promote low levels of self-efficacy depends upon the individual’s perceptions and whether or not the barriers are overcome.
(b) Vicarious Learning. Beliefs are often acquired through observation and interpretation. In observing the modeling behaviour of others, the learner is able to reflect on past experiences with such behaviour and make meaning of its relevance in a new situation. When the modeling reflects economic, gender, cultural or social class limitations—e.g., lacks of non-traditional occupational choices, students’career interests (and perceived options) are limited.
(c) Verbal Persuasion. Beliefs about self are influenced by the messages conveyed by others. Encouragement supports career-related self-efficacy, criticism hampers it. Families, friends, and teachers who have their own agendas, may inadvertently (or even overtly) limit the educational and vocational progression by discouraging certain occupational interests, choices, and engagement.
(d) Physical/Affective Status. Stress and anxiety have a negative effect on self-efficacy as well as learning. “The brain learns optimally when appropriately challenged, but downshifts under perceived threat.” Experts say it functions best in a supportive environment. Therefore, conditions that cause conflict may portend low levels of self-efficacy and result in low participation and outcome expectations.
In conclusion, the discussion and strategies presented in this article can be applied to people from all walks of life such as students, workers, sportsmen, musicians, just to mention a few. However, people who must overcome the internal and external barriers to self-efficacy because of poverty, cultural obstacles, or linguistic barriers are especially in need of positive learning experiences that guide them in overcoming real or perceived barriers to learning and career development. These learning experiences must integrate school-based learning with the real-life conditions of their existence, because these are the conditions that predispose students’ career success.
The write is a Specialist in Economics of Education and Financing, Planning, Management, Policy Studies. He is reached through: email@example.com or 0754304181