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What Is Self-Efficacy & Why Does It Matter?

October 20, 2013

What Is Self-Efficacy?

The concept of self-efficacy lies at the center of psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory on learning and social experience.  According to Bandura, self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” In other words, self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. Bandura described these beliefs as determinants of how people think, behave, and feel (1994).

Since Bandura published his seminal 1977 paper, the subject has become one of the most studied topics in psychology. Why has self-efficacy become such a “hot topic” among psychologists and educators? As Bandura and other have demonstrated, self-efficacy impacts  everything from attitudes, motivation, business, and academic success.

The Role of Self-Efficacy

Virtually, all people can identify goals they want to accomplish; things they would like to change; and things they would like to achieve. However, most people also realize that putting these plans into action is not quite so simple. An individual’s self-efficacy effects how he or she sees goals, tasks, and challenges.

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy People with a weak sense of self-efficacy
When facing challenges… View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered Avoid challenging tasks
When encountering setbacks…. Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments Over-focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
When assessing own capabilities… Believe that difficult tasks and situations are within their capabilities Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
Example: After receiving a low Math test score…
  • “I am sure I can do better next time.”
  • “If I focus more, I won’t make as much mistakes.”
  • “How can I score higher next time?”
  • “ I just don’t understand Math.”
  • “ I have never been good at Math.”
  • “ I need to drop this class.”
  • “ I just don’t understand Math.”
  • “ I have never been good at Math.”
  • “ I need to drop this class.”

Is Self-Efficacy “fixed” like our DNA?

The short answer is NO. While self-efficacy begins to form in early childhood, the growth of self-efficacy continues to evolve throughout life as people acquire new skills, experiences, and understanding.  During the high school and university years, self-efficacy plays a particularly important role since learners face a number of new challenges, especially in the classroom. Self-efficacy is a key factor in academic success and resilience:  Students who believe they can succeed are more likely to bounce back and try again after facing a setback. As such, it is important for students to understand the effect of self-efficacy and for educators and parents to encourage self-efficacious beliefs in learners.

References: Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Bandura, A. (1992) Exercise of personal agency through the self-efficacy mechanisms. In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior,4. New York: Academic Press, pp. 71-81.
Bandura, A. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press.


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