What Is Self-Efficacy? Psychology, Theory, And Applications
What Is Self-Efficacy?
Self-efficacy refers to a person's belief in their ability to achieve different outcomes according to their actions. The concept of self-efficacy was pioneered and popularized by psychologist Albert Bandura.
Self-efficacy can have a significant impact on an individual's goals, desires, actions, and accomplishments. People with high levels of self-efficacy believe that they can consistently achieve their goals, and this can often dramatically affect their actions. People with low self-efficacy, on the other hand, often believe that their actions don't matter and that no matter what they do, they won't be able to achieve their goals.
Self-efficacy is particularly important because it often has an outsized effect on human behavior. For instance, when an individual quits playing a sport because they thought they’d never improve may have a low sense of self-efficacy. Adversely, an individual with high self-efficacy may experience significant barriers to their school performance yet persist in achieving good grades.
Because self-efficacy affects behavior, those with high self-efficacy often achieve more than those with low self-efficacy, even if they have similar levels of natural capability and talent. Self-efficacy predisposes individuals to view themselves and the world in certain ways, with the result being that those with low self-efficacy consider themselves ill-equipped for the task at hand, while those with high self-efficacy consider themselves competent and capable.
How Does Self-Efficacy Develop?
Self-efficacy develops during childhood and continues to grow and change throughout life. It is influenced by a variety of factors, including both personal and interpersonal circumstances. One of the most important factors in developing self-efficacy is mastering skills. Whether it’s simple or complicated, the mastery of skills increases self-efficacy and encourages people to view themselves as competent to achieve their goals.
Self-efficacy can also develop through social modeling. When people see others accomplishing similar tasks, social modeling encourages individuals who identify with their peers to believe that they could accomplish similar activities and improve self-efficacy. However, failure by one’s peers to accomplish the tasks may decrease one’s self-efficacy.
People can also be persuaded to improve their self-efficacy. For example, receiving encouragement from a colleague or friend may lead to feelings of greater self-efficacy. Alternately, positive self-efficacy can be undermined by negative feedback and critique.
The mood can also influence self-efficacy, with a positive mood contributing to, and a negative mood detracting from, self-efficacy levels. Self-efficacy can be further developed by focusing on creating a positive mood and decreasing stress and negative emotions.
Effects of Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy can have a significant effect on nearly every aspect of human life, including work, relationships, school, and more. One of the ways in which self-efficacy influences behavior is in goal setting. Individuals with high self-efficacy tend to set ambitious goals and are more likely to follow through with the things they set out to do. In contrast, those with low self-efficacy often shy away from difficult challenges and are easily discouraged.
Self-efficacy also affects people’s ability to cope with uncertainty and setbacks when completing projects and goals. While those with low self-efficacy are often overwhelmed by rejection and obstacles, sometimes resulting in the development of depression or anxiety. Those with high self-efficacy can recover from setbacks and go on to achieve their goals. They're also able to better motivate themselves to achieve goals despite obstacles.
Those with high self-efficacy often perform better at work and school, while those with low self-efficacy may fall behind and struggle to catch up. While this correlation is less clear regarding more complicated tasks, self-efficacy has been shown to help students and workers routinely achieve their goals.
Self-efficacy also has a significant impact on physical health. Those with high self-efficacy are more likely to believe that they can achieve their health-related goals. Especially when it comes to difficult health-related tasks like losing weight, quitting smoking, or overcoming addiction, self-efficacy can be key to enacting positive change.
Self-efficacy can also influence a variety of risk-taking behaviors, including using a seatbelt and practicing safe sex. Those with low self-efficacy are more likely to engage in risky behaviors since they see any potential consequences as out of their control. Those with high self-efficacy, on the other hand, are more likely to view their own actions as significant and to take precautions accordingly.
Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem, and Self-Confidence
While self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-confidence are all related and are sometimes used the same way, they aren't interchangeable. Self-efficacy refers to an individual's belief about whether they can achieve their goals through their actions. Self-efficacy includes a variety of beliefs about both the self and the world, with those with high self-efficacy believing in themselves and their ability and those with low self-efficacy believing that they are unable to accomplish their goals.
Self-esteem, unlike self-efficacy, refers to a sense of self-worth. People with low self-esteem are likely to think that they are unworthy or bad people. While self-efficacy can refer to specific tasks, self-esteem is usually more general. For example, someone who's a sub-par singer might have low self-efficacy regarding their voice. But unless all their sense of self-worth is focused on their singing ability, their self-esteem doesn’t rely solely on their ability to sing.
Self-confidence is a less specific term that generally refers to an individual's certainty about a given belief. While related to self-efficacy, self-confidence is not specifically about the belief in one's own capabilities. Self-confidence is often used more colloquially and in non-academic settings to one's general beliefs about oneself. While low self-confidence is usually considered a “bad” thing, low self-efficacy may merely reflect an accurate understanding of one's own capabilities. Although, in general, it is a positive thing to have high self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-confidence, self-efficacy is the only belief concretely tied to real-world action.
There are self-efficacy scales available to measure one’s self-efficacy rating. On average, researchers suggest that self-efficacy should be slightly above your actual capacity for achieving goals. A slightly above-average level of self-efficacy indicates an individual is capable of striving for better outcomes without setting unrealistic expectations.
Those with lower indicators of self-efficacy often exhibit behaviors of underachievement and easily experience discouragement, even if the individual is completely competent. Those with an unusually high sense of self-efficacy may overestimate their competence.
Some Tips For Improving Self-Efficacy:
Setting and achieving reasonable goals is an important component of building self-efficacy. Since self-efficacy builds on mastery and success, regularly setting and achieving goals may gradually provide a new understanding of what you are capable of. It's important that the goals are within your reach since failing at a task can decrease self-efficacy. The more goals you achieve, the more likely you are to view your own capabilities in a different light.
Looking at the overall picture is also often helpful when trying to increase self-efficacy. While you might feel discouraged in your abilities after a few big disappointments, your colleagues, friends, and family likely feel differently. Taking the time to listen to the advice of those who know you well may help you to gain perspective on your situation and see things in a different light. Since verbal persuasion has been shown to increase self-efficacy, even a quick pep talk can have positive effects.
Low self-efficacy is often correlated with higher stress levels, and managing that stress may be a key strategy for coping and persevering in the face of obstacles. There are many ways to manage stress, including meditation, time in nature, and therapy. Whatever works for you, reducing stress can have a positive impact on self-efficacy and can help you to achieve your goals.
Ambitious goals can sometimes feel distant and insurmountable. It can be easy to become discouraged and give up when it doesn't seem like you're making any progress. You can mitigate this feeling by celebrating smaller victories along the path to reaching your goal, for example, celebrating a productive day or the achievement of smaller milestones. Recognizing these smaller steppingstones as important achievements may help increase your self-efficacy and move you further along to your goal.
If you sometimes feel that you have very little control over the outcomes of your behaviors, you’re not alone. While low self-efficacy is relatively common, there are practical ways to improve your sense of self-efficacy. One of those ways is to speak to a therapist.
A licensed professional can help you identify the obstacles you may face when cultivating positive beliefs about your competency to complete your goals successfully. They may also work with you to devise a real-world strategy to cultivate healthy, long-lasting feelings of self-efficacy to cope with challenges in the future.
BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed online therapist with experience in working with clients on self-efficacy. Online therapy has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy, and sessions can be conducted anytime, anywhere with an internet connection.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What is self-efficacy theory in psychology?
Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief that they can do what is necessary to produce a certain outcome. One’s sense of self-efficacy greatly influences the goals one sets for themselves and the energy one will exert toward a goal. Self-efficacy, originally proposed by Albert Bandura, has been widely utilized in psychology to influence behavior change in chronic disease management, smoking cessation, eating and exercise.
What are the 4 ways one can develop self-efficacy?
Bandura notes four specific ways an individual develops a sense of self-efficacy, starting in childhood. These include mastery experiences (performing a task successfully), social modeling (seeing others performing a task successfully), social persuasion (receiving verbal encouragement), and psychological responses (minimizing our stress during difficult tasks or situations).
What are some examples of self-efficacy?
An example of high self-efficacy includes a man who has been struggling to quit smoking but is feeling confident in the plan he has set in place with his therapist to work toward quitting. Another example is a student who is earning a low grade in a difficult course but believes she can put in the effort to learn the material and improve her grade by the end of the semester.
What are the two types of self-efficacy?
The two types of self-efficacy are high self-efficacy and low self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is measured in various areas of life; therefore, an individual may have high self-efficacy in one area (like school or work) and low self-efficacy in another area (like managing their health).
An individual with high self-efficacy may have a deeper sense of commitment to their activities and bounce back quickly from setbacks. On the other hand, someone with low self-efficacy is more likely to avoid difficult tasks, believe that they are incapable of handling challenging situations, and dwell on negative outcomes.
What is the difference between self-efficacy and self-confidence?
Though self-efficacy and self-confidence are related, there are distinct differences. Bandura emphasizes that the context of confidence isn’t necessarily specific (for example, one could feel confident they will fail). Whereas self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief regarding their capability to carry out a certain task or achieve a goal.
Is Self-Efficacy a skill?
Self-efficacy can be thought of as a “situation-specific construct” that is highly dependent on different contexts. Bandura notes that our sense of self-efficacy fluctuates and can be improved. Individuals may have high self-efficacy in one area of life (such as work or school) and low self-efficacy in another area, such as making healthy choices around eating and exercise.
Is Self-Efficacy a personality trait?
Self-efficacy is not thought to be a personality trait, as it easily fluctuates in different situations and contexts. However, one’s personality can influence their sense of self-efficacy in certain tasks. For example, a shy person may thrive in their workplace completing assignments alone (and have high self-efficacy) but struggle with training a new employee (and have low self-efficacy around this responsibility).
How can I make my sense of self stronger?
Strategies that may be helpful in building a firm sense of self include clearly defining your values, making your own choices, allotting more time for self-exploration, and working to align your life with your ideal self.
How does self-efficacy affect behavior?
An individual with high self-efficacy tends to exert more energy into meeting a goal or completing a task. High self-efficacy is correlated with recovering quickly after facing setbacks and showing continued commitment to a goal despite challenges that may arise.
How is self-efficacy measured?
Various assessment tools can be utilized to measure self-efficacy, such as Bandura’s General Self-Efficacy Scale. Another common tool is the Self-Efficacy survey (SES) which assesses self-efficacy in ten key areas of life: intellectual, family, educational, professional, social, religious, erotic, moral, life and health. On each question, an individual marks 1 to 6, indicating strong agreement to strong disagreement, to calculate self-efficacy in different key areas.