Self-Efficacy Theory

What Is Self-Efficacy Theory?

Self-efficacy theory, also referred to as social learning theory, relates to the perceived belief that an individual has about whether he or she has capability to perform a task.

The theory is based on the work of psychologist Albert Bandura. Bandura defined self-efficacyOpens in new window as “one’s self-perceived ability at a task”.

You can think of self-efficacy using such terms as confidence, competence, and ability. From a manager’s perspective, the major point is that anything done to boost feelings of self-efficacy among people at work is likely to pay off with increased levels of motivation.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:

  • “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

The essence of self-efficacy theory is that, when people believe themselves to be capable, they will be more motivated to work hard at a task. The Wall Street JournalOpens in new window has called this

  • “the unshakable belief some people have that they have what it takes to succeed.”

But self-efficacy is not an undifferentiated feeling of general confidence, it is a capability-specific belief in one’s competency to perform a task.

Self-efficacy theory proposes that expectations vary in level of challenge (high or low degree), in strength (ability to persevere), and flexibility of self-efficacy (whether it will transfer from one area to another). The above essential elements affect the level of self-efficacy and the extent to which a person is able to cope with difficulties.

For difficult tasks people who have low self-esteem are likely to reduce their effort or give up altogether but those with high self efficacy try harder to succeed. Also, people with high self efficacy accept negative feedback and increase their efforts to improve, whilst those with negative efficacy do the opposite.

It is argued that setting a high goal for an employee can lead to employees having higher self-efficacy as their boss’ belief in them leads to increased confidence. Also, research has shown that intelligence and personality related to conscientiousness and emotional stability can increase self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy theory has significance for Goal-setting theoryOpens in new window and Expectancy theoryOpens in new window as there is a clear link between Bandura’s ideas, elements of Vroom’s expectancy theory, and Locke’s goal-setting theory.

With respect to Vroom, a person with higher self-efficacy will have higher expectancy that he or she can achieve a high level of task performance.

With respect to Locke, a person with higher self-efficacy should be more willing to set challenging performance goals. In both respects, managers who help create feelings of self-efficacy in others should be boosting their motivation to work.

Determinants of Self-Efficacy

According to Bandura (1977), self-efficacy is influenced by four main factors, as follows.

  1. Enactive attainment or mastery practice
    Experience has proven that the more we practice, the more skillful we become. The more you work at a task, so to speak, the more your experience builds and the more skillful and confident you become at doing it.

    When we maintain constant practice in an activity, greater skill increases in that activity, and there is an upward spiral in mastery, choice, and self-efficacy.
  2. Modeling and vicarious learning
    This is an act of learning by observing others. When someone else is good at a task and we are able to observe how they do it, we gain confidence in being able to do it ourselves.

    Sometimes, we watch others execute various subskills and try to mimic their behavior (if he can do it, I can). Conversely, we may watch others attempt maneuvers and fail. After watching them; we avoid similar actions, taking varied approaches to prevent failure.
  3. Social persuasion
    When others either encourage or discourage a person’s behaviors or choices, it may affect choice or level of involvement. Hearing others praise our efforts and link those efforts with performance successes is often very motivational.
  4. Physiological arousal
    Physiological and affective states generate emotional arousal, which influence a person’s sense of self-efficacy. A good analogy for arousal is how athletes get “psyched up” and highly motivated to perform in key competitions.