The very little engine looked up and saw the tears in the dolls’ eyes. And she thought of the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain who would not have any toys or good food unless she helped. Then she said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
The Little Engine That Could
(Watty Piper, 1930)
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…….”
After Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura published his 1977 Psychological Review article titled “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavior Change;’ the self-efficacy concept spread in popularity to the point that it now may have produced more empirical research than any other topic in positive psychology (Bandura, 1977, 1982, 1997).
What exactly is this concept that has proven so influential? To understand self-efficacy, some people have used the sentiments of the little train engine (from Watty Piper’s [1930/1989] children’s story, The Little Engine That Could) to epitomize self-efficacy.
Recall that the tiny engine, thinking about how the little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain would not have their toys unless she helped, uttered the now-famous motivational words, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”-and then proceeded to chug successfully up the mountainside to deliver her payload. This belief that you can accomplish what you want is at the core of the self-efficacy idea.
The self-efficacy construct rests upon a long line of historical thinking related to the sense of personal control Famous thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, William James, and Gilbert Ryle have focused on willfulness, or volition, in human thinking (Vessey, 1967).
More recently, similar ideas have appeared in theories on achievement motivation (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953), effecting motivation (White, 1959), and social learning (Rotter, 1966). (For a review of personal competence, coping, and satisfaction, see Skinner, 1995). It was this classic line of control-related scholarship upon which Bandura drew in defining the self-efficacy concept.
If people do not believe that they can act to produce desired effects, they have little incentive to act and persevere. For example, in one study, business graduates were asked to discover and apply managerial rules to a simulated organization.
Some of the participants were told that the required skills were innate—if you didn’t have skills, you could not succeed. These participants lowered their goals and did not perform very well. The other participants were told that the necessary skills could be acquired with practice; these business graduates set challenging goals and developed successful organizational strategies (Wood & Bandura, 1989).
Bandura (1977a, 1997) thus adds one more important cognitive element to the formula: the personality characteristic of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an expectancy—a belief (expectation) about how competently one will be able to enact a behavior in a particular situation.
Positive self-efficacy is the belief that one will be able to successfully perform the behavior. Without a feeling of self-efficacy (which is a very situationally specific belief), the person is much less likely to even try to perform a behavior.
According to Bandura, self-efficacy determines whether we try to act at all, how long we persist in the face of difficulty or failure, and how success or failure at a task affects our future behavior.
The concept of self-efficacy differs from the concept of locus of control in that self-efficacy is a belief about our own ability to successfully perform a certain behavior, whereas locus of control is a belief about the likelihood that performing a certain behavior affects the ultimate outcome.
Definition of self-efficacy
Self-efficacy refers to our belief that we can act effectively and exercise some control over events that influence our lives (Bandura, 1977a, 1986). This is crucially important for motivation, since how we judge our own capabilities is likely to affect our expectations about future behavior. For example, if we feel that a model’s actions are within our capabilities, then we may attempt to imitate them, but a low sense of self-efficacy regarding the modeled skill is likely to inhibit us (Durkin, 1995).
According to Bandura (1994), “people’s beliefs in their personal efficacy influence what courses of action they choose to pursue, how much effort they will invest in activities, how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles and failure experiences, and their resiliency following setbacks” (p. 65). Although self-efficacy has a powerful causal influence on people’s actions, it is not the sole determinant. Rather, self-efficacy combines with the environment, prior behavior, and other personal variables, especially outcome expectations, to produce behavior.
In the triadic reciprocal causal model, which postulates that the environment, behavior, and person have an interactive influence on one another, self-efficacy refers to the P (person) factor.
Defining Self-Efficacy and types of self-efficacy
Self-efficacy beliefs are beliefs about competencies—what we know about the world and what we know how to do in the world. Competencies include “the quality and range of the cognitive constructions and behavioral enactments of which the individual is capable” (Mischel, 1973, p. 266) and the ability to “construct (generate) diverse behaviors under appropriate conditions” (Mischel, 1973, p. 265).
Self-efficacy beliefs are appraisals of our ability to use our competencies in specific domains and situations. (See also Mischel & Ayduk, 2004; Cervone, Mor, Orom, Shadel, & Scott, 2004.) In addition, self-efficacy beliefs are not decontextualized appraisals of competencies divorced from situations; they are, instead, beliefs about what we can do with our skills and abilities in certain contexts and conditions.
It is especially important to distinguish between self-efficacy beliefs and outcome expectancies (Bandura, 1997) or behavior-outcome expectancies (Maddux, 1999a). An outcome expectancy is a belief that a particular behavior will produce a particular result under particular conditions. Outcomes expectancies, therefore, are an important aspect of what is usually referred to as plans or strategies in theories of self-regulation.
A self-efficacy belief is concerned with one’s confidence in one’s ability to execute the behavior in question under the conditions in question—that is, one’s confidence in one’s ability to implement plans and strategies. In other words, outcome expectancies are means-end relations, while self-efficacy beliefs are agent–means relations(Cervone et al., 2004).
The variety of ways in which self-efficacy beliefs have been measured by various researchers and the various domains and levels of specificity or generality with which self-efficacy has been measured might lead one to conclude that there are different “types” of self-efficacy (e.g., Cervone, 2000; Mone, 1994; Schwarzer & Renner, 2000).
The confusion arises partly because the term “self-efficacy” has been used in at least two different ways in research: (1) as the perceived ability to perform a particular behavior, which Kirsch (1995) has called task self-efficacy; and (2) the perceived ability to prevent, control, or cope with potential difficulties that might be encountered when engaged in a performance, which Kirsch called coping self-efficacy (see also Schwarzer & Renner, 2000; Williams, 1995).
Kirsch’s task self-efficacy is similar to Bandura’s original (1977) definition of self-efficacy as “the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the outcomes” (p. 193). Kirsch’s coping self-efficacy is more similar to Bandura’s more recent (1997) definition of self-efficacy as the ability to “organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (p. 3).
Of course, the names of researchers give measures can be misleading. Just because two researchers use the term “self-efficacy” for two different measures does not mean that those measures are measuring two different “types” of self-efficacy or even that they are measuring self-efficacy at all.
Self-efficacy should not be viewed as a construct with different “types”; it is better to view it as a construct whose measurement can be tailored for different types of behaviors and for different types of domains and situations. For example, “self-efficacy for condom use” could have two very different meanings. One could have a strong sense of self-efficacy for “putting on a condom” but a weaker sense of self-efficacy for “using a condom during sex.” Putting on a condom—or putting one on someone else—is not a difficult thing to do.
However, persuading a reluctant partner (or oneself ) to stop during the heat of a passionate encounter and put on a condom demands complex social and self-regulatory skills (e.g., Siegel, Mesagno, Chen, & Christ, 1989). Self-efficacy beliefs for these behaviors do not represent different “types” of self-efficacy but instead self-efficacy beliefs for very different behaviors.
Self-esteem vs self-efficacy
Bandura (1986) also studied the concept of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to people’s belief that they can be successful in achieving their goals. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to our judgments of self-worth, whereas, self-efficacy refers to our judgments of personal ability. Both are affected by our past experiences and successes. We usually do not try things that we do not believe we can do. Both self-efficacy and self-esteem are important features of the “person” factor.
Self-concept vs self-efficacy
Self-efficacy is not self-concept or self-esteem. Self-concept is what people believe about themselves, and self-esteem is how people feel about what they believe about themselves. Self-efficacy beliefs are an important aspect of self-concept (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 1995), but self-concept includes many other beliefs about the self that are unrelated to self-efficacy, such as beliefs about physical attributes and personality traits.
Self-efficacy beliefs in a given domain will contribute to self-esteem only in direct proportion to the importance one places on that domain. My (J. E. M.) self-efficacy beliefs for playing basketball are very low (and accurately so), but my self-efficacy for playing basketball rarely affects my self-esteem, because I usually care very little about whether or not I am good at playing basketball.
My self-efficacy for teaching and writing chapters and articles, however, is an entirely different matter. The impact of self-efficacy beliefs on self-esteem also will depend on their accessibility under given circumstances (Showers, 1995). Take me out of the classroom and put me on a basketball court, and my self-esteem probably will be temporarily somewhat deflated (see also the chapters in Part II of this volume, on content, structure, and organization of the self).
Self-efficacy vs trait
Self-efficacy is not a trait. Most conceptions of competence and control—the locus of control (Rotter, 1966), optimism (Carver & Scheier, 2002), hope (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2002), hardiness (Kobasa, 1979), learned resourcefulness (Rosenbaum, 1990) —are conceived of as traits or trait-like. Self-efficacy beliefs are important in all of these constructs, but self-efficacy is defined and measured not as a trait but as beliefs about the ability to coordinate skills and abilities to attain desired goals in particular domains and circumstances.
Self-efficacy beliefs can generalize from one situation or task to another, depending on the similarities between the task demands and the skills and resources required to meet those demands (e.g., Samuels & Gibbs, in press), but self-efficacy in a specific domain does not emanate from a general sense of efficacy.
Measures of traits, such as optimism and perceived control, seem to predict behavior only to the extent to which they overlap with the measurement of self-efficacy (Cozzarelli, 1993; Dzewaltowski, Noble, & Shaw, 1990).
In addition, measures of global efficacy beliefs have been developed (e.g., Schwarzer, Baessler, Kwiatek, Schroder, & Zhang, 1997; Sherer at al., 1982; Tipton & Worthington, 1984) and are used frequently in research, but they have not demonstrated predictive value above that of domain-specific self-efficacy measures (Martin & Gill, 1991; Pajares & Johnson, 1996).
The perceived self-efficacy
We tend to undertake tasks that we judge ourselves to be capable of, but avoid activities that we regard as beyond our abilities. That is, our behavior is influenced by the extent to which we believe that we can perform the actions required by a particular situation (our perceived self-efficacy).
Perceived self-efficacy is closely related to self-esteem and Rogerian self-concept. Whereas self-esteem deals with how you evaluate your self-concept, perceived self-efficacy involves your belief that you can achieve a personal goal through your own efforts.
A study of refugees migrating from East to West Germany after the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1990 showed that people higher in self-efficacy adapted significantly better to the change from an economically disadvantaged lifestyle under a communist system to an affluent lifestyle under a capitalist system.
Perceived self-efficacy proved to be a powerful personal resource regarding the impact of migration stress on cognitive appraisals as well as on psychological and physical wellbeing. . . . Highly self-efficacious migrants perceived the demands in their new life more as challenges and less as threats. They experienced lower anxiety, better health, and fewer health complaints than low self-efficacious migrants. (Jerusalem & Mittag, 1995, p. 195)
Just as an individual may develop a sense of self-efficacy, a group of people working together in a common enterprise to achieve common goals may develop a sense of collective efficacy. For example, a baseball or football team, a department within a large organization, a military combat unit, or a group of neighbors uniting to fight a developer can engender the strong feeling that they can and will achieve their goals and overcome all obstacles.
Sources of self-efficacy Or How Self-Efficacy Beliefs Develop
Sources of information about self-efficacy. Our judgment about our self-efficacy is based on four sources of information:
■ Performance attainment
■ Vicarious experiences
■ Verbal persuasion
■ Physiological and emotional arousal
The most influential source of efficacy judgments is past experiences (performance attainment). The success of past experiences provides direct indications of our level of mastery and competence. Prior achievements demonstrate our capabilities and strengthen our feelings of self-efficacy. Prior failures, particularly repeated failures in childhood, lower self-efficacy.
An important performance indicator attainment is receiving feedback on one’s progress or one’s performance on a task, such as a work assignment or a college examination. One study of 97 college students performing complicated puzzles found that those who received positive feedback on their performance reported higher levels of perceived competence at that task than did those who received negative feedback (Elliot et al., 2000).
A study of 49 older adults showed that those who completed a 6-month training program in the Chinese art of Tai Chi reported significant increases in self-efficacy as compared to those who did not undertake the training (Li, McAuley, Harmer, Duncan, & Chaumeton, 2001).
Similar results were obtained in a study of 125 women college students who completed a 16-hour physical self-defense training course. These students showed significantly higher levels of self-efficacy in a variety of areas including physical competence, general coping skills, and interpersonal assertiveness.
A control group that had not taken the self-defense course showed no change in self-efficacy (Weitlauf, Cervone, Smith, & Wright, 2001). Thus, put simply, the more we achieve, the more we believe we can achieve, and the more competent and in control we feel.
Short-term failures in adulthood can lower self-efficacy. In one study, 60 college students were given a cognitive task. Ratings of item difficulty and feedback indicated that they performed either very well or very poorly. Self-report measures of their self-efficacy expectations for future tasks showed that persons who believed they had performed well on the cognitive task had a high self-efficacy expectancy for future performance. Those who thought they had performed poorly had a low expectation about their future performance (Sanna & Pusecker, 1994).
Vicarious experiences (Social Modeling): seeing other people perform successfully—strengthen self-efficacy, particularly if the people we observe are similar inabilities. In effect, we are saying, “If they can do it, so can I .” In contrast, seeing others fail can lower self-efficacy: “If they can’t do it, neither can I.” Therefore, effective models are vital in influencing our feelings of adequacy and competence. Social modeling also shows us appropriate strategies for dealing with difficult situations.
Verbal persuasion ( Social Persuasion) which means reminding people that they possess the ability to achieve whatever they want to achieve, can enhance self-efficacy. This may be the most common of the four informational sources and one frequently offered by parents, teachers, spouses, coaches, friends, and therapists who say, in effect, “You can do it.” Verbal persuasion must be realistic and effective. It is probably not the best advice to encourage someone 5 feet tall to play professional basketball when other sports, such as martial arts, might be more appropriate.
Physiological and emotional arousal
The fourth source of information about self-efficacy is physiological and emotional arousal. How fearful or calm do we feel in a stressful situation? We often use this type of information as a basis for judging our ability to cope. We are more likely to believe we will master a problem successfully if we are not agitated, tense, or bothered by headaches. Then we feel, the greater our self-efficacy.
Whereas the higher our level of physiological and emotional arousal, the lower our self-efficacy. The more fear, anxiety, or tension we experience in a given situation, the less we feel able to cope.
In his research, Bandura applied these conditions to enhance self-efficacy in a variety of situations. He has helped research participants learn to play musical instruments, relate better to persons of the opposite sex, master computer skills, give up cigarette smoking, and conquer phobias and physical pain.
DIMENSIONS OF SELF-EFFICACY
Self-efficacy expectancies are viewed as varying along three dimensions: magnitude, strength, and generality (Bandura, 1977, 1982b, 1986).
The magnitude of self-efficacy, in a hierarchy of behaviors, refers to the number of “steps” of increasing difficulty or threat a person believes himself capable of performing. For example, a person who is trying to abstain from smoking may believe that he can maintain abstinence under conditions in which he feels relaxed and in which no others present are smoking. He may doubt, however, his ability to abstain under conditions of higher stress and/or when in the presence of other smokers (DiClemente, 1986).
The strength of self-efficacy expectancy refers to the resoluteness of a person’s convictions that he or she can perform a behavior in question. For example, two smokers may believe themselves capable of abstaining from smoking at a party, but one may hold this belief with more conviction or confidence than the other. Strength of self-efficacy expectancy has been related repeatedly to persistence in the face of frustration, pain, and other barriers to performance (Bandura, 1986).
The generality of self-efficacy expectancies refers to the extent to which success or failure experiences influence self-efficacy expectancies in a limited, behaviorally specific manner, or whether changes in self-efficacy expectancy extends to other similar behaviors and contexts (e.g., Smith, 1989).
For example, the smoker whose self-efficacy expectancy for abstinence has been raised by successful abstinence in a difficult or high-risk situation (e.g., in a bar around other smokers) may extend his feelings of self-efficacy to other contexts in which he has not yet experienced success or mastery. In addition, successful abstinence might generalize to other contexts of self-control, such as eating or maintaining an exercise regimen.
Although a thorough analysis of self-efficacy expectancy requires a detailed· assessment of magnitude, strength, and generality (Bandura, 1977), most studies rely on unidimensional measures of self-efficacy expectancy that most resemble the strength dimension (e.g., confidence in one’s ability to perform a behavior under certain conditions).
Developmental stages of self-efficacy
In infancy, modeling is limited to immediate imitation. Infants have not yet developed cognitive capacities such as the imaginal and verbal representational systems. Infants needed to imitate a model’s behavior at some time after observing it. In infancy, it is necessary for the modeled behavior to be repeated several times after the infant’s initial attempt to duplicate it. Also, the modeled behavior must be within the infant’s range of sensorimotor development. By about age 2, children have developed sufficient attentional, retention, and production processes to begin imitating behavior sometime after the observation rather than immediately.
The behaviors we find reinforcing, and thus choose to imitate, will change with age. Younger children are reinforced primarily by physical stimuli such as food, affection, or punishment. Older children associate positive physical reinforcers with signs of approval from significant models and unpleasant reinforcers with signs of disapproval. Eventually, these rewards or punishments become self-administered.
Self-efficacy also develops gradually. Infants begin to develop self-efficacy as they attempt to exercise greater influence over their social and physical environments. They learn about the consequences of their own abilities such as their physical prowess, social skills, and language competence. These abilities are in almost constant use acting on the environment, primarily through their effects on parents. Ideally, parents are responsive to their growing child’s activities and attempts to communicate, and will provide stimulating surroundings that permit the child the freedom to grow and explore.
These early efficacy-building experiences are centered on the parents. Parental behaviors that lead to high self-efficacy in children differ for boys and girls. Studies have shown that high self-efficacy men had, when they were children, warm relationships with their fathers. Mothers were more demanding than fathers, expecting higher levels of performance and achievement. In contrast, high self-efficacy women experienced, as children, pressure from their fathers for high achievement (Schneewind, 1995).
The significance of parental influence diminishes as the child’s world expands and admits additional models such as siblings, peers, family members, and other adults. Bandura, like Adler, considered birth order within the family to be important in self-efficacy development. He argued that first-born children and only children have different bases for judging their own abilities than do later-born children. Also, siblings of the same sex are likely to be more competitive than are siblings of the opposite sex, a factor also related to the development of self-efficacy.
Among playmates, children who are the most experienced and successful at tasks and games serve as high-efficacy models for other children. Peers provide comparative reference points for appraising one’s own level of achievement.
Self-efficacy judgments influence by teachers. Teachers impact on the development of cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills, which are vital to efficient adult functioning.
Children often rate their own competence in terms of their teachers’ evaluations of them. In Bandura’s view, schools that useability groupings undermine self-efficacy and self-confidence in students assigned to the lower groups. Competitive practices such as grading on a curve also doom poor achievers to average or low grades.
The adolescence transitional experiences involve coping with new demands and pressures, from a growing awareness of sex to the choice of college and career. Adolescents must establish new competencies and appraisals of their abilities. Bandura said that the success of adolescence typically depends on the level of self-efficacy established during the childhood years.
Bandura divided this stage into two periods, young adulthood and the middle years. Young adulthood involves adjustments such as marriage, career advancement, and parenthood. High self-efficacy is necessary for successful outcomes of these experiences. People who are low in self-efficacy will not be able to deal adequately with these situations and are likely to fail to adjust.
Studies show that adult women who feel high in self-efficacy about their parenting skills are likely to promote self-efficacy in their children. Women who believe they are good parents are less subject to despondency and emotional strain in their role as parents than are women low in self-efficacy (Olioff & Aboud, 1991; Teti & Gelfand, 1991). Other research showed that high self-efficacy mothers who work outside the home experience significantly less physical and emotional strain from work-family conflicts than do women low in self-efficacy (Bandura, 1995).
The middle years of adulthood are also stressful as people reevaluate their careers and their family and social lives. As we confront our limitations and redefine our goals, we must reassess our skills and find new opportunities for enhancing our self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy reassessments in old age are difficult. Declining mental and physical abilities, retirement from active work, and withdrawal from social life force a new round of self-appraisal. A lowering of self-efficacy can further affect physical and mental functioning in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, reduced self-confidence about sexual performance can lead to a reduction in sexual activity. Lower physical efficacy can lead to fatigue and a curtailing of physical activities.
If we no longer believe we can do something we used to enjoy and do well, then we may not even try. Bandura said that self-efficacy is the crucial factor in determining success or failure throughout the entire life span.
Research in Bandura’s Theory
Bandura favors well-controlled laboratory investigations in the rigorous tradition of experimental psychology. The social learning theory is based on a broad range of human research participants. This approach increases the generalizability and applicability of his research findings.
Age and gender differences:
Self-efficacy differs as a function of age and gender. Research with children and adults shows that on average, men score higher than women in self-efficacy. These gender differences peak during the 20s and decline in later years. For both sexes, self-efficacy increases through childhood and early adulthood, peaks in middle age, and declines after age 60 (Gecas,1989; Lachman, 1985).
We noted Bandura’s suggestion that physical appearance can influence the reinforcers people to receive from others and, thus, how they feel about themselves. A study of 210 adult men and women ages 25–76 showed that physical appearance had a greater effect on their feelings of being in control of their lives than did their level of self-esteem or their health (Andreoletti, Zebrowitz, & Lachman, 2001).
Another major finding in this study was the significant effect of physical attractiveness on control beliefs. Less attractive people reported lower feelings of control in both social situations and job. In addition, shorter people reported lower feelings of control in young adulthood than did taller people or those of average height.
Research demonstrates a significant positive relationship between self-efficacy and academic performance.
Bandura also found differences in the ways schools inculcate self-efficacy in their students. In high-achieving schools, principals were more concerned with education than with implementing policies and regulations, and teachers set high expectations and standards for their students. In low-achieving schools, principals functioned more as administrators and disciplinarians than as educators, and teachers expected little in the way of academic performance from their students (Bandura, 1997).
Cultural differences have been shown to influence self-efficacy in children. A study was conducted with 800 elementary school students in grades two to six in East and West Germany before those nations were reunified. Students in the East German communist-collectivist culture scored lower in self-efficacy than did children in the West German capitalist-individualist culture. The East German children had less confidence in their ability to perform well in school and considered themselves to be less intelligent than West German students (Oettingen & Maier, 1999).
Career choice and job performance :
Gender differences in self-efficacy can influence our choice of career. Research has shown that men perceive themselves to be high in self-efficacy for so-called traditional “male” as well as traditional “female” occupations.In contrast, women perceive themselves as high in self-efficacy for so-called female occupations but low in self-efficacy for traditional male occupations. The men and women research participants in this research performed at comparable levels on standardized tests of verbal and quantitative skills. Thus, they possessed similar measurable abilities but perceived these abilities differently. Their feelings about their own competence for various careers differed as a function of gender (Hackett, 1995).
The higher the level of self-efficacy, the wider the range of career possibilities and the stronger the interest taken in them. Low self-efficacy may restrict careers. a person considers and contributes to indecisiveness about the options believed to be viable (Bores-Rangel, Church, Szendre, & Reeves, 1990).
Self-efficacy can affect the amount of time spent job hunting as well as future job success. Employees high in self-efficacy set higher personal goals and were more committed to them than were employees low in self-efficacy. Those high in self-efficacy focused on analyzing and solving problems on the job, whereas those low in self-efficacy focused on personal deficiencies and the fear of failure, which undermined their productivity (Locke & Latham, 1990).
The significant positive relationship between self-efficacy and job performance was supported by a meta-analysis of 114 research studies involving more than 21,600 research participants. The higher our level of self-efficacy, the better is our performance on the job (Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998).
Self-efficacy also affects several aspects of physical well-being. In this study, the positive relationship between self-efficacy and pain tolerance. Coping techniques that improve self-efficacy produce substantial increases in endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. In a study on chronic pain, 45 patients suffering from low back pain were given a pain-rating scale and a self-efficacy rating scale. Their progress in a 3-week rehabilitation program was monitored. After 6 months it was found that patients higher in self-efficacy reported better physical functioning and less back pain than did patients lower in self-efficacy (Altmaier, Russell, Kao, Lehmann, & Weinstein, 1993).
A study of 114 Native American and Native Alaskan adults showed a clear relationship between self-efficacy and alcohol use. The lower the level of self-efficacy, the greater the alcohol consumption (Taylor, 2000).
Self-efficacy affects recovery from physical illness. For example, one study found that people high in self-efficacy responded better to cognitive and behavioral treatment for pulmonary disease than did patients low in self-efficacy. Men who suffered heart attacks showed a higher rate of return to normal activities and less fear and depression when both they and their spouses believed in their cardiac fitness. The higher the patients’ self-efficacy, the more likely they were to follow prescribed exercise programs, and the more they improved (Kaplan, Atkins, & Reinsch, 1984; McLeod, 1986).
A study of 105 adult patients recovering from orthopedic surgery (hip or knee replacement) showed that those high in self-efficacy performed significantly better in rehabilitation therapy programs than did those low in self-efficacy (Waldrop, Lightsey, Ethington, Woemmel, & Coke, 2001).
In a study of adolescents in the Netherlands, low social efficacy was related to high levels of anxiety, neuroticism, and symptoms of depression (Muris, 2002).
A similar relationship was documented with adult research participants. Low social efficacy was found to contribute to feelings of depression, partly because of a lack of coping skills inhibited the development of a social support network (Holahan & Holahan, 1987).
These findings may indicate a circular relationship rather than a simple cause-and-effect. Low self-efficacy can lead to depression, and depression can reduce self-efficacy. People who are depressed believe that they are far less capable than others of performing effectively in many areas of life and that they have little control over their situations (Bandura, 1997).
A study of 185 college students in the United States related self-efficacy to several of the characteristics of mental health proposed by the neopsychoanalytic theorist Alfred Adler. Students who scored high in self-efficacy also scored higher in social interest, the desire to strive for perfection, and a sense of belonging than did students who scored low in self-efficacy (Dinter, 2000).
Coping with stress
Enhanced self-efficacy and a sense of control over life events are positively related to the ability to cope with stress and to minimize its harmful effects on biological functioning. Bandura wrote, “A strong sense of coping efficacy reduces vulnerability to stress and depression in taxing situations and strengthens resiliency to adversity” (Bandura, 2001, p. 10). High self-efficacy has been associated with strengthening the body’s immune system, lowering the release of stress-related hormones, and reducing susceptibility to respiratory infections.
Studies have shown that high self-efficacy can help women cope with the stress of abortion. A sample of 291 women completed questionnaires to rate perceived self-efficacy and to assess their mood immediately after the procedure and again 3 weeks later. Research participants higher in self-efficacy adjusted more satisfactorily with significantly less depression and higher mood states than did those lower in self-efficacy (Cozzarelli, 1993). Another study dealt with stress experienced following the birth of one’s first child. Self-report inventories assessed self-efficacy, psychological distress, and background variables such as income, age, education, and marital satisfaction. Women higher in self-efficacy coped better with the demands than did those lower in self-efficacy (Ozer, 1995).
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