Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Contexts:
An Outline

Frank Pajares
Emory University

Introduction

  • Very soon after dipping your toe in the waters of academic research, you will be struck by the realization that nearly everything that educational psychologists have to say about academic motivation (actually, about nearly everything) seems like little more than mere common sense. What they write and what they say seems, on reflection, so patently obvious that you will well wonder just what it is that these nice people are up to. How do we make a living off this stuff?

  • In anticipation of such a reaction to the ideas and contentions I am about to put forth, I want to provide you with a brief historical overview that I hope will help explain how it is that we find ourselves concerned with such obvious matters, which, although indeed obvious, are "matters of consequence" indeed.

    • But first, this seems an appropriate juncture at which to remind ourselves of two aphorisms appropriate to this point.

      • The first is Voltaire's dictum that "common sense is not so common."
      • The second, if I may paraphrase, is Wittgenstein's hope that may God grant psychologists the wisdom to see what is before their very eyes. But perhaps you are as frustrated as I am with the issues with which psychologists typically choose to concern themselves, and so I need not expound on this point.

  • To ground this overview, let me first observe that the current direction in motivation research is founded on a critical assumption that I hope you will find sound (it's always important to lay one's biases on the table).

    • The assumption is that the beliefs (call them cognitions, if you like) that individuals create and develop and hold to be true about themselves form the very foundation of human agency and are vital forces in their success or failure in all endeavors (school).

  • This assumption seems so sound and incontrovertible (so obvious; so commonsensical) that it would lead one to surmise that research on academic motivation and achievement (research on why students do the things they do in school and why they achieve or fail to achieve) should naturally focus, at least in great part, on student's self-beliefs.

    • This assumption seems so sound, in fact, that one would think it has always been instrumental in framing the discussion around issues related to academic motivation or achievement.

      • In other words, one would think that, if psychologists are interested in understanding, say,

        • the reasons why students select some activities, avoid others,
        • why students succeed in some academic pursuits, fail at others,
        • why students are filled with excitement or apprehension and panic at the thought of doing this or that task, or
        • what it is that students believe about themselves as these beliefs relate to one of the primary functions of their lives - going to school,

      • then they would quite obviously explore the things and ways that students believe about such activities, tasks, academic pursuits, about themselves.

      • Consequently, psycholgists would make research on the self a focus of educational research.

    • However, either that has not been the case (recall Wittgenstein) . . . or . . . when it has, the results have been, to say the least, problematic (recall Voltaire).

Historical Overview (see this chapter)

  • At the turn of the present century, when American psychology began to take its place among the other academic disciplines, there was a great deal of interest both in the self and in the role that beliefs play in human conduct.

  • When William James wrote the Principles of Psychology , his chapter on "The Consciousness of Self" was the longest in the two volumes.

    • In addition, James was one of the first writers to use the term self-esteem, which he described as a self-feeling that "in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do."

  • From the 1920s through the 1940s, however, the self received scant attention from the behavior-oriented psychologists who dominated American psychology.

  • As you know, the radical behaviorism of Watson, Pavlov, and Skinner that so dominated much of psychology for decades redirected attention to observable stimuli and response, and the inner life of the individual was labeled as beyond the scope of "scientific" psychology.

    • Self-constructs were pushed into limbo, along with such internal constructs as mind, consciousness, awareness, will, and of course, agency.

  • Keep in mind that psychological theory has always had a strong influence on education. Through the years, teachers have followed the prescriptions of psychologists, from William James with his emphasis on habit, to Freud with his focus on unconscious motivations, to Watson and Skinner with their stress on observable and measurable behavior.

    • And so it was unavoidable that, when psychology abandoned the self, so did education.

  • Although the decline of interest in the self was encouraged by behavioristic psychologists, all the fault for its neglect cannot be laid at their door.

    • Very little of the literature on the self during those decades was based on what psychologists commonly refer to as "disciplined inquiry."
    • Rather, it continued to be philosophic or conceptual in nature, with few studies attempting or reporting empirical findings.
    • The few who advocated the importance of the self weakened their position with a profound neglect of rigorous experimentation and scientific inquiry.

  • Very nearly coinciding with the zenith of behavioristic influence came what is now often referred to as the "humanistic revolt" in psychology.

    • Dissatisfied with the direction that psychology was taking and apprehensive about what they considered the narrow and passive view of human functioning that behaviorism represented, a group of psychologists called for renewed attention to inner experience, to internal processes, and to self-constructs.
    • In concert with existential and phenomenological movements of the day, the writings of these new theorists caught the attention of scholars and researchers and, during the 1950s, the humanistic movement was born.

  • Perhaps the most powerful voice in the "humanistic movement" was that of Abraham Maslow, now generally recognized as the father of modern humanistic, or "third force," psychology.

    • Maslow outlined a motivational process based on the human desire to fulfill certain needs and culminating in the need to become self-actualized, that is, to achieve one's potentialities, capacities, and talents.

  • During the 1960s and 1970s there was an enthusiastic renaissance of interest in internal and intrinsic motivating forces and affective processes, particularly with reference to the dynamic importance of the self. The result was a resurgence of interest in self-constructs and self-beliefs, most notably an effort by many educators and psychologists to promote an emphasis on the importance of a healthy self-concept and positive self-esteem.

  • But the gap from theory to practice often proved difficult to breach, and many laudable but misguided efforts to nurture the self-esteem of children fell prey, then and even now, to excesses and, ultimately, ridicule.

    • In Montgomery, Maryland, citizens were warned by police to be on the lookout for a man suspected of a series of rapes. He was described as in his 30s with a medium build and "low self-esteem."
    • California appointed a state commission to promote self-esteem.
    • Minnesota is home to the "Very Important Kid" program designed to boost self-esteem.
    • The National Council for Self-Esteem regularly hosts national and regional conferences aimed at extirpating negative self-images from society.
    • You many know about the company called High Self-Esteem Toys Corporation, which brought out a fashion doll named Happy To Be Me. Her scale measurements were decidedly on the chunky side and were intended to represent a more realistic ambition for a human being that Barbie, with its 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips.
    • When Peewee Herman was arrested in 1992, Jesuit scholar William O'Malley partially exonerated him with the observation that "masturbation isn't the problem, it's lack of self-esteem."
    • Pamela Smart, the New Hampshire school teacher convicted of having her husband murdered, met her teenage lover at a "Project Self-Esteem" workshop in their town's high school.
    • I'm sure you are all familiar with Doonesbury's Ministry of Self-Esteem series of cartoons.

  • The influence in schools of the surge of interest in the self-concept of students was pronounced but, to say the least, uneven.

    • In great part, this was due to the fact that research on the relationship between self-esteem and adaptive functioning either was inconclusive or provided unsettling results.

      • The relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement runs the gamut from positive to negative.
        • Hansford and Hattie (1982) reviewed 128 studies consisting of 1,136 correlations and 202,823 students, and reported that correlations of self-concept to academic achievement ran the gamut from -.77 to .96.
        • Renown Psychologist William Damon, of Brown University, concluded that research clearly shows no causal relationship between self-esteem and positive developments in a child's personal or academic life.
      • self-esteem has been positively and negatively correlated with aggression.
      • studies have shown high self-esteem correlates positively with increased sexual activity by teens.

  • Naturally, the result was a reduced interest in self-constructs, which was also brought about by three key factors:

    1. The first was the gimmicks that were introduced into the educational milieu by under-prepared professionals
      • self-enhancement model of academic achievement - the belief that self-worth beliefs precede school success,
        • Toddlers encouraged to reach their full potential.
        • A well-known educator once observed that "Once children have their self-esteem, they don't need anything else. They are. And all they have to do is develop that which they are."
        • Packaged self-esteem programs in schools - is it any surprise that, too often in schools, self-esteem comes in a kit?

    2. The second factor was the "back to basics" national mood in which concern for the emotional needs of students was viewed as inimical to academic excellence.

    3. The third factor was the assessment of humanistic education by some segments of society as a form of secular humanism and, therefore, an effort to undermine religion.

  • Quite understandably, during the 1980s, psychologists shifted their interest in academic motivation and achievement to cognitive processes and information-processing views of human functioning.

    • This cognitive revolution (see this chapter), as it has come to be called, has been influenced by technological advances and by the advent of the computer, which has become the movement's signature metaphor.

    • Much like their humanistic predecessors, the new wave of theorists and researchers also emphasized internal, mental events, but this emphasis was primarily on cognitive tasks such as encoding and decoding human thinking, information processing strategies, memory processes, schema building,and problem-solving rather than on exploring issues related to the self.

  • Schools followed suit. Alarmed by what they perceived to be plummeting academic standards and fueled by comparative studies that erroneously made it appear as if American children graduated from high school barely able to read and write their names, parents and educators demanded a back to basics approach to curriculum and practice.
    • It should be noted that research on self-constructs did not merely wane; it was viewed as antithetical to sound educational understandings ("psychology-lite")

  • This is not to say that interest in self-esteem disappeared completely. In fact, interest in, and research on, self-concept has remained prominent, albeit with a very different face than it previously had.

    • In keeping with the cold cognition tradition of the cognitive revolution, research on self-beliefs (particularly self-concept) has maintained a measure of prominence and respectability by adopting a strong quantitative flavor.

  • For its part, the notion of building healthy self-perceptions in individuals continues mired in "the self-esteem controversy" that continues to be the subject of an intense dialogue.

Current Voices

  • Prominent voices, some of them very established voices, in the field of educational psychology are signaling a shift in focus as regards the constructs of self and self-beliefs.

    • This interest has been so pervasive that Sandra Graham and Bernard Weiner, reviewing the current state of knowledge related to theories and principles of motivation for the recent Handbook of Educational Psychology, observed that current research on topics such as self-efficacy, learned helplessness, self-worth, and attributions

"reflect what is probably the main new direction in the field of motivation - the study of the self. If we add to this list the constructs of self-concept, self-focus, self-handicapping, self-monitoring, and the remainder of the "self" vocabulary then it is evident that the self is on the verge of dominating the field of motivation."

  • So I come full circle then.
    • I have explained why such a common-sense notion as the beliefs that students create and develop and hold to be true about themselves are vital forces in their success or failure in school has either

      • been largely abandoned in favor of other conceptions of academic motivation and achievement or
      • researched inappropriately and with problematic results.

    • As a consequence, a more useful perspective has only relatively recently become the focus for educational psychology research and practice on academic motivation and achievement.

  • I turn now to one of the self-constructs that is, as Graham and Weiner described, on the verge of dominating the field of academic motivation and which represents a marked departure from previous conceptions of self-referent thought.

Self-Efficacy and Academic Motivation and Achievement

  • The most prominent among recent voices calling for a new perspective in self-beliefs has been that of Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford University.

    • Like Maslow, Bandura was educated at a time when behaviorist views of human functioning dominated American psychology.
    • Lucky for us, right from the start he found these mindless views highly problematic.
    • For Bandura, a psychology without "mind" could not aspire to explain the complexities of human functioning, for it is by looking into their own conscious minds that people make sense of their own psychological processes. To predict how human behavior is influenced by environmental outcomes, it is critical to understand how one cognitively processes and interprets those outcomes.
    • More than a century ago, William James (1890/1981) argued that "introspective observation is what we have to rely on first and foremost and always" (p. 185). For Bandura (1986), "a theory that denies that thoughts can regulate actions does not lend itself readily to the explanation of complex human behavior" (p. 15).

  • By the mid-1970s, Bandura was becoming aware that a key element was missing not only from the prevalent learning theories of the day but from his own social learning theory.

  • In 1977, with the publication of "Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change," he identified an important piece of that missing element - that individuals create and develop self-perceptions of capability that become instrumental to the goals they pursue and to the control they are able to exercise over their environments.

  • In Social Foundations of Thought and Action, published in 1986, Bandura proposed a social cognitive theory that emphasizes the role of self-referent phenomena and espouses an agentic view of personality.

    • In this agentic sociocognitive perspective, individuals are self-organizing, proactive, and self-regulating. They are not just reactive organisms shaped and shepherded either by internal or by external events.

    • also in this view, individuals are understood to possess beliefs that enable them to exercise a measure of control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

      • These beliefs comprise a self-system, and human behavior is the result of the interplay between this system and external sources of influence.

    • In all, Bandura painted a portrait of human behavior and motivation in which the beliefs that people have about their capabilities are critical elements.

  • According to Bandura, how people behave can often be better predicted by the beliefs they hold about their own capabilities than by what they are actually capable of accomplishing, for these self-perceptions, which he called . . .

    . . . help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have. In fact, . . .

    • This idea is, of course, similar to the proposition with which I began this outline, that individuals' self-beliefs are critical forces in their academic achievement.

  • Let me now

    • carefully define for you what we mean by self-efficacy beliefs,
    • distinguish them from self-concept beliefs (with which they are typically confused), and
    • review empirical studies and scholarly thought whose import seems to be

      • that students' difficulties in basic academic skills are often directly related to their beliefs that they cannot read, write, handle numbers, or think well - that they cannot learn - even when such things are not objectively true;
      • that many students have difficulty in school not because they are incapable of performing successfully but because they are incapable of believing that they can perform successfully - they have learned to see themselves as incapable of handling academic work or to see the work as irrelevant to their perceptual world; and
      • that many, if not most, academic crises are crises of confidence.

What are self-efficacy beliefs?

  • According to Bandura's social cognitive theory, individuals possess a self-system that enables them to exercise a measure of control over their thoughts, feelings, motivation, and actions.

    • This self-system encompasses one's cognitive and affective structures and provides reference mechanisms and a set of subfunctions for perceiving, regulating, and evaluating behavior, which results from the interplay between the system and environmental sources of influence.

    • As such, it serves a self-regulatory function by providing individuals with the capability to influence their own cognitive processes and actions and thus alter their environments.

  • Individuals engage in self-referent thought that mediates between knowledge and action.

  • What people know, the skills they possess, or the attainments they have previously accomplished are often poor predictors of subsequent attainments because the beliefs that they hold about their abilities and about the outcome of their efforts powerfully influence the ways in which they will behave.

  • Consequently, how people behave can often be better predicted by their beliefs about their capabilities than by what they are actually capable of accomplishing.

    • This does not mean that people can accomplish tasks beyond their capabilities simply by believing that they can, for competent functioning requires harmony between self-beliefs on the one hand and possessed skills and knowledge on the other.

    • Rather, it means that self-perceptions of capability help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have. More important, self-efficacy beliefs are critical determinants of how well knowledge and skill are acquired in the first place.

  • The process of creating and using self-beliefs is simple enough and rather intuitive:

    • individuals engage in behaviors, interpret the outcomes of their actions, use the interpretations to develop beliefs about their capability to engage in subsequent behaviors in similar domains, and act in concert with the beliefs created.

      • In school, for example, the beliefs that students develop about their academic capabilities help determine what they do with the knowledge and skills they possess. Consequently, their academic performances are in large part the result of what students actually come to believe that they have accomplished, are accomplishing, and can accomplish in the future.

  • Researchers have suggested that these self-beliefs may play a mediational role in relation to cognitive engagement and that enhancing them might lead to increased use of cognitive strategies that, in turn, lead to improve performance.

    • This helps explain why students' academic performances may differ markedly when they have similar ability.
    • This view of self-belief as a mediating construct in human behavior is consistent with the views of numerous scholars and theorists who have argued that the potent evaluative nature of beliefs makes them a filter through which new phenomena are interpreted and subsequent behavior mediated.

  • How individuals interpret the results of their performance attainments informs and alters their environments and their self-beliefs which, in turn, inform and alter their subsequent performances.

    • This is the foundation of Bandura's conception of reciprocal determinism, the view that

      • personal factors in the form of cognition, affect, and biological events,
      • behavior, and
      • environmental influences create interactions that result in a triadic reciprocality.
Model of reciprocal determinism

I have created three Powerpoint slide shows on Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory. You can download or view them by clicking on the blue words below.

  • In general, Bandura's social cognitive theory provides a view of human behavior and motivation in which the beliefs that people have about themselves are key elements in the exercise of control and personal agency and in which individuals are viewed both as products and as producers of their own environments and of their social systems.

Effects of Self-Efficacy Beliefs (see this page)

  • As did Dewey, Bandura considered self-reflection the most uniquely human capability, for, through this form of self-referent thought, people evaluate and alter their own thinking and behavior.

    • These self-evaluations include perceptions of self-efficacy - beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations."

  • Self-efficacy beliefs affect behavior in several important ways. Click here!

    • They influence the choices individuals make and the courses of action they pursue.
      • People engage in tasks in which they feel competent and confident and avoid those in which they do not.
      • If James was correct that experience is essentially what individuals choose to attend to, then self-beliefs that influence those choices are instrumental in defining one's experience and providing avenues through which individuals exercise control their lives.

    • Efficacy beliefs also help determine how much effort people will expend on an activity, how long they will persevere when confronting obstacles, and how resilient they will be in the face of adverse situations.

      • The higher the sense of efficacy, the greater the effort, persistence, and resilience.

    • Efficacy beliefs also influence the amount of stress and anxiety individuals experience as they engage in a task, and, ultimately, the level of accomplishment they realize.

  • A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in countless ways.

    • People with a strong sense of personal competence approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.
    • They have greater intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in activities, set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them, and heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure.
    • Moreover, they more quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks, and attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable.
    • Conversely, people with low self-efficacy may believe that things are tougher than they really are, a belief that fosters stress, depression, and a narrow vision of how best to solve a problem.
    • High self-efficacy, on the other hand, helps create feelings of serenity in approaching difficult tasks and activities.

  • As a result of these influences, self-efficacy beliefs are strong determinants and predictors of the level of accomplishment that individuals finally attain. For these reasons, Bandura has argued that "beliefs of personal efficacy constitute the key factor of human agency."

Sources of Self-Efficacy Beliefs (see this page)

The case for the contextual and mediational role of self-efficacy beliefs in human behavior can be made by exploring the four sources from which these beliefs are developed: mastery experience, vicarious experience, social persuasions, and physiological states and indexes. Click here

  • Mastery Experience, the interpreted result of purposive performance, is the most influential source of self-efficacy beliefs.

    • Simply put, individuals gauge the effects of their actions, and their interpretations of these effects help create their efficacy beliefs.
    • Success raises self-efficacy; failure lowers it.

      • Students who perform well on math tests and earn high grades in math classes are likely to develop a strong sense of confidence in their math capabilities.

        • This strong sense of efficacy helps ensure that such students will enroll in subsequent math-related classes, approach math tasks with serenity, and increase their efforts when a difficulty arises.

      • On the other hand, low test results and poor grades generally weaken students' confidence in their capabilities.

        • As a result, students with low mathematics self-efficacy will more likely avoid future mathematics classes and tasks, and they may approach the area of mathematics with apprehension.

    • Bandura's emphasis that one's mastery experiences are the most influential source of self-efficacy information has important implications for the self-enhancement model of academic achievement, which contends that, to increase student achievement in school, educational efforts should focus on raising students' feelings of self-worth or of competence.

      • Traditional efforts to accomplish this have included programs that emphasize building self-beliefs through verbal persuasion methods.
      • Social cognitive theorists shift that emphasis toward efforts to raise competence and confidence primarily through genuine success experiences with the performance at hand, through authentic mastery experiences.
      • Decades earlier, Erik Erikson put it this way:

        "Children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement. They may have to accept artificial bolstering of their self-esteem in lieu of something better, but what I call their accruing ego identity gains real strength only from wholehearted and consistent recognition of real accomplishment, that is, achievement that has meaning in their culture."

      • Social cognitive theorists argue that interventions should be designed with this important caution in mind.

  • Vicarious Experience. The second source of efficacy information is the vicarious experience of the effects produced by the actions of others.

    • This source of information is weaker than the interpreted results of mastery experiences, but, when people are uncertain about their own abilities or have limited prior experience, they become more sensitive to it.
    • As Dale Schunk, a prominent self-efficacy theorist and researcher, has demonstrated, the effects of models are particularly relevant in this context.

      • A significant model in one's life can help instill self-beliefs that will influence the course and direction that life will take.

        • Students are likely to develop the belief that "I can do that" when a highly regarded teacher models excellence in an academic endeavor or activity.

    • Part of one's vicarious experience also involves the social comparisons made with others.

      • Here is where peer groups and peer pressure can come into play.
      • What peers value, what is honored, and how they behave are of major importance to preteens and teenagers who wish to fit in with the peer reference group.
      • Social comparisons and peer modeling are powerful influences on developing self-perceptions of competence.

    • Interaction effects can complicate evaluation of the relative power of different modes of influence.

      • A model's failure has a more negative effect on the self-efficacy of observers when observers judge themselves as having comparable ability to the model.
      • If, on the other hand, observers judge their capability as superior to the model's capability, failure of the model does not have a negative effect.

  • Social Persuasions. Individuals also create and develop self-efficacy beliefs as a result of the social messages they receive from others.

    • These persuasions can involve exposure to the verbal judgments of others and is a weaker source of efficacy information than mastery or vicarious experience, but persuaders can play an important part in the development of an individual's self-beliefs.
    • Most adults can recall something that was said to them (or done to/for them) during their childhood that had a profound effect on their confidence throughout the rest of their life.
    • Bandura cautioned that effective persuasions should not be confused with knee-jerk praise or empty inspirational homilies.

      • This is consistent with Erikson's caution that

        "a weak ego is not strengthened by being persistently flattered and that "children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement." In fact, "a strong ego, secured in its identity by a strong society, does not need, and in fact is immune to any attempt at artificial inflation."

    • Successful persuaders cultivate people's beliefs in their capabilities while at the same time ensuring that the envisioned success is attainable.
    • Just as positive persuasions may work to encourage and empower, negative persuasions may work to defeat and weaken self-beliefs.
    • Being counseled at an early age that one is not "college material" can have destructive effects if the child is not endowed with a resilience to withstand and counteract such judgments.
    • It is usually easier to weaken self-efficacy beliefs through negative appraisals than to strengthen such beliefs through positive encouragement.

  • Physiological States such as anxiety, stress, arousal, fatigue, and mood states also provide information about efficacy beliefs.

    • Because individuals have the capability to alter their own thinking, self-efficacy beliefs, in turn, also powerfully influence the physiological states themselves.
    • Bandura has observed that people live with psychic environments that are primarily of their own making.
    • It is often said that people can "read" themselves, and so this reading comes to be a realization of the thoughts and emotional states that individuals have themselves created.
    • Often, they can gauge their confidence by the emotional state they experience as they contemplate an action.
    • In part, negative physiological states provide cues that something is amiss, even when one is unaware that such is the case.
    • Students who approach public speaking with dread likely lack confidence in their public speaking skills.
    • Moreover, when people experience aversive thoughts and fears about their capabilities, those negative affective reactions can themselves trigger the stress and agitation that help ensure the inadequate performance they fear.
    • This is not to say that the typical anxiety experienced before an important endeavor is a guide to low self-efficacy.

      • The butterflies in the stomach phenomenon is generally a quite normal apprehension most people experience before important events, especially if they are public events and will require performing before others.
      • Strong emotional reactions to a task, however, provide cues about the anticipated success or failure of the outcome.

        • Overly strong arousal can weaken performance.

    • Also, one should not confuse the state anxiety that may accompany specific performances and activities with the trait, or chronic, anxiety that may have its roots in broader and more complex causes.

Assessing Self-Efficacy

  • Efficacy beliefs vary in level, strength, and generality, and these dimensions prove important in determining appropriate measurement. In academic settings, self-efficacy instruments may ask students to rate their confidence to solve specific mathematics problems, perform particular reading or writing tasks, or engage in certain self-regulatory strategies. Social indexes are also possible by asking students to express their confidence to succeed in various social situations.

    • Imagine that a researcher is interested in assessing the essay-writing self-efficacy of middle-school students.

      1. First, there are different levels of task demands within any given domain that researchers may tap.

        • In our example, these can range from the lower level of writing a simple sentence with proper punctuation and grammatical structure to the higher level of writing a compound and complex sentences with proper punctuation and grammatical structure or organizing sentences into a paragraph so as to clearly express a theme or idea.

        • After the researchers have adequately identified the relevant levels of writing an essay at the middle school level, the efficacy assessment should provide multiple items at the varying levels that collectively assesses the domain of essay-writing. In addition, the items should be prototypic of essay-writing at the middle-school level rather than minutely specific features of writing (e.g., confidence to form letters).

      2. Students are then asked to rate the strength of their belief in their capability to perform the various levels identified.

        • For example, a typical writing self-efficacy item may ask, "How confident are you that you can spell all of the words in a 1-page essay?" To assess strength of self-efficacy belief, the instrument may provide the student with a rating scale that ranges from 1 (weak self-efficacy) to 10 (strong self-efficacy).

      3. Understanding that beliefs differ in generality is crucial to understanding efficacy assessment. Students may not judge themselves efficacious across all types of writing. Self-efficacy beliefs will differ in predictive power depending on the task they are asked to predict. In general, efficacy beliefs will best predict the performances that most closely correspond with such beliefs.

        • If self-efficacy beliefs are to be compared with students' actual writing, the researcher must select a writing task on which the levels were based and on which the confidence judgments were provided. In our example above, that would be an essay (rather than a poem or a creative short-story or the yearly grade in language arts). Attention to correspondence between belief and outcome is an important criterion of self-efficacy research.

    • It is important that tems be worded in terms of can, a judgment of capability, rather than of will, a statement of intention

  • Bandura has argued that reasonably precise judgments of capability matched to a specific outcome afford the greatest prediction and offer the best explanations of behavioral outcomes because these are typically the sorts of judgments that individuals use when confronted with behavioral tasks (see "Assessing self-efficacy beliefs and academic outcomes: The case for specificity and correspondence," a paper presented at the 1996 meeting of the American Educational Research Association.)

    • To this end, if the purpose of a study is to achieve explanatory and predictive power, self-efficacy judgments should be consistent with and tailored to the domain of functioning and/or task under investigation.
    • This is especially critical in studies that attempt to establish causal relations between beliefs and outcomes.
    • All this is to say that capabilities assessed and capabilities tested should be similar capabilities.
    • Because of the specificity and correspondence required between self-efficacy beliefs and related outcomes, all-purpose or general "self-efficacy instruments" of the type prevalent in self-concept research are neither developed nor encouraged by self-efficacy theorists.

  • Professor Bandura has written a brief monograph entitled "Guide to Constructing Self-Efficacy Scales." It is available free.

Difference between Self-Efficacy and Self-Concept Beliefs
(click here for a book chapter on this topic)

  • There is much confusion centering around self-efficacy and self-concept (or self-esteem) beliefs.

  • As is the case with self-efficacy and other expectancy constructs, the conceptual difference between self-efficacy and self-concept is not always clear to researchers or in investigations.

    • Some researchers use the terms synonymously;
    • others describe self-concept as a generalized form of self-efficacy;
    • still others define academic self-concept as self-perceptions of ability and suggest that one reason why these self-percepts affect performance is because of their effect on students' effort, persistence, and anxiety

  • Because there is so much confusion around this issue, let me take some time with it and emphasize some key points that Bandura and others have made to help clear the waters.

    • First, let me emphasize that the two constructs represent entirely different self-beliefs that refer to quite different things. Click here .

      • Self-efficacy is concerned with beliefs of personal capability, they are judgments of one's apabilities to perform given actions.
      • Self-concept is measured at a more general level of specificity and includes the evaluation of such competence and the feelings of self-worth associated with the behaviors in question.

    • As Bandura has written,

      • "Self-esteem pertains to the evaluation of self-worth, which depends on how the culture values the attributes one possesses and how well one's behavior matches personal standards of worthiness. Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with the judgment of personal capabilities."

    • There is no fixed relationship between one's beliefs about what one can or cannot do and whether one likes or dislikes oneself. For example,

      • I readily admit to dismal self-efficacy when it comes to ice skating, but trust me that I suffer no loss of self-esteem on that account, in part because I do not invest my self-worth in this activity.
      • I would be willing to wager that there are many things that you do poorly but which have no influence whatever on how you feel about yourself.
      • Conversely, it is likely that skilled bomber pilots during war time possess strong efficacy beliefs about their professional capabilities but may take no pride in performing them well.
      • Similarly, a student may feel highly efficacious in his academic pursuits but without the corresponding positive feelings of self-worth, in part because he may take no pride in accomplishments in this area.

    • Another important difference is that self-efficacy judgments are especially sensitive to contextual factors, even to the degree of being quite task- and situation-specific.

      • Our driving self-efficacy may change depending on whether we are driving through a country lane or maneuvering through heavy city traffic.

    • Compared to self-efficacy judgments, self-concept judgments are more general and less sensitive to context -- they can be domain-specific but not task-specific.

    • Sel-efficacy and self-concept beliefs are assessed quite differently. Click here .

      • A typical self-concept item, "Mathematics makes me feel inadequate," differs markedly from a self-efficacy question that may begin with "How confident are you that you can successfully... "

  • Marsh, Walker, and Debus (1991) saw the distinction between the two constructs as a difference in the source of an individual's judgment.

    • Self-concept judgments, they argued, are based on social- and self-comparisons, which they described as "frame of reference effects."
    • Individuals use external and internal comparisons to determine their self-worth.
    • By comparing one's own performance with those of others ("I am a better math student than most of my friends") and also one's own performance in related areas ("I am better at math than at English"), an individual develops a judgment of self-worth - a self-concept.
    • Self-efficacy judgments, on the other hand, focus on the specific ability to accomplish the criterial task; hence, frame of reference effects do not play a prominent role.

  • This is an arguable basis for a distinction, given that judgments of personal competence are also influenced by such comparisons and that social comparative information is critical to the development of self-efficacy beliefs.

    • Models provide just the sort of external efficacy information that helps create a frame of reference.

  • Because self-perceptions of competence are considered integral components of an individual's self-concept, self-efficacy beliefs are often viewed simply as requisite judgments necessary to the creation of self-concept beliefs.

    • Rosenberg and Kapland (1982) wrote that self-concept percepts include judgments of confidence, along with judgments of self-esteem, stability, and self-crystallization.

  • Self-concept theorists view as particularly troubling the loss in practical utility that results from the microanalytic assessment of a particularized judgment matched directly to a criterial task.

    • Most academic outcomes are seldom as particularized as one's capability to solve specific problems or successfully accomplish specific tasks, the levels of specificity at which self-efficacy judgments are most predictive of academic performances.

  • Findings have consistently shown that academic domain-specific self-concept is related to academic achievement and to other motivation constructs across domains.

    • Few researchers have explored the relationships among self-efficacy, domain-specific self-concept, and academic performances, and results are inconsistent.

      • Marsh and his colleagues (1991) compared the direct effect of achievement on the math self-concept and self-efficacy of fifth graders and reported a stronger direct effect on self-concept than on self-efficacy.
      • Chapman and Tunmer (1995) found that the reading performance of beginning readers during their first year of schooling had a stronger effect on their subsequent self-efficacy than on their reading self-concept.

      • Such hypothesized relationships beg the question of which self belief has the stronger influence on achievement.

        • Relich (1983) assessed math self-concept, math achievement, performance on a mathematics task, and self-efficacy for the task.

          • Achievement correlated equally strongly with domain-specific self-efficacy and self-concept.
          • Specific performance on the math task was more strongly correlated with specifically assessed self-efficacy than with domain-specific self-concept.

      • Pajares and Miller (1994) used path analysis and found that item-specific math self-efficacy beliefs were more predictive of a mathematics problem-solving than were domain-specific self-concept beliefs.
      • Mone, Baker, and Jeffries (1995) also reported that self-efficacy had greater predictive validity for academic performance than did self-esteem.

  • The empirical focus of this argument centers on the questions of which self-belief provides the greater explanation and prediction of behavior.

  • The conceptual focus centers on which beliefs individuals attend to as they go about the business of day to day living.

  • As is the case with other expectancy constructs, it is likely that different situations call forth different self-beliefs.
    • When individuals are familiar with task demands, they may call on the task-specific self-efficacy beliefs that closely correspond to the required performance.
    • When task demands are unfamiliar, people must generalize from prior attainments that are perceived as similar to the required task and gauge their perceived competence with self-beliefs they judge more closely correspond to the novel requirements.

  • At the domain-specific or self-efficacy for learning levels of generality, self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs may be empirically similar.

    • Skaalvik and Rankin (1996) subjected self-concept items and domain-specific self-efficacy items to confirmatory factor analysis and discovered that they loaded on the same factor, leading them to conjecture that the two may be different measures of the same construct.

      • When they subjected problem-specific self-efficacy items and domain-specific self-concept items to factor analysis, two distinct factors emerged, but a second order common factor that explained 81% of the variance underlay the measures.
      • These findings led them to suggest that "the traditional distinction between self-concept and self-efficacy may have been overstated in the literature."

  • Some closing thoughts on this issue.

    • First, I think we would all agree that people need much more than high self-esteem to do well in given pursuits.

      • As William James observed more than a century ago, self-esteem is determined by the ratio of our success to our pretensions - "our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do."

                              Success
    Self-esteem =    -------------
                            Pretensions

      • In other words, if our pretentions (our own internal standards, how much we demand of ourselves, what we want) are low, a small measure of success can result in high self-esteem.
      • Conversely, many can suffer from low self-esteem in great part because they set their standards so high that they can seldom achieve them.

    • Consequently, feeling good about oneself does not necessarily result in accomplishments.
    • Rather, success in an endeavor is the result of "toilsome self-disciplined effort."

  • As Bandura has observed, because beliefs of self-worth have many sources, there is no single remedy for low-self-esteem.

    • Low self-esteem rooted in poor competence requires the cultivation of skills that will bring self-satisfaction.
    • Low self-esteem rooted in unrealistically high standards requires that the person is helped to adopt more realistic standards of achievement.
    • Low self-esteem rooted in social inequities requires humane treatment by others that affirms one's self-worth.
    • Low self-esteem rooted in multiple causes require multiple corrective measures.

  • Social cognitive theorists propose that self-concept and self-efficacy act as common mechanisms of personal agency in the sense that both types of self-beliefs help mediate the influence of other determinants on subsequent behavior and that both contribute in their own way to the quality of human life. (see book chapter)

  • In general, the sensitivity to context and specificity afforded by self-efficacy assessments have resulted in findings that point toward the superiority of self-efficacy beliefs over more domain-specific perceptions of competence or self-concept beliefs as predictors of related academic outcomes. As Graham and Weiner (1995) observed,

"what cannot be disputed is Bandura's argument that self-efficacy has been a much more consistent predictor of behavior and behavior change than ha[ve] . . . any of the other closely related expectancy variables. Efficacy beliefs have been related to the acquisition of new skills and to the performance of previously learned skills at a level of specificity not found in any of the other motivation conceptions that include an expectancy construct."

Self-Efficacy, Motivation, and Academic Achievement - The Research

  • The tenets regarding self-efficacy in social cognitive theory have been tested in varied disciplines and settings and have received support from a growing body of findings from diverse fields. Bandura synthesized these findings in his 1997 book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (click here for a chapter outline).

  • Self-efficacy has been the focus of studies on clinical problems such as phobias, depression, social skills, and assertiveness; on smoking behavior; on pain control; on health; and on athletic performance.

  • During the past decade, self-efficacy beliefs have also received increasing attention in educational research, primarily in studies of academic motivation and of self-regulation. In this arena, self-efficacy researchers have focused on three areas.

  • Researchers in the first area have explored the link between efficacy beliefs and college major and career choices, particularly in science and mathematics.

    • Results of various studies have demonstrated the mediational role of self-efficacy beliefs in the selection of career choice.

    • Findings indicate that self-efficacy beliefs influence the choice of majors and career decisions of college students.

      • Undergraduates choose college majors and careers in areas in which they feel most competent and avoid those in which they believe themselves less competent or less able to compete.

      • The mathematics self-efficacy of college undergraduates is more predictive of their mathematics interest and choice of math-related courses and majors than either their prior math achievement or math outcome expectations.

    • In many cases, young women avoid math-related courses and careers because they underestimate their capability rather than because they lack competence or skill.

  • Findings from the second area suggest that the efficacy beliefs of teachers are related to their instructional practices and to various student outcomes.

    • Teachers' beliefs of personal efficacy affect their instructional activities and their orientation toward the educational process.

      • Preservice teachers' sense of teacher efficacy is related to their beliefs about controlling students.

    • Teachers with a low sense of efficacy tend to hold a custodial orientation that takes a pessimistic view of students' motivation, emphasizes rigid control of classroom behavior, and relies on extrinsic inducements and negative sanctions to get students to study.

    • Teachers with high efficacy beliefs create mastery experiences for their students whereas teachers with low instructional self-efficacy undermine students's cognitive development as well as students' judgments of their own capabilities.

    • Teacher self-efficacy also predicts student achievement and students' achievement beliefs across various areas and levels.

  • In the third area, researchers have reported that students' academic self-efficacy beliefs are correlated with other motivation constructs and with students' academic performances and achievement.

    • Constructs in these studies have included attributions, goal setting, modeling, problem solving, test and domain-specific anxiety, reward contingencies, self-regulation, social comparisons, strategy training, other self-beliefs and expectancy constructs, and varied academic performances across domains.

    • Research findings have strongly supported Bandura's contention that efficacy beliefs mediate the effect of skills or other self-beliefs on subsequent performance attainments.

    • Researchers have also demonstrated that self-efficacy beliefs influence these attainments by influencing effort, persistence, and perseverance.

      • Collins (1982) identified children of low, middle, and high mathematics ability who had, within each ability level, either high or low mathematics self-efficacy.

        • After instruction, the little tykes were given new problems to solve and an opportunity to rework those they missed.

        • Ability was related to performance but, regardless of ability level, children with high self-efficacy completed more problems correctly and reworked more of the ones they missed.

      • Other researchers have reported that self-efficacy also enhances students' memory performance by enhancing persistence.

      • In studies of college students who pursue science and engineering courses, high self-efficacy has been demonstrated to influence the academic persistence necessary to maintain high academic achievement.

      • Schunk has shown that modeling treatments increase persistence and accuracy on division problems by raising children's self-efficacy beliefs, which had a direct effect on skill.

    • Self-efficacy is related to self-regulated learning variables. Findings in this area suggest that

      • students who believe they are capable of performing academic tasks use more cognitive and metacognitive strategies and persist longer than those who do not.

      • students with stronger academic self-efficacy make better use of cognitive strategies and self-regulatory practices through use of metacognitive strategies.

        • Pintrich and De Groot (1990) reported a relationship between academic self-efficacy and both cognitive strategy use and self-regulation through use of metacognitive strategies.

          • Academic self-efficacy also correlated with semester and final year grades, in-class seatwork and homework, exams and quizzes, and essays and reports.
          • The researchers concluded that self-efficacy played a "facilitative" role in the process of cognitive engagement, that raising self-efficacy beliefs might lead to increased use of cognitive strategies and, thereby, higher performance, and that "students need to have both the 'will' and the 'skill' to be successful in classrooms. "

    • Zimmerman and his associates have been instrumental in tracing the relationships among self-efficacy perceptions, self-efficacy for self-regulation, academic self-regulatory processes, and academic achievement.

      • This line of inquiry has successfully demonstrated that self-regulatory efficacy contributes to academic efficacy.

        • Zimmerman, Bandura, and Martinez-Pons (1992) used path analysis to demonstrate that academic self-efficacy mediated the influence of self-efficacy for self-regulated learning on academic achievement.
        • Academic self-efficacy influenced achievement directly (B = .21) as well as indirectly by raising students' grade goals (B = .36).

    • Results of these investigations demonstrate that acquisition of cognitive skills, modeling effects, attributional feedback, and goal setting influence the development of self-efficacy beliefs and that these beliefs, in turn, influence academic performances.

    • Academic performances are strongly predicted by self-efficacy beliefs (and often better predicted by self-efficacy than by prior attainments indexes).

      • Pajares and Miller (1994) reported that math self-efficacy had stronger direct effects on mathematics problem-solving (B = .545) than did self-concept, perceived usefulness, or prior experience.

      • Duane Shell and his colleagues have shown that writing and reading self-efficacy are strongly predictive of reading and writing competence.

      • Pajares and Johnson (1996) investigated the influence of writing self-efficacy, writing self-concept, and writing apprehension on high school students' essay-writing, using a path model that controlled for the effects of gender and previously assessed writing aptitude.

        • They reported that students' self-efficacy perceptions had a direct effect on their writing performance (B = .395) and played the mediational role hypothesized by social cognitive theory.

      • Pajares and Valiante (1997, 1999, , 2001) and Pajares, Miller, and Johnson (1999) reported similar direct effects and similar relationships with students in Grades 3 through 8.

    • As most of you know, general mental ability, or psychometric g, accounts for the single largest component underlying individual differences in mental ability and has typically been acknowledged the most powerful predictor of academic performances.

      • Pajares and Kranzler (1995) constructed path models that included math self-efficacy, general mental ability, math self-concept, math anxiety, self-efficacy for self-regulation, previous grades in mathematics, and gender.

      • The key finding from this study was that the direct effect of mathematics self-efficacy on mathematics performance (B = .349) was as strong as was the effect of general mental ability (B = .324).

    • The acquisition of cognitive skills, modeling effects, attributional feedback, and goal setting influence the development of self-efficacy beliefs and that these beliefs, in turn, influence academic performances.

    • Schunk and his colleagues have reported on numerous studies that have examined the role of self-efficacy beliefs in various academic contexts.

      • Schunk showed that modeling treatments increased persistence and accuracy on division problems by raising children's self-efficacy beliefs, which had a direct effect on skill.
      • He also showed that effort attributional feedback of prior performance (e.g., "You've been working hard") raised the self-efficacy expectations of elementary school children, and this increase was, in part, responsible for increased skill in performance of subtraction problems.
      • In subsequent experiments, he found that ability feedback (e.g., "You're good at this") had a stronger effect on self-efficacy and performance.
      • Relich, Debus, and Walker (1986) also reported that self-efficacy mediated the role of skill training and attributional feedback and had a direct effect on the performance of division problems of learned helpless sixth graders.

        • Attributional feedback showed a moderate direct effect on performance and a stronger indirect effect mediated by self-efficacy.

      • In another study, Schunk reported that mathematics self-efficacy influenced math performance both directly (B = .46) and indirectly through persistence (B = .30).

    • Students with similar previous performance attainments and cognitive skills may differ in subsequent performance as a result of differing self-efficacy perceptions because these perceptions mediate between prior attainments and academic performances.

      • As a consequence, such performances are generally better predicted by self-efficacy than by the prior attainments.
      • Schunk suggested that variables such as perceived control, outcome expectations, perceived value of outcomes, attributions, goals, and self-concept may provide a "type of cue" used by individuals to assess their efficacy beliefs.

    • Some researchers have also reported interesting, and perhaps troublesome, findings regarding gender differences on academic self-efficacy indexes. This has come to be called the confidence gap.

      • Typically, male students express greater confidence in their mathematics and scientific capabilities, even though there are no achievement differences.

      • Although female student typically outperform male students in language arts, there are no differences in confidence.

      • Pajares (1996) examined the interplay between self-efficacy judgments and the mathematical problem-solving of middle school students mainstreamed in algebra classes.

        • Math self-efficacy made an independent contribution to the problem-solving performance of regular education students (B = .387) and of gifted students (B = .455) in a path model that controlled for the effects of math anxiety, cognitive ability, mathematics grades, self-efficacy for self-regulatory learning, and gender.
        • Girls expressed lower confidence when performance scores did not warrant it and similar confidence when performance scores warranted greater confidence.
        • Although most students were biased toward overconfidence, girls were less biased in that direction, and gifted girls were biased toward underconfidence.
        • Consistent with previous findings, these results suggest that factors are still at work in negatively affecting some mathematics self-beliefs of girls.

    • Zero-order correlations between self-efficacy and academic performance indexes have ranged from r = .49 to .70.

    • Direct effects in path analytic studies have ranged from B = .349 to B = .545.

    • What this line of inquiry has demonstrated is that, when self-efficacy beliefs closely correspond to the criterial task with which they are compared, prediction is enhanced.

    • Multon and his colleagues (1991) found 36 studies written between 1977 and 1988 on the relationship between self-efficacy and academic performance or persistence that met their criteria for inclusion in a meta-analysis: containing a measure of self-efficacy and academic performance and providing sufficient information to calculate effect size estimates.

      • They computed that efficacy beliefs were related to performance (ru = .38) and accounted for approximately 14% of the variance in academic performance.
      • Effect sizes depended on specific characteristics of the studies, notably on the types of efficacy and performance measures used.
      • The strongest effects were obtained by researchers who compared specific efficacy judgments with basic cognitive skills measures of performance (.52 versus .36 for performance in course work and .13 for standardized tests), developed highly concordant self-efficacy/performance indices, and administered them at the same time.

    • Stajkovic & Luthans (1998) meta-analytically aggregated and analyze individual research findings pertaining to the relationship between self-efficacy and work-related task performance.

      • Their final sample consisted of 114 studies and 157 correlation estimates. Total sample size was 21,626, and average sample size per correlation estimate was 138 participants.
      • They found that the average weighted correlation between self-efficacy and work-related performance was (G)r = .38, which transforms to an impressive 28% gain in task performance.
      • Importantly, for managing today's human resources, this 28% increase in task performance due to self-efficacy represents a greater gain than those obtained in meta-analyses examining the effects on task performance of Goal-Setting (10.39%; Wood et al., 1987), Feedback Interventions (13.6%; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996), and Organizational Behavior Modification (17%; Stajkovic & Luthans, 1997)

    • In general, research is conclusive enough to suggest that there is ample reason to believe that self-efficacy is a powerful motivation construct that strongly predicts academic self-beliefs and performances.

Future Directions in Self-efficacy Research - Click here .

  1. Formulating Questions with an Eye to Specificity and Correspondence

    • A test of self-efficacy theory requires the type of assessment specified by the theory.
    • When such tests are appropriately conducted, results from self-efficacy investigations have shown that, as Bandura theorized, particularized judgments of capability are better predictors of related performances than are more generalized judgments.
    • Consequently, if the aim of a study is to increase prediction of academic performances or to help distinguish among self-efficacy and other expectancy or self-beliefs, research questions should be formulated with an eye to measuring self-efficacy as specifically as is relevant and useful and also to enhancing the correspondence between self-efficacy and criterial variables.
    • In an effort to achieve high specificity, it is possible to define a construct so narrowly that it loses any sense of relevance.

      • Many criterial tasks of interest in the motivation and academic arenas cannot be assessed with the specificity afforded by a performance as particularized as the solution of, say, specific mathematics problems.
      • Researchers are again cautioned that domain specificity should not be misconstrued as an extreme situational specificity that reduces efficacy assessment to an atomistic level.
      • The research question of interest should dictate the appropriate level of self-efficacy assessment.
      • Self-efficacy beliefs measured at various levels of specificity can prove useful outside the research arena as diagnostic and assessment tools -- they can provide teachers and counselors with information regarding students' dispositions, and results may be useful in helping to understand affective influences on performances that do not easily lend themselves to microanalytic analysis.

  2. Discovering the Generality of Self-efficacy Beliefs

    • Bandura identified several conditions under which judgments of competence can generalize across activities, i.e., the extent to which they relate to, or transfer across, different performance tasks or domains.

      • When differing tasks require similar subskills, judgments of capability to demonstrate the requisite subskills should predict the differing outcomes.

      • Generality can also take place when the skills required to accomplish dissimilar activities are acquired together.

        • In school, students' mathematics and verbal self-efficacy may generalize if the skills for each subject have been adequately taught and developed by a competent teacher.
        • Subskills required to organize a course of action are themselves governed by broader self-regulatory skills such as knowing how to diagnose task demands or constructing and evaluating alternative strategies.

          • Possessing these self-regulatory skills can permit students to improve their performances across varied academic activities.

        • Generalizable coping skills work in similar fashion by reducing stress and promoting effective functioning across varied domains.
        • Self-efficacy should also generalize when commonalities are cognitively structured across activities.

          • If students can be helped to realize that increased effort and persistence result in academic progress and greater understanding in mathematics, it is likely that similar connections may be made to other subject areas.

        • Finally, there are "transforming experiences" that come about as the result of powerful performance attainments and serve to strengthen beliefs in diverse areas of one's life, areas often greatly unrelated.

          • Many doctoral students will attest to the fact that successful completion of a dissertation can dramatically alter their confidence to deal with activities and events unrelated to their scholarly pursuits.

      • The hypothesized conditions under which judgments of competence should generalize across varied activities and domains provide rich opportunity for empirical investigation that would help trace the genesis of self-beliefs as well as their possible interconnections.

      • These insights might also shed light on findings from cognitive psychology which demonstrate that students often have great difficulty transferring strategies and various types of knowledge across academic domains.

      • There is evidence that efficacy beliefs generalize along the lines that Bandura has suggested.

      • It is possible, of course, that, although the use of strategies or knowledge functions may not so easily transfer, the beliefs that accompany these cognitive processes may more easily travel.

      • That is to say, cognitive, knowledge-based components required to carry out an activity or task may make the voyage from one activity to another with greater difficulty than the belief components that provide the effort and persistence necessary to attack the related or novel activity.

      • It will be interesting to discover to what degree the process of transferring beliefs resembles or differs from the process of transferring other cognitive processes.

      • Various researchers have noted the need to explore the generality of self-efficacy so as to increase its practical utility.

        • Results from such studies would inform theoretical contentions about the influence of self-efficacy on academic performances and about the relationship between self-efficacy and other motivation constructs.

      • Bandura cautioned that empirical results verifying that efficacy beliefs generalize across domains should not result in the "pursuit of a psychological Grail of generality" that would seek to find root cause for varying self-beliefs.

      • Similar cognitive subskills or strong self regulatory efficacy should aid performance in varied domains, but specific pursuits will usually differ in the specialized competencies they require.

      • With these cautions in mind, understanding the conditions and contexts under which self-beliefs will generalize to differing academic activities offers valuable possibilities for intervention and instructional strategies that may help students build both competence and the necessary accompanying self-perceptions of competence.

  3. Implications Related to Strength and Accuracy of Self-efficacy Beliefs

    • Bandura argued that successful functioning is best served by reasonably accurate efficacy appraisals, although the most functional efficacy judgments are those that slightly exceed what one can actually accomplish, for this overestimation serves to increase effort and persistence.

      • Indeed, most students are overconfident about their academic capabilities.

    • But how much confidence is too much confidence, when can overconfidence be characterized as excessive and maladaptive in an academic enterprise, what factors help create inaccurate self-perceptions, and what are the likely effects of such inaccuracy?

    • Bandura argued that the stronger the self-efficacy, the more likely are persons to select challenging tasks, persist at them, and perform them successfully.

    • Researchers will have to determine to what degree high self-efficacy demonstrated in the face of incongruent performance attainments ultimately results in these benefits.

    • Efforts to lower students' efficacy percepts or interventions designed to raise already overconfident beliefs should be discouraged, but improving students' calibration -- the accuracy of their self-perceptions -- will require helping them to better understand what they know and do not know so that they may more effectively deploy appropriate cognitive strategies as they perform a task.

    • These issues of "accuracy," however, cannot easily be divorced from issues of well-being, optimism, and will.

      • Research supports the notion that, as people evaluate their lives, they are more likely to regret the challenge not confronted, the contest not entered, the risk unrisked, and the road not taken as a result of underconfidence and self-doubt rather than the action taken as a result of overconfidence and optimism.

      • The challenge to educators on this account will be to make students more familiar with their own internal mental structures without lowering confidence, optimism, and drive.

      • Remember that students who lack confidence in skills they possess are less likely to engage in tasks in which those skills are required, and they may more quickly give up in the face of difficulty.

    • Some researchers have found that girls perform as capably as do boys in varied academic tasks but often report lower self-efficacy, particularly at higher academic levels.

      • In one study (Pajares, 1996), gifted girls were biased toward underconfidence, although most students are generally biased toward overconfidence.

    • However, political pollsters long ago discovered that poll results can be manipulated by the manner in which questions are asked.

      • In psychology, different insights are provided by different questions, and so here too the manner in which a question is asked may be differently revealing.

    • Pajares and Valiante (1997)

      • detected no gender differences in the confidence ratings that students made relative to their confidence to accomplish varied tasks related to the process of writing an essay.
      • Boys and girls gave themselves an average rating of 82 on a scale of 0 to 100 on which they were asked to express their confidence.

    • Noddings has argued that boys and girls may well use a different "metric" when providing confidence judgments and that girls may perceive that their judgment represents more of a "promise."

      • Pajares, Miller, and Johnson (1999) found that, although boys and girls did not differ in their reported confidence to accomplish the writing skills outlined on a writing self-efficacy measure, when asked to directly compare their writing capability with that of boys, girls expressed a greater degree of superiority in their writing relative to boys in their class or in their school.
      • In other words, although girls did not award themselves higher numbers than did the boys when asked to provide ratings of their confidence to accomplish the specific writing skills called for on the efficacy measure, it was evident that girls considered themselves better writers than the boys.

    • If researchers are to continue to explore gender differences in self-beliefs, they will need to address that issue with assessments of self-belief that will provide these sorts of insights.

    • The typical practice of determining gender differences using differences in scores on confidence judgments on tasks or domains will not reveal clearly the nature of social and academic comparisons.

    • One must not confuse differences (or lack of difference) on the metric of a self-efficacy scale as differences in confidence.

    • More direct ability comparisons are called for.

    • Additional studies are required to discover the extent of these phenomena across academic areas and levels, and how differing beliefs are created and maintained in the face of similar ability and performance.

    • Investigations are particularly needed at lower academic levels, especially those in which these sorts of self-beliefs begin to be created.

    • Exploring the nature of the relationship between efficacy judgments, calibration, performance attainments, and the hypothesized effects of self-efficacy continues to be a promising avenue of inquiry.

  4. Tracing the Sources and Effects of Self-efficacy Beliefs

    • In academic settings, self-efficacy researchers have sought to determine the predictive value of self-efficacy beliefs on other motivation constructs or on varied performances.

    • In most cases, the statistical models with self-efficacy as a dependent variable have accounted for only a small portion of the variance.

    • Future investigations might seek to identify sources of academic self-efficacy information other than those typically used -- aptitude, ability, previous achievement -- so as to trace the genesis and development of self-efficacy beliefs as well as determine how perceptions of efficacy mediate the influence of these sources on self-regulatory strategies, on other constructs, and on subsequent performances.

    • As was noted earlier, self-efficacy theory identifies four main sources of self-efficacy beliefs -- mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasions, and physiological indices -- as well as major indicants within each source (for example, the role played by task difficulty in the interpretation of mastery experiences; the varying influence of the vicarious experience provided by different models; the differing influence of verbal persuasions depending on the degree of appraisal disparity between one's own self-efficacy and the verbals appraisals of others; the role of mood).

    • Although a number of these have been explored and verified, others still need to be tested and greater insights developed.

    • Researchers will also need to examine how information from these different sources are integrated in the formation of efficacy judgments.

    • With the exception of Schunk's exploration of the influence of attributional feedback, modeling effects, and goal setting on self-efficacy beliefs, little is known about how vicarious experiences and verbal persuasions affect the creation and development of academic self-efficacy beliefs.

    • It would be especially useful to develop insights about how and why differing interpretations of similar attainments and from similar sources result in different beliefs, as well as how inaccurate self-perceptions are developed and why they can persist even in the face of subsequent successes and strong performance attainments.

    • Students cannot accomplish tasks beyond their capabilities simply by believing that they can. Rather, beliefs are, as Peirce observed, "rules for action."

      • As such, beliefs become the internal rules individuals follow as they determine the effort, persistence, and perseverance required to achieve optimally as well as the strategies they will use.

    • Researchers have examined the influence of self-efficacy on these variables and reported significant relationships, but it is not entirely clear how these connections are made or under what conditions similar self-beliefs can result in different levels of motivation.

    • Because of the survey nature of most investigations, effects are generally assessed in terms of students' self-reported effort and persistence rather than investigator-observed effort and persistence.

    • This has also been the case with self-regulatory strategies, which have been typically self-reported by students rather than directly observed by investigators.

    • Two strategies are called for.

      • The first is for researchers to assess both the sources and the effects of self-efficacy through direct observation rather than rely on students' self-reports;
      • the second is to increase the use of experimental techniques so as to manipulate sources and effects.

    • Investigators should continue to look to motivation and self-regulatory variables as outcome measures and in real classroom contexts to better understand the relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and other self-beliefs and motivation constructs.
    • Quantitative efforts will have to be complemented by qualitative studies aimed at exploring how efficacy beliefs are developed, how students perceive that these beliefs influence their academic attainments and the academic paths that they follow, and how the beliefs influence choices, effort, persistence, perseverance, and resiliency.

    • Zeldin and Pajares (200) and Pajares and Zeldin (1999) investigated the sources that were instrumental in creating and maintaining the self-efficacy beliefs of women who pursued and succeeded in mathematical, technological, and scienctific careers. Read Zeldin & Pajares, 2000 and Pajares & Zeldin, 1999 (pdf files).

  5. Exploring the Causal Predominance of Self-Efficacy

    • One of the thorniest problems to confront the study of self-beliefs is that of causal predominance and direction of causal predominance.

      • This chicken-or-egg question has been an important focus of many self-concept studies, and its implications are equally relevant to self-efficacy research.
      • In self-concept research, the issue has been one of whether feeling good about oneself is primarily responsible for increased achievement or whether successful performance is largely responsible for stronger feelings of self-worth.

    • Because of the reciprocal nature of human motivation and behavior, it is unlikely that such a question can be resolved.

    • It is possible, however, to develop better understandings of the conditions under which self-efficacy beliefs operate as causal factors in human functioning, through their influence on choice, effort, and persistence.

    • Herbert Marsh has warned about the limitations of causal models in nonexperimental investigations of self-constructs.

      • Writing directly on the issue of causal ordering as regards self-concept beliefs and academic achievement, Marsh suggested that, if such questions are to be resolved, researchers will need to

        • a) measure academic self-concept and academic achievement (school performance, standardized test scores, or preferably both) at least twice and preferably more frequently;
        • b) infer all latent constructs on the basis of multiple indicators;
        • c) consider a sufficiently large and diverse sample to justify the use of CGA and the generality of the findings, and
        • d) fit the data to a variety of CFA models that incorporate measurement error and test for likely residual covariation among measured variables.

      • Marsh's criteria are equally pertinent to self-efficacy research.
      • Although causal modeling and path analytic techniques have proven useful in making causal inferences and testing theoretical tenets in nonexperimental studies, more experimental designs are required in which self-efficacy beliefs are altered and the effects of these changes on academic attainments or self-regulatory practices observed.

    • Experimental designs in which self-efficacy is systematically raised to differential levels speak more directly to the issue of causality than those of multivariate relationships, and findings from investigations in which this has been accomplish suggest that self-efficacy beliefs make a causal contribution to the level and quality of human functioning.

    • In keeping with the hypothesized sources of efficacy information, beliefs can be altered using vicarious methods, verbal persuasions, differing performance feedback, social comparative information, and/or manipulating task complexity.

    • Although the now typical procedure of testing multivariate relationships between domain-specific academic self-efficacy measures, other motivation constructs, and performance attainments in causal models is an improvement over less complex analyses, providing insights regarding the causal influence of self-beliefs will require experimental designs as well as longitudinal studies.

  6. Refining the Study of Teachers' Sense of Efficacy (see this excellent review and go here).

    • Researchers have reported that teachers' beliefs of personal efficacy affect their instructional activities and their orientation toward the educational process.

      • Preservice teachers' sense of teacher efficacy is related to their beliefs about controlling students.
      • Teachers with a low sense of efficacy tend to hold a custodial orientation that takes a pessimistic view of students' motivation, emphasizes rigid control of classroom behavior, and relies on extrinsic inducements and negative sanctions to get students to study.
      • Teachers with high sense of efficacy create mastery experiences for their students whereas teachers with low instructional self-efficacy undermine students's cognitive development as well as students' judgments of their own capabilities.

    • Teacher self-efficacy also predicts student achievement and students' achievement beliefs across various areas and levels.

    • There is need to discover additional correlates of teachers' sense of efficacy beliefs about instructing students, as well as to understand how these beliefs influence educational outcome variables such as instructional practices or students' beliefs and achievement.

    • In most studies, teachers' sense of efficacy has primarily been assessed with two factors:

      • Sense of personal teaching efficacy refers to individuals' assessment of their own teacher competence
      • Sense of teaching efficacy refers to teachers' expectations that teaching can influence student learning.

    • Guskey and Passaro (1994) reported that these two factors correspond not to a personal versus a general teaching efficacy belief orientation but instead to an internal versus external distinction similar to locus-of-control measures of attribution.

      • If this is so, it would be instructive to discover what the two factors may actually be measuring.

    • Teacher self-efficacy instruments typically ask teachers to express confidence judgments on matters as disparate as classroom management and the influence of family background on student learning and then compare the composite score of these judgments with outcomes such as student achievement indices or varied teaching practices.

    • If Bandura's cautions regarding correspondence of belief to criterial task are justified, such measures of teacher self-efficacy are insensitive to context and may inimize the actual influence of teachers' beliefs on instructional practices or student outcomes.

    • Consistent with these guidelines, researchers in this area should endeavor to assess the teacher beliefs that correspond to the criteria of interest rather than assess those beliefs with a generalized measure and then make the connection with this assessment to specific practices or outcomes.

    • Teacher self-efficacy has become an important construct in teacher education, and teacher educators should continue to explore how these beliefs develop, what factors contribute to strong and positive teaching efficacy beliefs in varied domains, and how teacher education programs can help preservice teachers develop high teacher self-efficacy.

    • Beliefs act as a filter through which new phenomena are interpreted and subsequent behavior mediated, but information can be filtered such that similar beliefs can have differing outcomes.

      • High teacher self-efficacy can promote or inhibit conceptual change.

        • That is, teachers highly confident in their instruction may be highly resistant to change any facet of it in large part because of the confidence they have in themselves; or, teachers highly confident in their instruction may also be confident enough in themselves to attempt conceptual change.

      • It should prove insightful to discover how teachers make the connection between belief and action and under what conditions similar teacher self-efficacy beliefs can result in differing performances.
      • Also, if beliefs are difficult to alter, how can low teacher self-efficacy be raised?

      • And, if efficacy beliefs are critical to the process of teaching, how can they be made an explicit focus of teacher education programs, and to what end?

  7. Continuing Research on Self-efficacy and Career Choice

    • Results of various studies have demonstrated the mediational role of self-efficacy beliefs in the selection of career choice.

    • Findings indicate that self-efficacy beliefs influence the choice of majors and career decisions of college students.

      • Undergraduates choose college majors and careers in areas in which they feel most competent and avoid those in which they believe themselves less competent or less able to compete.
      • The mathematics self-efficacy of college undergraduates is more predictive of their mathematics interest and choice of math-related courses and majors than either their prior math achievement or math outcome expectations.
      • Male undergraduates report higher mathematics self-efficacy than do female undergraduates.

    • In many cases, young women avoid math-related courses and careers because they underestimate their capability rather than because they lack competence or skill.

    • Hackett has noted the key implications from these and similar findings and charted some future directions of career self-efficacy research, and they need not be repeated here.

    • The most critical implication is that, given the situation in which many young women find themselves as a result of the lack of correspondence between their efficacy beliefs and performance attainments, enhancing these attainments alone will not correct the problem.

    • Any such program or intervention will have to be accompanied by others designed to enhance academic and career-efficacy beliefs with focused attention on career development.

  8. Eliminating the Confidence Gap in Mathematics

    • The relationship between gender and self-efficacy has not been explored as thoroughly as that between gender and academic performances. But see Pajares (2002; 2003).

    • Whereas recent findings suggest that gender differences in mathematics achievement are either diminishing or practically nonexistent, some contemporary researchers have found that gender differences in academic self-beliefs of American students may still be prevalent.

      • It seems that boys and girls report equal confidence in their math ability during the elementary years, but, by high school, boys are more confident and girls more likely to underestimate their capability.
      • Even by middle school, boys rate themselves more efficacious in mathematics than do girls.
      • Gifted girls are especially likely to be biased toward underconfidence in mathematics.
      • These findings are consistent with those from the United Kingdom, where men consistently expect better grades on university examinations than do women.
      • On the other hand, it appears that girls have stronger self-efficacy in areas related to language arts.

    • Gender differences in academic subjects are confounded by a number of factors.

      1. Many gender differences in academic self-beliefs disappear when previous achievement is controlled (e.g., Pajares, 1996). In other words, when researchers analyze the self-beliefs of students at the same level of academic competence, fewer differences in self-belief emerge.

      2. Boys and girls tend to respond to self-report instruments with a different "mind set."

        • Researchers have observed that boys tend to be more "self-congratulatory" in their responses whereas girls tend to be more modest (Wigfield et al., 1996). In other words, boys are more likely to express confidence in skills they may not possess and to express overconfidence in skills they do possess.
        • Noddings (1996) suggested that boys and girls may well use a different "metric" when providing confidence judgments, adding that these sorts of ratings may represent more of a promise to girls than they do to boys. If this is the case, actual differences in confidence are masked or accentuated by such response biases.

      3. The manner in which gender differences in self-efficacy and self-regulation beliefs are typically assessed.

        • Traditionally, students are asked to provide judgments of their confidence that they possess certain academic skills or, in the case of self-efficacy for self-regulation, that they can engage specific self-regulatory strategies.
        • Differences in the average level of confidence reported are interpreted as gender differences in self-efficacy.
        • Pajares and his colleagues (Pajares et al., 1999; Pajares & Valiante, 1999) asked elementary and middle school students to provide self-efficacy judgments in the traditional manner but also to compare their academic ability versus that of other boys and girls.

          • Although girls outperformed boys in language arts, girls and boys reported equal writing self-efficacy and self-efficacy for self-regulation.
          • When students were asked whether they were better writers than their peers, however, girls expressed that they were better writers than were the boys in their class and even in their school.
          • That is, regardless of the ratings that boys and girls provided on the self-efficacy measures, it was clear that girls considered themselves better writers than the boys.

      4. The nature of the self-belief that may be undergirding those differences.

        • Numerous researchers have argued that some gender differences in social, personality, and academic variables may actually be a function of gender orientation—the stereotypic beliefs about gender that students hold—rather than of gender (see Eisenberg, Martin, & Fabes, 1996).
        • For example, gender differences in variables such as moral voice tend to disappear when gender stereotypical beliefs are accounted for (Harter, Waters, & Whitesell, 1997).
        • Eccles's (1987) model of educational and occupational choice postulates that cultural milieu factors such as students' gender role stereotypes are partly responsible for differences in course and career selection and in confidence beliefs and perceived value of tasks and activities.
        • To determine the degree to which gender differences in motivation and achievement may be a function of gender stereotypic beliefs rather than of gender, Pajares and Valiante (2001) asked students to report how strongly they identified with characteristics stereotypically associated with males or females in American society.

          • A feminine orientation was associated with writing self-efficacy and rendered nonsignificant gender differences favoring girls in self-efficacy for self-regulation.
          • These results foreshadow the possibility that some gender differences in academic motivation and in self-regulated learning may in part be accounted for by differences in the beliefs that students hold about their gender rather than by their gender per se.

    • One issue is clear: Students who lack confidence in skills they possess are less likely to engage in tasks in which those skills are required, and they will more quickly give up in the face of difficulty.
    • If girls do indeed grow to have lower confidence in the area of mathematics, it seems that young women may be vulnerable in this area.
    • As earlier discussed, Lent, Hackett, and their associates have demonstrated that self-efficacy beliefs influence the choice of majors and career decisions of college students.
    • In some cases, underestimation of capability, not lack of competence or skill, is responsible for avoidance of math-related courses and careers, and this is more likely to be the case with women than with men.
    • When this is the case, efforts to identify and alter these inaccurate judgments, in addition to continued skill improvement, should prove beneficial.

    • What factors can cause gender differences in self-efficacy?

      • Gender differences can arise as a function of home, cultural, educational, and mass media influences.

        • Parents often underestimate their daughters' academic competence and hold lower expectations for them (Phillips & Zimmerman, 1990).
        • Parents also often portray mathematics and science as male domains (Meece & Courtney, 1992).
        • As girls enter middle and high school, the perception of mathematics as a masculine domain may further weaken their interest in it.

      • Education can influence gender differences in a number of ways.

        • In the area of mathematics, for example, differences can arise simply as a result of the context in which mathematical tasks and activities are placed.
        • Girls typically judge their self-efficacy lower than do boys for occupations requiring quantitative skills, but differences disappear when self-efficacy judgments for the quantitative activities are made on stereotypically feminine tasks (Junge & Dretzke, 1995).
        • Well-intentioned teachers may also hold different expectations for boys and girls.
        • In some cases, elementary school teachers—most of whom are women—and well-meaning parents may convey to girls that mathematics may be difficult for them.
        • School counselors also may discourage girls from pursuing scientific or technical occupations (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987).

      • The media continue to purvey subtle (and not so subtle) messages that entrench stereotypical gender conceptions.

        • These messages range from reinforcing traditional gender roles to gender-dominated domains, sometimes portraying men as leaders and authority figures and women as subordinate (Bandura, 1997).

      • From a cultural perspective, peer cliques can powerfully influence students' academic interests.

        • Girls who want to be popular with peers may shun subjects and activities perceived as masculine so that their popularity will not suffer.

    • Research should be aimed at exploring gender differences in academic self-efficacy beliefs, accuracy of self-perception, and the hypothesized effects of self-efficacy on choice, persistence, and perseverance.

    • As outlined earlier, researchers will need to address that issue with assessments of self-belief that will provide these sorts of insights.

      • Using group differences in scores on self-efficacy measures may inadequately explain the nature of self-efficacy differences between groups.

  9. Developmental Perspective of Self-efficacy Beliefs

    • The sensitivity to context of self-efficacy beliefs makes them an ideal vehicle with which to explore the difference in perceptions of competence as a function of developmental factors.

    • It seems likely that self-perceptions of competence take on different meanings and are weighed differently at different times in an individual's life.

      • Nicholls (1984) suggested that young children tend to view effort and ability as complementary; with age and schooling, they come to view them as contradictory.

    • A better understanding of the development of academic self-efficacy beliefs, familial and schooling influences, and developmental factors that contribute to changes in self-efficacy will require longitudinal investigations that assess self-efficacy with allegiance to the theoretical guidelines earlier discussed.

    • More information is also required about how students at various ages, academic levels, or grades use the diverse sources of efficacy information in developing self-efficacy beliefs.

    • Because children judge their capabilities partly by comparing their performances with those of others, future studies should also explore the influence of peers on the development of self efficacy beliefs as well as the social comparative information that students find most useful in creating and developing these beliefs.

  10. The Role of Self-efficacy as a Function of Race and Ethnicity

    • Graham's (1994) summary of the literature on the expectancy beliefs of African American students revealed that these students "maintain undaunted optimism and positive self-regard even in the face of achievement failure."

    • Similar findings have been reported with Hispanic American samples.

      • These findings have resulted primarily from studies of generalized, domain-specific self-concept of ability.
      • When perceptions of competence are assessed as item-specific self-efficacy judgments, results can differ.

        • Pajares and Kranzler (1995) reported that the mathematics self-efficacy of African American students was lower than that of White peers.
        • Pajares and Johnson (1996) found that the writing self-efficacy of Hispanic high school students was lower than that of non-Hispanic White students.
        • Britner and Pajares (2001) found that the science self-efficacy of African American middle school students was lower than that of non-Hispanic White students.
        • In each case, despite differences in self-efficacy, minority students reported positive self-concepts.
        • It may be that beliefs at differing levels of specificity perform different functions for minority students.

    • Graham acknowledged that self-efficacy is an important factor in the study of motivation but noted that it has been too sparsely examined in either race homogeneous or race heterogeneous studies.

    • Self-efficacy beliefs assessed at differing levels of specificity might help explain the relationship between perceptions of competence and academic achievement, how these perceptions are related to other motivation factors, and whether the origins of these beliefs differ for minority children and across socioeconomic levels.

  11. Clarifying the Influence of Social and Cultural Contexts on Self-Efficacy Beliefs

    • Bandura observed that there are a number of conditions under which self-efficacy beliefs do not perform their influential, predictive, or mediational role in human functioning.

      • In prejudicially structured systems, for example, students may find that no amount of skillful effort will bring about desired outcomes.
      • In such cases, students may possess the necessary skill and high self-efficacy required to achieve, but they may choose not to because they lack the necessary incentives.
      • Self-efficacy will also have no bearing on performance if schools lack the effective teachers, necessary equipment, or resources required to aid students in the adequate performance of academic tasks.

    • Bandura suggested that, when social constraints and inadequate resources impede academic performances, self efficacy may exceed actual performance because it is not so much a matter that students do not know what to do but rather that they are unable to do what they know.

      • This observation may be insightful in light of findings regarding self-beliefs of minority students in some contexts.
      • There is need to explore the role that schools play as social systems for developing and cultivating self-efficacy beliefs as well as the roles that the various incentives and disincentives such systems create play in the development of students' self-efficacy.
      • Teacher efficacy may also have little bearing on teacher performance if schools lack the necessary equipment or resources required to aid students in the adequate performance of academic tasks or if teachers find themselves beleaguered day in and day out by practices, policies, or students they cannot control.

        • In such situations, a sense of coping inefficacy has been linked to burnout in teachers.

    • Research should be aimed at clarifying the role that schools play as social systems for developing and cultivating student and teacher efficacy beliefs, as well as the roles that the various incentives and disincentives such systems create play in the development of these beliefs.

    • As the world shrinks, attempting to understand to what degree the effects of self-efficacy are universal across cultures seems more critical than ever.

      • Cross-cultural research will help clarify how efficacy beliefs are created and develop as a result of different cultural practices, as well as how these differing cultural practices influence children's efficacy beliefs about their schooling.
      • Although there is already some evidence to suggest that self-efficacy beliefs have some similar effects across cultures, the link between culture and belief has yet to be made empirically.
      • Moreover, the relationship between cultural differences and the effects of the cultural practices of institutions such as the family, the community, and the workplace on children's self-efficacy beliefs has yet to be determined.

  12. Investigating Collective Efficacy

    • Bandura provided a valuable insight when he observed that confidence is both a personal and a social construct, that collective systems such as classrooms, teams of teachers, schools, and school districts develop a sense of collective efficacy -- a group's shared belief in its capability to attain their goals and accomplish desired tasks.

    • Students, teachers, and school administrators operate collectively as well as individually.

    • As a result, schools develop collective beliefs about the capability of their students to learn, of their teachers to teach and otherwise enhance the lives of their students, and of their administrators and policymakers to create environments conducive to those tasks.

    • Schools with a strong sense of collective efficacy exercise empowering and vitalizing influences on their constituents, and these effects are palpable and in evidence -- visitors speak of the schools' "atmosphere" or "climate" and describe them as "can-do" or effective schools.

    • Bandura reported that collective efficacy mediated the influence of students' socioeconomic status, prior academic achievement, and teachers' longevity on the academic achievement of students in various middle schools.

    • There is also evidence to suggest that the collective efficacy of teachers is related to personal teaching efficacy and satisfaction with the school administration.

    • The extensive data gathering typically required in studies in which schools are the unit of analysis have prevented researchers from engaging in studies of collective efficacy, but the need and the challenge are there to tap greater insights from this potentially critical construct.

      • What role does a student's or teacher's own sense of efficacy play in the creation of a school's collective efficacy, and vice-versa?
      • What role does the collective efficacy in place at a school play in the creation and development of novice teachers' and new students' entering sense of efficacy?
      • Can collective efficacy undermine/enhance students' and teachers' sense of efficacy? Is collective efficacy "catching?"

  13. Making the Connection from Research to Practice

    • Self-efficacy researchers have made noteworthy contributions to the understanding of self-regulatory practices and academic motivation, but the connection from theory and findings to practice has been slow.

    • Classroom teachers and policy makers may well be impressed by the force of research findings arguing that self-efficacy beliefs are important determinants of performance and mediators of other variables, but they are apt to be more interested in useful educational implications, sensible intervention strategies, and practical ways to alter self-efficacy beliefs when they are inaccurate and debilitating to children (or teachers, or administrators).

    • Some self-efficacy researchers have suggested that teachers would be well served by paying as much attention to students' perceptions of competence as to actual competence, for it is the perceptions that may more accurately predict students' motivation and future academic choices.

    • Assessing students' self-efficacy can provide teachers with important insights.

      • Researchers have demonstrated that self-efficacy beliefs strongly influence the choice of majors and career decisions of college students.
      • Others have made the link to academic attitudes or self-regulatory strategies.
      • Recall that, in some cases, unrealistically low self-efficacy perceptions, not lack of capability or skill, can be responsible for avoidance of courses and careers.
      • In such cases, in addition to skill improvement, researchers must acquaint schools with ways to identify these inaccurate judgments and must aid in designing and implementing appropriate interventions to alter them.
      • School and teaching practices that foster both competence and the necessary accompanying confidence should be identified, as well as practices that "convert instructional experiences into education in inefficacy."
      • In a related vein, investigations of teacher efficacy and the influence such self-beliefs have on teacher practices and student outcomes will help explain how teachers' beliefs influence students' beliefs and achievement.

      • But there are cautions that should be taken as regards the nature and focus of interventions to increase self-efficacy.

        • As is presently the case with self-esteem, there is the danger that self-efficacy may soon also come in a kit.
        • Bandura's emphasis that mastery experience is the most influential source of self-efficacy information has important implications for the self-enhancement model of academic achievement earlier discussed.
        • Self-enhancement proponents emphasize educational efforts that focus on improving students' self-beliefs in order to improve achievement.
        • Social cognitive theorists focus on the important task of raising competence and confidence through authentic mastery experiences.

  14. Encouraging Intertheoretical Crosstalk and Collaboration

    • In some fashion, perceptions of capability play a prominent role in most theories of motivation (see Pajares, 1997, chapter).

      • Self-concept theorists point out that these percepts of self-worth include judgments of confidence.
        • Consequently, self-efficacy is considered an important component of an individual's self-concept.

      • The literature on self-schemas and possible selves provides a concept of self with four dimensions, one of which, the efficacy dimension, is characterized by individuals' beliefs about their potentialities.
      • According to attribution theory, the causal attributions that individuals make about the success or failure of their actions are related to their performance expectancies.
      • According to expectancy-value theory, motivation is primarily a result of individuals' beliefs about the likely outcomes of their actions and of the incentive value they place on those outcomes.

        • Individuals will be motivated to engage in tasks when they value the outcome expected; they will be less predisposed to perform tasks whose outcomes they do not value.
        • Expectancy-value theorists agree that judgments of competence play an interactive role with valued outcomes in determining the tasks in which individuals will engage.

      • And goal theorists concur that self-perceptions of competence are important predictors of goals and outcomes, particularly for ability goals.

    • Within the constructs that form the centerpieces of these theories, judgments of capability generally perform the functions that Bandura hypothesized.

    • Clearly, knowledge, competence, and various forms of self-knowledge and self-belief act in concert to provide adequate explanations of behavior.

      • Such explanations cannot be had without considering the role that each may play in human decision-making and functioning in a given context.
      • This rich and often complex interplay may create situations in which neither self-efficacy nor any other single motivational construct mayexercise a defining influence on nor be especially predictive ofbehavior.
      • Moreover, human functioning is such that discordances between beliefs and between belief and action are not only possible but likely.

        • As William James observed, we often find that "the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths."

      • Some students may be highly confident of their academic ability, but situations can occur under which it is doubtful they will behave in concert with their efficacy beliefs.
      • Conversely, low self-efficacy may be overcome by valued and desired outcomes, potential rewards, or competing self-beliefs.

    • Self-efficacy beliefs themselves operate in concert with other sociocognitive factors, such as outcome expectations or goals, in the regulation of human behavior.

    • But Bandura has argued that, because individuals' beliefs of personal competence "touch, at least to some extent, most everything they do" and because self-efficacy beliefs mediate to a great extent the effect of other determinants of behavior, when these determinants are controlled, self-efficacy judgments should prove excellent predictors of choice and direction of behavior.

    • Human behavior is multiply determined, however, and its understanding and explanation require an appreciation of the interplay among the determinants that act as common mechanisms of personal agency.

    • Commonality of mechanism, Bandura cautioned, should not be confused with exclusivity of mechanism.

      • Hence, as self-beliefs and other constructs vie for predictive supremacy of academic outcomes, one need not fear that perceived self efficacy will "usurp the lion's share of the variance in human conduct."
      • It serves no research agenda to engage in a duel of self-beliefs when deeper understandings of human behavior may be better had by exploring how, why, and under what conditions certain self-perceptions are especially useful and predictive.

    • If motivation theorists are to develop more complete understandings of the sources of this variance, it will be necessary for researchers with differing theoretical allegiances to engage in greater intertheoretical crosstalk and investigative collaboration using research designs and statistical models that incorporate the various constructs operationalized and used in a manner consistent with the construct's theoretical home.

    • Self-concept researchers incorporating self-efficacy beliefs into studies of self-concept might ensure that these self-perceptions of capability are assessed at an appropriate level of specificity and correspond with the performance variables under investigation.

    • Results would then be more easily comparable to those of self-efficacy investigations and help inform the tenets of each theory.

    • Self-efficacy researchers would take the same methodological precautions when assessing and using motivation constructs from other theoretical homes.

    • In studies requiring the use of self-report instruments, researchers might conceptualize and assess a construct by using instruments consistent with those created by researchers from the construct's theoretical home, in addition to alternative conceptualizations or definitions, so as to shed light on the role of the differing conceptualizations.

    • This is not to suggest that researchers should be engaging in "cafeteria theorizing."

      • Rather, it is to argue that good manners and the pursuit of scholarship requires that researchers be attentive to the ways and means of competing theoretical orientations.
      • One aim of intertheoretical crosstalk should be to identify the contexts in which certain motivation constructs may be better predictors of human functioning as well as the unique role that each construct plays in the general development of self-regulatory skills.
      • The result would be a clearer and deeper understanding of the nature of the interplay among the differing self-beliefs, other motivation constructs, self-regulatory processes, and academic performances.

Conclusion

  • Research findings over these past 25 years have strengthened Bandura's claim that self-efficacy beliefs play an influential role in human agency.

  • The clear implication that emerges from this conclusion is that researchers and school practitioners should look to students' self-beliefs about their academic capabilities, for they are important components of motivation, self-regulation, and academic achievement.

  • Findings from this line of inquiry should continue to provide a powerful contribution to educational practice, policy, and theory.

  • More critical, perhaps, this focus can better direct our attention to the important inner processes of students, to the beliefs that they create and hold about themselves, as they come to grips with what is clearly one of the major tasks in the human life cycle -- success or failure in school.


How to cite this manuscript:

Pajares (2002). Self-efficacy beliefs in academic contexts: An outline. Retreived month, day, year,
from http://des.emory.edu/mfp/efftalk.html.

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