Developmental Psychology © 1989 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
September 1989 Vol. 25, No. 5, 729-735
For personal use only--not for distribution.

Regulation of Cognitive Processes Through Perceived Self-Efficacy

Albert Bandura
Department of Psychology Stanford University

The articles included in the special series in this issue of Developmental Psychology demonstrate that perceived self-efficacy for memory functioning is an important facet of metamemory. Self-beliefs of efficacy can enhance or impair performance through their effects on cognitive, affective, or motivational intervening processes. This commentary addresses a number of issues concerning the extension of self-efficacy theory to memory functioning. These include the following: the multidimensionality and measurement of perceived memory capabilities; the veridicality of memory self-appraisal; the efficacious exercise of personal control over memory functioning; the psychosocial processes by which people preserve a favorable sense of memory self-efficacy over the life span; and strategies for generalizing the impact of training in memory skills.

Much of the research on perceived self-efficacy has focused on its role in the regulation of motivation, action, and affective arousal ( Bandura, 1986 ; 1988a , 1988b , in press ). More recently, research conducted within this conceptual framework has sought to clarify how perceived self-efficacy affects thinking processes, either as events of interest in their own right or as intervening influences of other aspects of psychosocial functioning. This research has begun to delineate the ways in which self-percepts of efficacy can enhance or impair the level of cognitive functioning ( Bandura, in press ). These cognitive effects take various forms.

Analytic Thinking

Effective functioning rests heavily on inferences about conditional relations between events that enable people to predict and control those events that are of import to them. Discernment of the predictive rules requires effective cognitive processing of multidimensional information that contains ambiguities and uncertainties. Predictive factors are usually related probabilistically, rather than invariably, to future events, which leaves some degree of uncertainty. Moreover, events are typically multidetermined. The same predictor may contribute to different effects, and the same effect may have multiple predictors. This introduces ambiguity as to what is likely to lead to what.

In ferreting out predictive rules, people must draw on their preexisting knowledge to generate hypotheses about predictive factors, to weight and integrate them into composite rules, to test their judgments against the results of their actions, and to remember which notions they had tested and how well they had worked. It requires a strong sense of efficacy to remain task oriented in the face of evaluative threats and judgmental failures. People who believe strongly in their problem-solving capabilities remain highly efficient in their analytic thinking in complex decision-making situations ( Bandura & Wood, 1989 ; Wood & Bandura, 1989 , in press ). Those who are plagued by self-doubts are erratic in their analytic thinking. Quality of analytic thinking, in turn, determines the level of performance accomplishments.

Anticipatory Cognitive Simulations

People's perceptions of their efficacy influence the types of anticipatory scenarios that they construct and reiterate. Those who have a high sense of efficacy visualize success scenarios that provide positive guides for performance and they cognitively rehearse good solutions to potential problems. Those who judge themselves as inefficacious are more inclined to visualize failure scenarios and to dwell on how things will go wrong. Such inefficacious thinking weakens motivation and undermines performance. Numerous studies have shown that cognitive simulations in which individuals visualize themselves executing activities skillfully enhance subsequent performance ( Bandura, 1986 ; Corbin, 1972 ; Feltz & Landers, 1983 ; Kazdin, 1978 ). Perceived self-efficacy and cognitive simulation affect each other bidirectionally: A high sense of efficacy fosters cognitive constructions of effective actions, and cognitive reiteration of efficacious courses of action strengthens self-percepts of efficacy ( Bandura & Adams, 1977 ; Kazdin, 1979 ).

Cognitive Motivation

A major source of human motivation is rooted in cognitive activity. In cognitively generated motivation, people motivate themselves and guide their actions anticipatorily through the exercise of forethought. They anticipate likely outcomes of prospective actions, set goals for themselves, and plan courses of action designed to realize valued futures. Future events cannot be causes of current motivation or action. However, by cognitive representation in the present, conceived future events are converted into current motivators and regulators of behavior. Forethought embodying cognized goals is translated into incentives and action through the aid of self-regulatory mechanisms ( Bandura, 1988a ). Personal goal setting is influenced by self-appraisal of capabilities. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goals that people set for themselves and the firmer their commitment to those goals ( Bandura & Wood, 1989 ; Locke, Frederick, Lee, & Bobko, 1984 ; Taylor, Locke, Lee, & Gist, 1984 ; Wood & Bandura, in press ). Challenging goals raise the level of motivation and performance attainments ( Locke, Shaw, Saari, & Latham, 1981 ; Mento, Steel, & Karren, 1987 ).

Goals and internal standards operate largely through self-referent processes rather than regulate motivation and action directly. Goals motivate by enlisting self-evaluative involvement in the activity. People seek self-satisfactions from fulfilling valued goals and are prompted to intensify their efforts by discontent with substandard performances. Perceived self-efficacy also plays an influential role in the exercise of personal control over motivation. It is partly on the basis of self-beliefs of efficacy that people choose what challenges to undertake, how much effort to expend in the endeavor, and how long to persevere in the face of difficulties ( Bandura, 1986 ; 1988a ). The stronger the belief in their capabilities, the greater and more persistent are their efforts. When they achieve substandard performances, people who have self-doubts about their capabilities slacken their efforts or abort their attempts prematurely, whereas those who have a strong belief in their capabilities exert greater effort to master the challenge ( Bandura & Cervone, 1983 ; 1986 ; Cervone & Peake, 1986 ; Jacobs, Prentice-Dunn, & Rogers, 1984 ; Weinberg, Gould, & Jackson, 1979 ). Strong perseverance pays off in performance accomplishments.

Intrusive Affective Arousal

People's beliefs in their capabilities affect how much stress and depression they experience in threatening or taxing situations, as well as their levels of motivation. Threat is not a fixed property of situational events. Nor does appraisal of the likelihood of aversive happenings rely solely on reading external signs of danger or safety. Rather, threat is a relational property concerning the match between perceived coping capabilities and potentially aversive aspects of the environment.

People who believe that they can manage potential stressors do not conjure up apprehensive cognitions and, therefore, are not perturbed by them. But those who believe that they cannot exercise control over stressors experience high levels of subjective distress, autonomic arousal ( Bandura, Reese, & Adams, 1982 ), plasma catecholamine secretion ( Bandura, Taylor, Williams, Mefford, & Barchas, 1985 ), and activation of endogenous opioid systems ( Bandura, Cioffi, Taylor, & Brouillard, 1988 ). After perceived coping efficacy is strengthened to the maximal level, coping with the previously intimidating tasks no longer elicits differential stress reactions.

The level of affective arousal in situations involving stressors is influenced by perceived self-efficacy in controlling dysfunctional apprehensive cognitions as well as by perceived coping efficacy. This requires exercise of control over one's own consciousness. Thus, efficacious thought control plays an influential role in the regulation of cognitively generated distress. It is not the sheer frequency of stressful or intrusive cognitions but rather the perceived inefficacy to turn them off that is the major source of distress ( Kent & Gibbons, 1987 ; Ozer & Bandura, 1989 ; Salkovskis & Harrison, 1984 ).

Perceived self-inefficacy to fulfill desired goals that affect evaluation of self-worth and to secure things that bring satisfaction to one's life also create depression ( Bandura, 1988a ; Cutrona & Troutman, 1986 ; Holahan & Holahan, 1987a , 1987b ; Kanfer & Zeiss, 1983 ). Through ruminative inefficacious thought, people depress and distress themselves and constrain and impair their level of functioning ( Bandura, 1988b , 1988c ; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984 ; Meichenbaum, 1977 ; Sarason, 1975 ).

Analyses of the nature and function of metacognition have been concerned almost exclusively with thoughts about cognitive processes. Knowledge of one's own cognitive capabilities is also an important facet of metacognition. Indeed, Hertzog, Hultsch, and Dixon (1989 , pp. 687—700) show that the multiple scales from different measures of metamemory yield a higher-order dimension of perceived self-efficacy for memory functioning. Knowledge about memory functions is largely independent of self-beliefs of memory efficacy.

The articles included in this special series extend the application of self-efficacy theory to the cognitive domain of human memory. Depending on their nature, the cognitive, affective, and motivational processes activated by self-beliefs of efficacy can enhance or impair memory performance.

Assessment of Self-Percepts of Efficacy

Self-efficacy scales usually measure people's beliefs in their capabilities to fulfill different levels of task demands within the psychological domain selected for study. Measurement of perceived self-efficacy across a wide range of task demands identifies the upper limits of people's perceptions of their capabilities as well as gradations of perceived efficacy below that point. The research by Rebok and Balcerak (1989 , pp. 714—721) relies on a single self-efficacy judgment for a level of memory that was moderately difficult for the younger adults and exceedingly difficult for the older ones. A circumscribed measure may yield a curtailed distribution of scores. Moreover, it would not distinguish between individuals who judge themselves inefficacious to perform the most arduous memory task but differ in their perceived efficacy for less taxing ones. Curtailed distributions lower the magnitude of correlations. An expanded efficacy assessment in which individuals judge the strength of their efficacy to fulfill gradations of memory task demands would be more sensitive to the variation in perceived memory self-efficacy in any given sample than a single judgment regarding only a very difficult undertaking.

Subjects who judged themselves inefficacious to perform the taxing memory task of remembering 12 nouns in their exact order were asked to judge how many words they believed they could recall. Although this is still a single-item assessment of perceived self-efficacy, it distinguishes between individuals who judge the highly difficult recall task as beyond their memory capabilities. This more sensitive measure is the better predictor. In their original manuscript, Rebok and Balcerak included a complete table of intercorrelations that was excised in the revision process. The obtained correlations for the young and old adults were virtually identical, so I averaged them by means of an r -to- z transformation. Perceived self-efficacy predicted subsequent memory performance, r (91) = .44, p < .0001, when self-efficacy was measured in terms of subjects' judgments of their highest memory capability, and r (91) = .30, p < .01, when they judged their memory efficacy for the most taxing recall task. Lachman, Steinberg, and Trotter (1987) similarly obtained moderately high correlations between self-judged efficacy and memory performance using the former measure of efficacy.

Perceived self-efficacy retains its predictiveness when prior level of memory performance is controlled. The partial correlations for the two indices of perceived self-efficacy are, respectively, as follows: r (90) = .37, p < .001, and r (90) = .23, p < .05. Thus, perceived self-efficacy contributes unique variance to memory accomplishments. It should be noted that using unadjusted prior memory performance as a proxy for a host of possible determinants of memory other than self-efficacy most likely overcontrols for other determinants. This is because perceived self-efficacy contributes to prior memory performance as it does to current performance. Thus, past performance as an index of ability confounds perceived efficacy influences, other motivational contributors, and ability factors. Because self-efficacy influences are autocorrelated, unadjusted control for past performance will also remove effects that are due to self-efficacy influences in current performance. When multiple assessments are made, the overcontrol via past performance can be avoided by removing the contribution of perceived self-efficacy from the past performance ( Wood, Bandura, & Bailey, in press ).

Development of useful tools of measurement often accelerates scientific progress. Berry, West, and Dennehey (1989 , pp. 701—713) have devised a psychometrically sound set of self-efficacy scales that accord well with guidelines from self-efficacy theory and methodology. They include several valuable features. Separate self-efficacy scales are devised for different types of memory. The intercorrelations corroborate that the set of scales represents a common domain but taps different dimensions of memory. They measure gradations of self-efficacy strength rather than just categorical judgments of whether one can execute a given level of memory performance. The scales are highly reliable and they account for a good share of the variance in memory performance. The scale format can be easily extended to other types of memory.

Berry and colleagues also tested whether the format in which the scale items are presented has an effect on self-efficacy judgment. The initial reference points in a sequence of items can have an anchoring influence on self-efficacy judgments ( Peake & Cervone, in press ). The authors found that a descending format, ordering the items from most to least difficult task demands, tended to produce slightly higher self-efficacy appraisals than did an ascending or random order (the latter two did not differ from each other). Because the ascending order of presentation does not bias self-efficacy judgment, it should be the preferred format.

Active Producers Versus Passive Predictors of Performance Accomplishments

Confusions arise when small variations in the measurement of perceived capability are given different labels. Rebok and Balcerak label self-judged capability for the toughest memory task as perceived self-efficacy and, following a common practice, they label the self-judged upper limit of one's own memory capability as predicted memory . Berry, West, and Dennehey also speak of efficacy judgments as performance predictions . To label self-efficacy judgments as simply performance predictions carries the implication that self-appraisals of capability reside in the host organism merely as predictors of future behavior that gets realized in some nonagentive way. The organism forecasts the future but does nothing to bring it about.

As noted earlier, self-percepts of efficacy are not simply inert predictors of future behavior. Findings of different lines of research show that people who have a high sense of perceived self-efficacy in a given domain think, feel, and act differently from those who perceive themselves as inefficacious ( Bandura, 1986 ). People who doubt their capabilities shy away from difficult tasks. They have low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals that they choose to pursue. In taxing situations they dwell on their personal deficiencies, the formidableness of the task, and adverse consequences of failure. Such perturbing thinking further undermines their efforts and analytic thinking by diverting attention from how best to execute activities to concerns over personal deficiencies and possible calamities. Failure experiences sap their motivation. They do not exert much cognitive effort in processing information and decrease their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. They are also slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks. Because they are prone to diagnose insufficient performance as deficient aptitude, it does not require all that much failure for them to lose faith in their capabilities. They fall easy victims to stress and depression.

In contrast, a resilient sense of efficacy enhances sociocognitive functioning in the relevant domain in many ways. People who have high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an affirmative orientation fosters interest and engrossing involvement in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them. They are active cognitive processors of information and remain highly efficient in their analytic thinking in complex decision situations. They heighten their efforts in the face of failures or setbacks. They ascribe failure to insufficient effort, which supports a success orientation. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They approach potential stressors or threats with assurance that they can exercise some control over them. Such an efficacious outlook enhances the level of cognitive functioning and performance accomplishments, reduces stress, and lowers vulnerability to depression. Indeed, in analyses of the cognitive mediators of efficacy effects, Berry (1987) has shown that people with efficacious self-beliefs are active producers of good memory performances through enlistment of attentional and cognitive resources and not simply passive predictors of their memory performances without any intervening agentive effort. In short, they make things happen rather than just passively observe their behavioral happenings.

Omnibus Versus Domain-Linked Assessments

Psychological theories have traditionally approached the assessment of personal determinants of sociocognitive functioning in terms of omnibus tests. Such measures include a fixed set of items, many of which may have little relevance to the domain of functioning being analyzed. Moreover, in an effort to serve varied predictive purposes across diverse domains of functioning and age groups, the items have to be cast in a general form. The more general the items, the greater is the burden on respondents to define what is being asked of them. One cannot expect omnibus tests to predict with high accuracy how people will function in different domains under diverse circumstances. Personality researchers are, therefore, increasingly adopting multidimensional, domain-linked measures of personal determinants of sociocognitive functioning.

In comparative studies, domain-linked measures of personal efficacy typically predict changes in functioning better than do general measures. A good case in point is the Health Locus of Control scale designed to measure perceived personal control over one's health. This scale was used in the longitudinal study by Lachman and Leff (1989 , pp. 722—728) to evaluate how this aspect of health as well as a number of medical problems influence changes in intellectual performance and perceived intellectual competence. Perceived personal locus of health control declined over the longitudinal period. Good health, as indexed by few health problems, was accompanied by good maintenance of perceived and actual intellectual competence.

Domain-linked efficacy scales have been shown to be more predictive of changes in health behavior than perceived locus of health control ( Alagna & Reddy, 1984 ; Beck & Lund, 1981 ; Brod & Hall, 1984 ; Kaplan, Atkins, & Reinsch, 1984 ; Walker & Franzini, 1983 ). General items linked to particular activity domains are an improvement over omnibus measures that are disembodied from clearly defined activities and contextual factors. But ill-defined items still sacrifice explanatory and predictive power even though they may be tied to a designated domain. Relations obtained with suboptimal measures may underestimate or misrepresent the causal contribution of given factors. Lachman and Leff acknowledge this problem in reviewing evidence from studies showing that generalized scales fail to reveal any age differences where more sensitive domain-linked scales do.

These issues of level of multidimensionality and the degree of fit to the measures of competency also arise in the assessment of perceived intellectual efficacy. Lachman and Leff measure it in terms of perceived capability to perform everyday cognitive tasks and to learn new things. Intellectual performance is assessed by vocabulary and inductive reasoning. To the extent that the test of perceived self-efficacy measures different cognitive functions than those measured by the performance test, one would not expect self-beliefs and performance to bear much relation to each other. We saw earlier that self-beliefs of efficacy predict performance when they both tap similar cognitive functions. The conclusion of Lachman and Leff that influence flows unidirectionally from performance to self-belief may well reflect mismatch in the cognitive functions assessed.

Long temporal disparity between self-appraisal of efficacy and performance is another factor that may misrepresent the relationship between these factors. Behavior is regulated by proximal self-beliefs rather than by those held years ago, unless they have remained unchanged in the interim. Lachman and Leff correlated memory performance with self-beliefs of memory capabilities assessed years earlier. Because the self-correlations of efficacy judgments over this period are only of moderate magnitude, the dated ones may have little bearing on the issue of whether self-beliefs of memory capabilities affect memory performance. The correlational findings of Rebok and Balcerak, using corresponding microanalytic measures and a more proximal assessment of perceived self-efficacy, reveal a bidirectionality of influence between self-belief of efficacy and performance accomplishments. These findings are in accord with a substantial body of evidence of similar reciprocal causation in other domains of competency ( Bandura, 1986 ).

Use of domain-linked scales does not mean that there is no generality to perceived self-efficacy. If different classes of activities require similar functions and subskills, one would expect some generality in judgments of self-efficacy. Even if different activity domains are not subserved by common subskills, some generality of perceived self-efficacy can occur if development of competencies is socially structured so that the cultivation of skills in dissimilar domains covaries. Commonality of subskills and covariation of development will yield generality. Multidomain measures reveal the patterning and degree of generality of people's sense of personal efficacy. One can derive degree of generality from multidomain scales, but one cannot extract the patterning of perceived personal efficacy from conglomerate omnibus tests.

Veridicality of Self-Appraisal: Self-Aiding or Self-Limiting?

It is widely believed that misjudgment produces dysfunction. Certainly, gross miscalculation of one's efficacy can get one into trouble. But optimistic self-appraisals of capability that are not unduly disparate from what is possible can be advantageous, whereas veridical judgments can be self-limiting. When people err in their self-appraisal, they tend to overestimate their capabilities. The studies under discussion similarly report that older adults tend to overestimate their memory capabilities.

The functional value of veridical self-appraisal depends on the nature of the endeavor. In activities where the margins of error are narrow and missteps can produce costly or injurious consequences, personal well-being is best served by highly accurate self-appraisal. Thus, for example, people who seriously misjudge their swimming capabilities in tackling heavy surf may not survive for more prudent encores.

In nonhazardous activities, optimistic self-appraisals are a benefit rather than a cognitive failing to be eradicated. If self-efficacy beliefs always reflected only what people can do routinely, people would rarely fail but neither would they mount the extra effort needed to surpass their ordinary performances. Indeed, a growing body of evidence reveals that human accomplishments and positive well-being require an optimistic sense of personal efficacy ( Bandura, 1986 ; 1989a ). This is because ordinary social realities are usually strewn with difficulties. They are full of impediments, adversities, failures, setbacks, frustrations, and inequities. The acquisition of knowledge and competencies usually requires perseverant effort in the face of difficulties. Therefore, it takes a resilient sense of self-efficacy to override the numerous dissuading impediments to significant accomplishments. Optimistic self-appraisals of capability raise aspirations and motivation in ways that enable people to get the most out of their talents.

Efficacy-Activated Intervening Processes

We saw earlier that self-beliefs of efficacy can exert their effects on performance through cognitive, affective, or motivational processes. Much of the discussion of how perceived self-efficacy influences memory performance centers on its motivational effects. Human memory is an active constructive process in which information is semantically elaborated, transformed, and reorganized into meaning memory codes that aid recall. People who view memory as a cognitive skill that they can improve are likely to exert the effort needed to convert the experiences into recallable symbolic forms. Consistent with this expectation, the more strongly older adults believed in their memory capabilities, the more time they devoted to processing memory tasks cognitively ( Berry, 1987 ). Higher processing effort, in turn, produced better memory performance. In the analysis of the causal structure, perceived self-efficacy affects actual memory performance both directly and indirectly through level of cognitive effort. Those who regard memory as an inherent capacity that declines with biological aging have little reason to try to exercise control over their memory functioning. They are quick to read instances of normal forgetting as indicants of declining cognitive capacity. The more they disbelieve their memory capabilities, the poorer use they make of their cognitive capabilities. The negative cultural stereotyping of the elderly can foster a sense of declining cognitive capability.

In the elderly, the undermining effects of perceived self-inefficacy may also be affectively mediated. Major life changes in later years are brought about by retirement, relocation, physical infirmities, and loss of friends or spouses. Such changes place demands on interpersonal skills to cultivate new social relationships that can contribute to positive functioning and personal well-being. Perceived social inefficacy increases the vulnerability of older people to stress and depression, both directly and indirectly, by impeding development of social supports that serve as a buffer against life stressors ( Holahan & Holahan, 1987a , 1987b ). Growing physical infirmities and perceived inability to fulfill valued performance standards that were achievable at an earlier time can also be highly depressing.

Perceived self-efficacy and depressive mood affect each other bidirectionally. Two biasing processes have been postulated on how mood can influence self-efficacy judgment. According to the affective-priming theory proposed by Bower, past successes and failures are stored as memories along with their affect ( Bower, 1983 ). The set of memories provides the data base on which judgmental processes operate. Mood activates, through an associative mood network, the subset of memories congruent with it. Thus, negative mood activates the failure subset, whereas positive mood activates the success subset. The spread of activation from the emotion node makes mood-congruent memories salient. Self-appraisal of efficacy is enhanced by selective recall of past successes, but diminished by recall of failures. In the cognitive-priming view, specific successes or failures that induce the affect also produce cognitions that cue thoughts of other past successes and failures. This view places greater emphasis on the thought content of the inducing event than on the aroused affect as the primer of other positive or negative thoughts. Cognitive availability biases self-efficacy judgment. Kavanagh and Bower (1985) have shown that, indeed, induced positive mood enhances perceived self-efficacy, whereas despondent mood diminishes it. The impact of induced mood on self-efficacy judgment is widely generalized across diverse domains of functioning. There is some evidence to indicate that mood-inducing events exert their influence on self-efficacy judgment more through affective than through cognitive priming ( Kavanagh, 1983 ). Depressive rumination impairs ability to initiate and sustain adaptive activities.

The findings of West, Berry, and Powlishta (1989) lend some support to the view that perceived self-efficacy can operate on memory functioning through an affective modality. Depression was accompanied by perceived memory inefficacy, which, in turn, was associated with deficient memory performances. The decline in perceived self-efficacy and intellectual performance associated with impaired health reported by Lachman and Leff may have arisen through the depression modality rather than through a physical modality.

Perceived Self-Efficacy and the Utilization of Cognitive Skills

Much of the research on enhancement of sociocognitive functioning has centered on the knowledge and skills needed to regulate one's own behavior. There is a difference between possessing skills and being able to use them effectively and consistently under varied circumstances. Development of self-regulatory capabilities requires instilling a resilient sense of efficacy as well as imparting knowledge and skills. If people are not fully convinced of their personal efficacy they rapidly abandon the skills they have been taught when they fail to get quick results or it requires bothersome effort.

Rebok and Balcerak find that mnemonic training, in which people learn to use the method of loci as a memory aid for word memory, improved the memory performances of older adults but did not raise their beliefs in their memory efficacy. This probably explains why only a minority of them (39%) used the memory aid that they had been taught during generalization tests of memory for digits. It would seem pointless to use a method that one believed did not improve one's capabilities. Among the younger adults who raised their perceived self-efficacy for word memory after undergoing the mnemonic training, 62% of them spontaneously used the loci aid for digit memory and outperformed the older adults in this regard. The enhanced sense of personal efficacy had a generalized effect. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy of younger adults for word memory, the higher were their performance attainments in digit memory.

Training in cognitive skills can produce more generalized and lasting effects if it raises self-beliefs of efficacy as well as imparts skills. Each of the ways of building self-efficacy can be used to develop a generalized sense of efficacy needed to override impediments to the utilization of established skills ( Bandura, 1986 ). These efficacy-inducing approaches rely on four principal sources of efficacy information. These include (a) direct mastery experiences, (b) observing people similar to oneself succeed by perseverant effort, (c) social persuasion that one possesses the capabilities to succeed, and (d) judgments of bodily states and various forms of somatic information.

With regard to performance mastery, a generalized sense of efficacy is built through explicit demonstration trials in the exercise of control over progressively more challenging tasks. For example, individuals could be given efficacy demonstration trials in which they perform memory tasks both with and without mnemonic aids and compare the results. Evidence of better memory with mnemonic aids provides individuals with persuasive demonstrations that they can exercise some control over their memory by enlisting cognitive strategies. Efficacy validating trials not only serve as efficacy builders, but also put to trial the value of the techniques being taught.

Modeling influences can be used to demonstrate how others have been able to improve their memory by habitual use of mnemonic aids. Persuasory influences that instill self-beliefs that are conducive to optimal utilization of skills can also contribute to staying power. Successful efficacy builders do more than convey positive appraisals. In addition to raising people's beliefs in their capabilities, they structure mastery tasks for them in ways that bring success and avoid placing them prematurely in situations where they are likely to fail.

Maintaining Perceived Self-Efficacy Over the Life Span

Lachman and Leff report that younger adults display better memory than older adults. However, although older adults differ widely, they do not exhibit any decline on the average in either perceived intellectual efficacy or intellectual performance over a 5-year period. Longitudinal studies with multiple cohorts similarly reveal that older adults manage to preserve a favorable sense of personal efficacy well into the later years ( Lachman, 1986 ). This is an interesting finding provided it does not reflect insensitivity of the global measurement of personal efficacy.

There are several processes by which older adults can preserve a high sense of self-efficacy when they are outperformed by younger cohorts. Longitudinal studies reveal no universal or general decline in intellectual abilities until the very advanced years, but, in cross-sectional comparisons of different age groups, the young surpass the old ( Baltes & Labouvie, 1973 ; Schaie, 1974 ). The major share of age differences in intelligence seems to be due to differences in educational experiences across generations rather than to biological aging. It is not so much that the old have declined in intelligence but that the young have had the benefit of richer intellectual experiences enabling them to function at a higher level. If older adults do not experience a decline in actual capability and avoid social comparison with younger cohorts, they can achieve an enduring sense of personal efficacy through favorable self-comparison over time. Even if they experience a decline in ability, they can sustain their sense of efficacy by ignoring younger cohorts and appraising their capabilities through social comparison with their agemates. By maintaining or improving their relative standing among agemates, they can preserve their sense of self-efficacy in the face of changing capabilities ( Frey & Ruble, 1989 ). People also have some leeway in self-appraisal in how heavily they weight different domains or facets of functioning. If they remain good problem solvers and bring a broadened perspective to bear on judgments regarding important matters, they will not necessarily downgrade their sense of personal efficacy because they process information a bit slower or have experienced some decline in physical stamina. A balanced self-appraisal can help sustain a favorable sense of personal efficacy.


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Preparation of this commentary was facilitated by Public Health Research Grant MH-5162-25 from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Correspondence may be addressed to Albert Bandura, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Building 420, Stanford, California, 94305.
Received: February 10, 1989
Accepted: February 17, 1989