Self-efficacy: Do you see yourself as having a lot of control over what happens in your life? "Believe in yourself" is common advice. Americans are more likely to believe they can control their lives than are people in other cultures. When asked why one person succeeds while another with the same skills and training fails, about 1% of Americans say it is fate or God's will, while 30% of people in developing countries give this explanation (Sears, Peplau, Freedman & Taylor, 1988, p. 153). What would your answer be? Perhaps this difference between cultures is due to our having more opportunities to do what we want or due to our greater need to blame the poor for their poverty or due to our thinking more of ourselves as individuals having free will or due to different religious views or due to some other factors.
What were the results of your Internalizer-Externalizer (I-E) test in chapter 8? The I-E scale clearly measures whether you believe you are in control of what happens in your life or not--your locus of control. It does not measure, perhaps, the degree of control you think you have--your self-efficacy (see below). But it seems unlikely that you would see yourself as an internalizer and responsible for guiding your life and, at the same time, believe you are (and actually be) ineffective in doing so. We are just learning some of the complexities involved in measuring self-confidence and personal power (see Sappington, et al. below).
Bandura (1986) believes that self-efficacy judgments, i.e. one's belief in his/her ability to effectively control specific events in his/her life, play a role in almost everything we do, think, and feel. Hundreds of research studies support this notion (see Bandura's chapter 9) and hundreds of wonderful children's stories, like The Little Engine that Could, illustrate the importance of a positive attitude. The average person agrees that self-efficacy influences our actions; we'd call it confidence or belief in ourselves or a sense of personal power. However, self-efficacy is not used by most researchers as a global concept; it is not a single score applied to all aspects of your life. Self-efficacy is a judgment about your competence in one specific situation. It is easy to see why. To believe you could effectively handle almost any problem situation--e.g. bring peace to the world, replace fossil fuels, educate everyone, solve Russia's problems, and stop a bad habit--would require many phenomenal skills. But some people do see themselves as being an effective change agent in many important areas of living. Others, no doubt, feel ineffective. Still others think they can shine in only a few arenas. As yet, psychology has not adopted psychological tests measuring generalized or specific self-efficacy. Instead, researchers usually ask each subject to judge what specific tasks he/she can do well (and his/her confidence in that judgment) or "How well will you do on this task?"
Self-efficacy involves or is related to four different concepts:
- Predicting our performance: "I think I can make 5 out of 10 foul shots."
- Rationally-based ("consider the facts") self-efficacy judgments: "I'm a good shot. I'd rate myself an '8' on a ten point scale" or "I cognitively realize the fact that I'm not good at all shooting foul shots. I probably would make 1 or 2 out of 10 shots."
- Gut-feeling-based ("don't worry about the actual facts") self-efficacy judgments: "Oh, I love basketball. I'm a good shot, I'll make 8 or 9 out of 10!" or "I feel I'm terrible at this. I emotionally feel I can't make any out of 10."
- The extended outcome or consequences expected from your performance: "It will impress the hell out of my girlfriend if I sink 6 or 8 out of 10" or "the other players will hate me if I miss this shot."
You can see the difference between prediction 1 (above) based on past performance and prediction 2 based on one's intuitive feelings by realizing that a professional basketball player, averaging 76% of his foul shots, may consider himself a poor free throw shooter and lack faith in his ability to make his next shot, whereas an 8th grader averaging about 40% of his/her shots may think of him/herself as a really good shot and feel pretty cocky about the next shot. Both skill (percentage of shots made) and confidence (self-efficacy) are related to actual performance, but skill, of course, is much more important in the case of shooting baskets. (Naturally, skill and confidence are usually closely related.) Confidence is probably more important than skill in other situations, such as deciding to approach someone for a date.
Most studies have not heretofore distinguished between 2 and 3, but recent work underscores the difference between intellectual-rational assessment and emotional-intuitive judgment about your efficacy. For instance, Sappington, Richards, Spiers, & Fraser (1988) point out that a person may intellectually know that he/she can not catch cancer or AIDS from a friend but may still feel as if it is contagious. Our feelings are not rational, but emotions are related to performance. For example, when patients at a pain clinic intellectually estimated (as in 2 above) their ability to reduce their own pain, it had no relationship to the actual outcome of their self-help efforts to overcome pain. But the patients' gut-feeling estimates (as in 3 above) of their pain-control ability were clearly related (r=.53) to actual results; the higher the feelings of confidence, the greater pain reduction. The same researchers also found that students' I-E (Internalizer-Externalizer; see chapter 8) test scores answered on the basis of emotional, gut-level feelings were related to their Abnormal Psychology test scores, but rationally answered I-E test scores were not. Students who emotionally felt personally in control of their lives did better on the classroom examination.
These results suggest the popular advice of "believe in yourself" should be modified to: "EMOTIONALLY BELIEVE DOWN IN YOUR GUT IN YOUR SELF-CONTROL." Unemotional, intellectual belief in personal control seems less personally helpful in certain situations. However, this research is very new and primitive. We need better measures, better understanding of what is happening, more insight into beliefs in self-control and placebos, etc. Perhaps the instructions to the self-raters in 3 encourages more unbridled optimism and pessimism, which leads to more variable scores and accounts for the higher correlations with performance. Perhaps an emotionally enhanced "faith" or enthusiasm or zeal about our ability to change ourselves or a problem situation helps us conquer problems. Coaches everywhere seem to think so. So, how do you get this highly emotional, zestful, reassuring confidence? Sappington, Richards, Spiers and Fraser (1988) say it must come from an emotional experience, not from logical, factual information. For example, high feelings of confidence might be generated by
Some psychologists believe that excessive self-confidence could cause problems, not just in terms of appearing arrogant but perhaps by causing failure since you don't see your limitations and may, thus, overextend yourself. Or an inflated opinion of ourselves may lead us to become poor planners, lax, and prone to backslide or relapse with some bad habit we have recently overcome (Haaga & Stewart, 1992). These consequences seem likely but there is only a little evidence, thus far. Excessive negative thoughts and low self-efficacy are clearly associated with emotional problems and relapsing; excessive over-confidence may sometimes get us in trouble (relapse); moderate confidence in maintaining our desired behavior in spite of full awareness of the risks will rarely cause problems. In short, a combination of realism and confidence seems to work best.
- watching a person similar to you struggling with a familiar problem, then you get so emotionally involved in his/her efforts to succeed that you feel exhilarated when they master the situation,
- listening to a person, who has successfully coped with a serious problem, describe his/her techniques, setbacks, traumas, and other emotionally meaningful or moving experiences, and
- having actual, uplifting experiences that conclusively demonstrate to us that we have more control over ourselves or the situation than we thought we had.
The following discussion and summary of findings (mostly from Bandura, 1986) are based on research using each subject's single rating of self-efficacy, not both their intellectual and emotional beliefs. People who believe they are efficacious tend to see their successes as resulting from high ability and their failures as resulting from a lack of effort. As mentioned above, an over-estimation of your ability might encourage you to test your limits and maximize the effects of positive expectations. If you can accept some failure and also feel generally confident in your self-help ability, you will feel less stress, take more risks, and try harder and longer to make the changes you desire. The harder you try, the more success you will have. Being successful increases self-efficacy, one then wants to learn more useful skills. Success and confidence alter our goals. Eventually, you can gain self-control and "produce your own future," according to Bandura. In a similar way, managers-coaches-teachers think employees-athletes-students perform better when leaders expect them to do well, i.e. "I think you can." This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Low efficacious people, similar to depressed people, think they lack the ability to help themselves which makes them nervous and further impairs their performance. Examples: self-doubting students predictably avoid school work, but how much homework is done by highly anxious students is not predictable. Having strong physiological responses while socializing will not tell us if a person will act and feel shy, but self-evaluations of "I'm shy" or "feeling tense is normal" will tell us. Without confidence, most people give up... but some decide to learn some new coping skills. On the other hand, over-confident people are unlikely to feel the need to prepare in advance to meet problems and may, therefore, not do well in spite of having confidence. This complicates matters. For example, smokers and drinkers who believe they can abstain are actually more successful in doing so, but those who believe they could overcome a relapse are not as successful at abstaining as those who think "one drink leads to a drunk" (Bandura, 1986, p.437; Haaga & Stewart, 1992).
If you are inaccurate and over-estimate or under-estimate your effectiveness in a certain situation, there can be unfortunate consequences, e.g. you might attempt impossible tasks or avoid tasks you could handle. Sometimes, as with a placebo, reality doesn't matter. Example: if you are taught that relaxing your head muscles prevents tension headaches and are convinced by the experimenter that you are able to relax those muscles effectively (even though you are in fact tensing the muscles), you will have fewer headaches in the future (Holroyd, et al, 1984). Faith in doctors, pills, therapy, God, witch doctors, and self-help can be powerful forces, usually for the good. Believing we are helpless is just as powerful in the other direction (see depression in chapter 6).
Where does this belief in or doubts about your self-efficacy come from? How can self-efficacy be increased? Bandura (1986) cites research suggesting past successes or failures --as judged by us--resulting from our efforts in relevant areas are primarily responsible for our efficacy judgments. (How many free throws have you made out of 10 in the past?) It's not easy to change our self-appraisals. To increase our confidence we need to repeatedly (not once) handle a difficult (not an easy one) situation without working too hard and without outside help. If you have to work much harder than others seem to, you may doubt your abilities. Many people find it so hard to become and stay efficacious that they lose hope, give up personal control, and start depending on others (Langer, 1979).
Bandura contends that feeling efficacious has no consistent relation to feeling good about yourself, e.g. he says a person may feel effective (as a manipulator) but take no pride in such activities or feel incompetent (as an artist, mathematician or tight rope walker) without feeling low self-esteem. While these examples are valid, I still say that success--e.g. being an effective self-helper--in most cases raises our self-esteem as well as our feelings of self-efficacy (see method #1). In order to feel able, in most situations you need to learn to be able.
By seeing or imagining others model successful or unsuccessful responses in specific situations may give us confidence or the jitters. We get the biggest boost in our confidence by watching several persons (not one) similar to us (in traits and ability) successfully conquer a tough challenge by determined effort (not easily nor by virtue of great skill). Watching talented models will get us familiar with the situation and give us some "tips," but such models may intimidate us. Watching failures gives us confidence if we think we can do better (failures may show us what not to do).
Other people could also model for us how to solve problems and accurately form efficacy judgments by talking aloud as they solve problems and compare their effectiveness with others. We could hear how others think, how they assess their ability. This is called cognitive modeling (Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979) or coaching.
We can be persuaded by a believable evaluator (perhaps not an uninformed friend), especially via encouraging feedback, that we have the ability to do something. Also, we can be cheered on to try harder (which increases our chances of succeeding). Books try to build our confidence (see motivational books cited in the motivation section of chapter 4).
However, persuasion has not been, as yet, a powerful means of building self-efficacy; actions seem to speak louder than words. Interestingly, it is probably much easier for negative feedback to undermine our confidence, than for encouragement to build it. Self-doubts lead to not trying or to timid efforts which quickly and easily confirm the negative self-evaluations. It is harder to be successful than to fail.
Persuasion is the approach of the super salesperson or the efficiency expert. They tell us to believe in our sales ability (or in the customers' gullibility). Clearly, the insecure, self-doubting, nervous sales person is easy to turn down (unless he/she is 7 years old and you want to offer encouragement).
Observing how "up tight," tired, or physically upset we are in specific situations probably influences our judgments about our efficacy. The self-doubting speaker probably interprets his/her sweating as a sign he/she is doing poorly rather than as a reaction to a warm room. The depressed person remembers previous failures while confident people remember past successes; this further influences self-efficacy estimates. A good mood and a healthy, comfortable body generate positive expectations.
Many therapies emphasize assuming responsibility for and having control over your own life, especially Reality therapy, Gestalt therapy, Existential therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral therapy, and Rational-Emotive therapy. Several of these therapies add another related concept: choice or "free will." Existentialists say, "You are who you are because you want to be" (Poduska, 1976). The saying is: "No one can make you feel any way," you choose to feel the way you do. You also choose to do whatever you do. Who else is responsible for your actions, feelings, and thoughts as much as you are? Self-help books, like this one, and psychoeducational approaches make the same point: humans can influence their own lives if they know effective methods.
Research evidence piles up suggesting that self-efficacy is related to good health, satisfying relationships, and success (Schwarzer, 1992). What is not clear, yet, is how much obtaining these outcomes in life is responsible for raising your faith in your ability to control your life vs. how much the faith alone should be given credit for producing these outcomes. That is, which comes first the confidence or the accomplishments? Clearly, it works both ways. So, raising your self-efficacy is a good idea, but there have to be accomplishments too. Indeed, if it were easier, you could surely start with the achievements first.
Certain Eastern philosophies teach a very different point of view: you are not responsible for what happens in the world. In fact, you can't do much about it, so accept whatever happens. The oriental sages say you can only control your internal reaction to the external world. Trying to change things is like trying to stop a river with a teaspoon. So, flow with the river. Accepting the inevitable and the laws of nature are parts of the next attitude discussed. Different Eastern philosophies speak of karma, which suggests we receive from the world according to what we give. This can be positive karma: by giving love, we get more love in return; by letting others be free to make choices, we lessen our responsibility for others and increase our own freedom. It can be negative karma: by being unkind and dishonest, we will be disliked; by over-eating and over-drinking, we will shorten our lives. Today, you experience the results of yesterday's acts, but you aren't responsible for controlling what happens.