by Albert Bandura
Albert Bandura - Stanford University
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.),
Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York:
Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of
mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
I. Sources of Self-Efficacy Beliefs
II. Efficacy-Mediated Processes
III. Adaptive Benefits of Optimistic Self-Beliefs of Efficacy
IV. Development and Exercise of Self-Efficacy Over the Lifespan
Affective Processes: Processes regulating emotional states and elicitation of emotional reactions.
Cognitive Processes: Thinking processes involved in the acquisition, organization and use of
Motivation: Activation to action. Level of motivation is reflected in choice of courses of action,
and in the intensity and persistence of effort.
Perceived Self-Efficacy: People's beliefs about their capabilities to produce effects.
Self-Regulation: Exercise of influence over one's own motivation, thought processes, emotional
states and patterns of behavior.
Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated
levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy
beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce
these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective
and selection processes.
A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many
ways. People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be
mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters intrinsic interest
and deep engrossment in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong
commitment to them. They heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. They quickly
recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They attribute failure to insufficient effort
or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They approach threatening situations with
assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal
accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression.
In contrast, people who doubt their capabilities shy away from difficult tasks which they view as
personal threats. They have low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose to
pursue. When faced with difficult tasks, they dwell on their personal deficiencies, on the obstacles
they will encounter, and all kinds of adverse outcomes rather than concentrate on how to perform
successfully. They slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. They are
slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks. Because they view
insufficient performance as deficient aptitude it does not require much failure for them to lose faith
in their capabilities. They fall easy victim to stress and depression.
I. Sources of Self-Efficacy
People's beliefs about their efficacy can be developed by four main sources of influence. The most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences. Successes build a robust belief in one's personal efficacy. Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established.
If people experience only easy successes they come to expect quick results and are easily
discouraged by failure. A resilient sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles
through perseverant effort. Some setbacks and difficulties in human pursuits serve a useful
purpose in teaching that success usually requires sustained effort. After people become convinced
they have what it takes to succeed, they persevere in the face of adversity and quickly rebound
from setbacks. By sticking it out through tough times, they emerge stronger from adversity.
The second way of creating and strengthening self-beliefs of efficacy is through the vicarious
experiences provided by social models. Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained
effort raises observers' beliefs that they too possess the capabilities master comparable activities to
succeed. By the same token, observing others' fail despite high effort lowers observers' judgments
of their own efficacy and undermines their efforts. The impact of modeling on perceived self-
efficacy is strongly influenced by perceived similarity to the models. The greater the assumed
similarity the more persuasive are the models' successes and failures. If people see the models as
very different from themselves their perceived self-efficacy is not much influenced by the models'
behavior and the results its produces.
Modeling influences do more than provide a social standard against which to judge one's own
capabilities. People seek proficient models who possess the competencies to which they aspire.
Through their behavior and expressed ways of thinking, competent models transmit knowledge
and teach observers effective skills and strategies for managing environmental demands.
Acquisition of better means raises perceived self-efficacy.
Social persuasion is a third way of strengthening people's beliefs that they have what it takes to
succeed. People who are persuaded verbally that they possess the capabilities to master given
activities are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it than if they harbor self-doubts and
dwell on personal deficiencies when problems arise. To the extent that persuasive boosts in
perceived self-efficacy lead people to try hard enough to succeed, they promote development of
skills and a sense of personal efficacy.
It is more difficult to instill high beliefs of personal efficacy by social persuasion alone than to
undermine it. Unrealistic boosts in efficacy are quickly disconfirmed by disappointing results of
one's efforts. But people who have been persuaded that they lack capabilities tend to avoid
challenging activities that cultivate potentialities and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. By
constricting activities and undermining motivation, disbelief in one's capabilities creates its own
Successful efficacy builders do more than convey positive appraisals. In addition to raising
people's beliefs in their capabilities, they structure situations for them in ways that bring success
and avoid placing people in situations prematurely where they are likely to fail often. They
measure success in terms of self-improvement rather than by triumphs over others.
People also rely partly on their somatic and emotional states in judging their capabilities. They
interpret their stress reactions and tension as signs of vulnerability to poor performance. In
activities involving strength and stamina, people judge their fatigue, aches and pains as signs of
physical debility. Mood also affects people's judgments of their personal efficacy. Positive mood
enhances perceived self-efficacy, despondent mood diminishes it. The fourth way of modifying
self-beliefs of efficacy is to reduce people's stress reactions and alter their negative emotional
proclivities and isinterpretations of their physical states.
It is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how
they are perceived and interpreted. People who have a high sense of efficacy are likely to view
their state of affective arousal as an energizing facilitator of performance, whereas those who are
beset by self- doubts regard their arousal as a debilitator. Physiological indicators of efficacy play
an especially influential role in health functioning and in athletic and other physical activities.
II. Efficacy-Activated Processes
Much research has been conducted on the four major psychological processes through which self-
beliefs of efficacy affect human functioning.
A. Cognitive Processes
The effects of self-efficacy beliefs on cognitive processes take a variety of forms. Much human
behavior, being purposive, is regulated by forethought embodying valued goals. Personal goal
setting is influenced by self-appraisal of capabilities. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the
higher the goal challenges people set for themselves and the firmer is their commitment to them.
Most courses of action are initially organized in thought. People's beliefs in their efficacy shape
the types of anticipatory scenarios they construct and rehearse. Those who have a high sense of
efficacy, visualize success scenarios that provide positive guides and supports for performance.
Those who doubt their efficacy, visualize failure scenarios and dwell on the many things that can
go wrong. It is difficult to achieve much while fighting self-doubt. A major function of thought is
to enable people to predict events and to develop ways to control those that affect their lives. Such
skills require effective cognitive processing of information that contains many ambiguities and
uncertainties. In learning predictive and regulative rules people must draw on their knowledge to
construct options, to weight and integrate predictive factors, to test and revise their judgments
against the immediate and distal results of their actions, and to remember which factors they had
tested and how well they had worked.
It requires a strong sense of efficacy to remain task oriented in the face of pressing situational
demands, failures and setbacks that have significant repercussions. Indeed, when people are faced
with the tasks of managing difficult environmental demands under taxing circumstances, those
who are beset by self-doubts about their efficacy become more and more erratic in their analytic
thinking, lower their aspirations and the quality of their performance deteriorates. In contrast,
those who maintain a resilient sense of efficacy set themselves challenging goals and use good
analytic thinking which pays off in performance accomplishments.
B. Motivational Processes
Self-beliefs of efficacy play a key role in the self-regulation of motivation. Most human
motivation is cognitively generated. People motivate themselves and guide their actions
anticipatorily by the exercise of forethought. They form beliefs about what they can do. They
anticipate likely outcomes of prospective actions. They set goals for themselves and plan courses
of action designed to realize valued futures.
There are three different forms of cognitive motivators around which different theories have been
built. They include causal attributions, outcome expectancies, and cognized goals. The
corresponding theories are attribution theory, expectancy-value theory and goal theory,
respectively. Self-efficacy beliefs operate in each of these types of cognitive motivation. Self-
efficacy beliefs influence causal attributions. People who regard themselves as highly efficacious
attribute their failures to insufficient effort, those who regard themselves as inefficacious attribute
their failures to low ability. Causal attributions affect motivation, performance and affective
reactions mainly through beliefs of self-efficacy.
In expectancy-value theory, motivation is regulated by the expectation that a given course of
behavior will produce certain outcomes and the value of those outcomes. But people act on their
beliefs about what they can do, as well as on their beliefs about the likely outcomes of
performance. The motivating influence of outcome expectancies is thus partly governed by self-
beliefs of efficacy. There are countless attractive options people do not pursue because they judge
they lack the capabilities for them. The predictiveness of expectancy-value theory is enhanced by
including the influence of perceived self- efficacy.
The capacity to exercise self-influence by goal challenges and evaluative reaction to one's own
attainments provides a major cognitive mechanism of motivation. A large body of evidence shows
that explicit, challenging goals enhance and sustain motivation. Goals operate largely through self-
influence processes rather than regulate motivation and action directly. Motivation based on goal
setting involves a cognitive comparison process. By making self-satisfaction conditional on
matching adopted goals, people give direction to their behavior and create incentives to persist in
their efforts until they fulfill their goals. They seek self-satisfaction from fulfilling valued goals
and are prompted to intensify their efforts by discontent with substandard performances.
Motivation based on goals or personal standards is governed by three types of self influences.
They include self-satisfying and self-dissatisfying reactions to one's performance, perceived self-
efficacy for goal attainment, and readjustment of personal goals based on one's progress. Self-
efficacy beliefs contribute to motivation in several ways: They determine the goals people set for
themselves; how much effort they expend; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and
their resilience to failures. When faced with obstacles and failures people who harbor self-doubts
about their capabilities slacken their efforts or give up quickly. Those who have a strong belief in
their capabilities exert greater effort when they fail to master the challenge. Strong perseverance
contributes to performance accomplishments.
C. Affective Processes
People's beliefs in their coping capabilities affect how much stress and depression they experience
in threatening or difficult situations, as well as their level of motivation. Perceived self-efficacy to
exercise control over stressors plays a central role in anxiety arousal. People who believe they can
exercise control over threats do not conjure up disturbing thought patterns. But those who believe
they cannot manage threats experience high anxiety arousal. They dwell on their coping
deficiencies. They view many aspects of their environment as fraught with danger. They magnify
the severity of possible threats and worry about things that rarely happen. Through such
inefficacious thinking they distress themselves and impair their level of functioning. Perceived
coping self-efficacy regulates avoidance behavior as well as anxiety arousal. The stronger the
sense of self-efficacy the bolder people are in taking on taxing and threatening activities.
Anxiety arousal is affected not only by perceived coping efficacy but by perceived efficacy to
control disturbing thoughts. The exercise of control over one's own consciousness is summed up
well in the proverb: "You cannot prevent the birds of worry and care from flying over your head.
But you can stop them from building a nest in your head." Perceived self-efficacy to control
thought processes is a key factor in regulating thought produced stress and depression. It is not the
sheer frequency of disturbing thoughts but the perceived inability to turn them off that is the major
source of distress. Both perceived coping self-efficacy and thought control efficacy operate jointly
to reduce anxiety and avoidant behavior.
Social cognitive theory prescribes mastery experiences as the principal means of personality
change. Guided mastery is a powerful vehicle for instilling a robust sense of coping efficacy in
people whose functioning is seriously impaired by intense apprehension and phobic self-protective
reactions. Mastery experiences are structured in ways to build coping skills and instill beliefs that
one can exercise control over potential threats. Intractable phobics, of course, are not about to do
what they dread. One must, therefore, create an environment so that incapacitated phobics can
perform successfully despite themselves. This is achieved by enlisting a variety of performance
mastery aids. Feared activities are first modeled to show people how to cope with threats and to
disconfirm their worst fears. Coping tasks are broken down into subtasks of easily mastered steps.
Performing feared activities together with the therapist further enables phobics to do things they
would resist doing by themselves. Another way of overcoming resistance is to use graduated time.
Phobics will refuse threatening tasks if they will have to endure stress for a long time. But they
will risk them for a short period. As their coping efficacy increases the time they perform the
activity is extended. Protective aids and dosing the severity of threats also help to restore and
develop a sense of coping efficacy.
After functioning is fully restored, the mastery aids are withdrawn to verify that coping successes
stem from personal efficacy rather than from mastery aids. Self-directed mastery experiences,
designed to provide varied confirmatory tests of coping capabilities, are then arranged to
strengthen and generalize the sense of coping efficacy. Once people develop a resilient sense of
efficacy they can withstand difficulties and adversities without adverse effects.
Guided mastery treatment achieves widespread psychological changes in a relatively short time. It
eliminates phobic behavior and anxiety and biological stress reactions, creates positive attitudes
and eradicates phobic ruminations and nightmares. Evidence that achievement of coping efficacy
profoundly affects dream activity is a particularly striking generalized impact.
A low sense of efficacy to exercise control produces depression as well as anxiety. It does so in
several different ways. One route to depression is through unfulfilled aspiration. People who
impose on themselves standards of self-worth they judge they cannot attain drive themselves to
bouts of depression. A second efficacy route to depression is through a low sense of social
efficacy. People who judge themselves to be socially efficacious seek out and cultivate social
relationships that provide models on how to manage difficult situations, cushion the adverse
effects of chronic stressors and bring satisfaction to people's lives. Perceived social inefficacy to
develop satisfying and supportive relationships increases vulnerability to depression through social
isolation. Much human depression is cognitively generated by dejecting ruminative thought. A low
sense of efficacy to exercise control over ruminative thought also contributes to the occurrence,
duration and recurrence of depressive episodes.
Other efficacy-activated processes in the affective domain concern the impact of perceived coping
self-efficacy on biological systems that affect health functioning. Stress has been implicated as an
important contributing factor to many physical dysfunctions. Controllability appears to be a key
organizing principle regarding the nature of these stress effects. It is not stressful life conditions
per se, but the perceived inability to manage them that is debilitating. Thus, exposure to stressors
with ability to control them has no adverse biological effects. But exposure to the same stressors
without the ability to control them impairs the immune system. The impairment of immune
function increases susceptibility to infection, contributes to the development of physical disorders
and accelerates the progression of disease.
Biological systems are highly interdependent. A weak sense of efficacy to exercise control over
stressors activates autonomic reactions, catecholamine secretion and release of endogenous
opioids. These biological systems are involved in the regulation of the immune system. Stress
activated in the process of acquiring coping capabilities may have different effects than stress
experienced in aversive situations with no prospect in sight of ever gaining any self-protective
efficacy. There are substantial evolutionary benefits to experiencing enhanced immune function
during development of coping capabilities vital for effective adaptation. It would not be
evolutionarily advantageous if acute stressors invariably impaired immune function, because of
their prevalence in everyday life. If this were the case, people would experience high vulnerability
to infective agents that would quickly do them in. There is some evidence that providing people
with effective means for managing stressors may have a positive effect on immune function.
Moreover, stress aroused while gaining coping mastery over stressors can enhance different
components of the immune system.
There are other ways in which perceived self-efficacy serves to promote health. Lifestyle habits
can enhance or impair health. This enables people to exert behavioral influence over their vitality
and quality of health. Perceived self-efficacy affects every phase of personal change--whether
people even consider changing their health habits; whether they enlist the motivation and
perseverance needed to succeed should they choose to do so; and how well they maintain the habit
changes they have achieved. The stronger the perceived self-regulatory efficacy the more
successful people are in reducing health-impairing habits and adopting and integrating health-
promoting habits into their regular lifestyle. Comprehensive community programs designed to
prevent cardiovascular disease by altering risk-related habits reduce the rate of morbidity and
D. Selection Processes
The discussion so far has centered on efficacy-activated processes that enable people to create
beneficial environments and to exercise some control over those they encounter day in and day
out. People are partly the product of their environment. Therefore, beliefs of personal efficacy can
shape the course lives take by influencing they types of activities and environments people choose.
People avoid activities and situations they believe exceed their coping capabilities. But they
readily undertake challenging activities and select situations they judge themselves capable of
handling. By the choices they make, people cultivate different competencies, interests and social
networks that determine life courses. Any factor that influences choice behavior can profoundly
affect the direction of personal development. This is because the social influences operating in
selected environments continue to promote certain competencies, values, and interests long after
the efficacy decisional determinant has rendered its inaugurating effect.
Career choice and development is but one example of the power of self-efficacy beliefs to affect
the course of life paths through choice-related processes. The higher the level of people's
perceived self-efficacy the wider the range of career options they seriously consider, the greater
their interest in them, and the better they prepare themselves educationally for the occupational
pursuits they choose and the greater is their success. Occupations structure a good part of people's
lives and provide them with a major source of personal growth.
III. Adaptive Benefits of Optimistic Self-Beliefs of Efficacy
There is a growing body of evidence that human accomplishments and positive well-being require
an optimistic sense of personal efficacy. This is because ordinary social realities are strewn with
difficulties. They are full of impediments, adversities, setbacks, frustrations, and inequities. People
must have a robust sense of personal efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort needed to succeed.
In pursuits strewn with obstacles, realists either foresake them, abort their efforts prematurely
when difficulties arise or become cynical about the prospects of effecting significant changes.
It is widely believed that misjudgment breeds personal problems. Certainly, gross miscalculation
can get one into trouble. However, the functional value of accurate self-appraisal depends on the
nature of the activity. Activities in which mistakes can produce costly or injurious consequences
call for accurate self- appraisal of capabilities. It is a different matter where difficult
accomplishments can produce substantial personal and social benefits and the costs involve one's
time, effort, and expendable resources. People with a high sense of efficacy have the staying
power to endure the obstacles and setbacks that characterize difficult undertakings.
When people err in their self-appraisal they tend to overestimate their capabilities. This is a benefit
rather than a cognitive failing to be eradicated. If efficacy beliefs always reflected only what
people can do routinely they would rarely fail but they would not set aspirations beyond their
immediate reach nor mount the extra effort needed to surpass their ordinary performances.
People who experience much distress have been compared in their skills and beliefs in their
capabilities with those who do not suffer from such problems. The findings show that it is often
the normal people who are distorters of reality. But they display self-enhancing biases and distort
in the positive direction. People who are socially anxious or prone to depression are often just as
socially skilled as those who do not suffer from such problems. But the normal ones believe they
are much more adept than they really are. The nondepressed people also have a stronger belief that
they exercise some control over situations.
Social reformers strongly believe that they can mobilize the collective effort needed to bring social
change. Although their beliefs are rarely fully realized they sustain reform efforts that achieve
important gains. Were social reformers to be entirely realistic about the prospects of transforming
social systems they would either forego the endeavor or fall easy victim to discouragement.
Realists may adapt well to existing realities. But those with a tenacious self-efficacy are likely to
change those realities.
Innovative achievements also require a resilient sense of efficacy. Innovations require heavy
investment of effort over a long period with uncertain results. Moreover, innovations that clash
with existing preferences and practices meet with negative social reactions. It is, therefore, not
surprising that one rarely finds realists in the ranks of innovators and great achievers.
In his delightful book, titled, Rejection, John White provides vivid testimony, that the striking
characteristic of people who have achieved eminence in their fields is an inextinguishable sense of
personal efficacy and a firm belief in the worth of what they are doing. This resilient self-belief
system enabled them to override repeated early rejections of their work.
Many of our literary classics brought their authors countless rejections. James Joyce's, the
Dubliners, was rejected by 22 publishers. Gertrude Stein continued to submit poems to editors for
20 years before one was finally accepted. Over a dozen publishers rejected a manuscript by e. e.
cummings. When he finally got it published, by his mother, the dedication read, in upper case:
With no thanks to . . . followed by the list of 16 publishers who had rejected his manuscript.
Early rejection is the rule, rather than the exception, in other creative endeavors. The
Impressionists had to arrange their own exhibitions because their works were routinely rejected by
the Paris Salon. Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. Rodin was rejected three
times for admission to the 'cole des Beaux-Arts.
The musical works of most renowned composers, were initially greeted with derision. Stravinsky
was run out of town by enraged Parisiens and critics when he first served them the Rite of Spring.
Entertainers in the contemporary pop culture have not fared any better. Decca records rejected a
recording contract with the Beatles with the non-prophetic evaluation, "We don't like their sound.
Groups of guitars are on the way out." Columbia records was next to turn them down. [And see
Theories and technologies that are ahead of their time usually suffer repeated rejections. The
rocket pioneer, Robert Goddard, was bitterly rejected by his scientific peers on the grounds that
rocket propulsion would not work in the rarefied atmosphere of outer space. Because of the cold
reception given to innovations, the time between conception and technical realization is
The moral of the Book of Rejections is that rejections should not be accepted too readily as
indicants of personal failings. To do so is self-limiting.
In sum, the successful, the venturesome, the sociable, the nonanxious, the nondepressed, the social
reformers, and the innovators take an optimistic view of their personal capabilities to exercise
influence over events that affect their lives. If not unrealistically exaggerated, such self-beliefs
foster positive well-being and human accomplishments.
Many of the challenges of life are group problems requiring collective effort to produce significant
change. The strength of groups, organizations, and even nations lies partly in people's sense of
collective efficacy that they can solve the problems they face and improve their lives through
unified effort. People's beliefs in their collective efficacy influence what they choose to do as a
group, how much effort they put into it, their endurance when collective efforts fail to produce
quick results, and their likelihood of success.
IV. Development and Exercise of Self-Efficacy Over the Lifespan
Different periods of life present certain types of competency demands for successful functioning.
These normative changes in required competencies with age do not represent lock-step stages
through which everyone must inevitably pass. There are many pathways through life and, at any
given period, people vary substantially in how efficaciously they manage their lives. The sections
that follow provide a brief analysis of the characteristic developmental changes in the nature and
scope of perceived self-efficacy over the course of the lifespan.
A. Origins of a Sense of Personal Agency
The newborn comes without any sense of self. Infants exploratory experiences in which they see
themselves produce effects by their actions provide the initial basis for developing a sense of
efficacy. Shaking a rattle produces predictable sounds, energetic kicks shake their cribs, and
screams bring adults. By repeatedly observing that environmental events occur with action, but not
in its absence, infants learn that actions produce effects. Infants who experience success in
controlling environmental events become more attentive to their own behavior and more
competent in learning new efficacious responses, than are infants for whom the same
environmental events occur regardless of how they behave.
Development of a sense of personal efficacy requires more than simply producing effects by
actions. Those actions must be perceived as part of oneself. The self becomes differentiated from
others through dissimilar experience. If feeding oneself brings comfort, whereas seeing others feed
themselves has no similar effect, one's own activity becomes distinct from all other persons. As
infants begin to mature those around them refer to them and treat them as distinct persons. Based
on growing personal and social experiences they eventually form a symbolic representation of
themselves as a distinct self.
B. Familial Sources of Self-Efficacy
Young children must gain self-knowledge of their capabilities in broadening areas of functioning.
They have to develop, appraise and test their physical capabilities, their social competencies, their
linguistic skills, and their cognitive skills for comprehending and managing the many situations
they encounter daily. Development of sensorimotor capabilities greatly expands the infants'
exploratory environment and the means for acting upon it. These early exploratory and play
activities, which occupy much of children's waking hours, provide opportunities for enlarging their
repertoire of basic skills and sense of efficacy.
Successful experiences in the exercise of personal control are central to the early development of
social and cognitive competence. Parents who are responsive to their infants' behavior, and who
create opportunities for efficacious actions by providing an enriched physical environment and
permitting freedom of movement for exploration, have infants who are accelerated in their social
and cognitive development . Parental responsiveness increases cognitive competence, and infants'
expanded capabilities elicit greater parental responsiveness in a two-way influence. Development
of language provides children with the symbolic means to reflect on their experiences and what
others tell them about their capabilities and, thus, to expand their self-knowledge of what they can
and cannot do.
The initial efficacy experiences are centered in the family. But as the growing child's social world
rapidly expands, peers become increasingly important in children's developing self-knowledge of
their capabilities. It is in the context of peer relations that social comparison comes strongly into
play. At first, the closest comparative age-mates are siblings. Families differ in number of siblings,
how far apart in age they are, and in their sex distribution. Different family structures, as reflected
in family size, birth order, and sibling constellation patterns, create different social comparisons
for judging one's personal efficacy. Younger siblings find themselves in the unfavorable position
of judging their capabilities in relation to older siblings who may be several years advanced in
C. Broadening of Self-Efficacy Through Peer Influences
Children's efficacy-testing experiences change substantially as they move increasingly into the
larger community. It is in peer relationships that they broaden self-knowledge of their capabilities.
Peers serve several important efficacy functions. Those who are most experienced and competent
provide models of efficacious styles of thinking and behavior. A vast amount of social learning
occurs among peers. In addition, age-mates provide highly informative comparisons for judging
and verifying one's self-efficacy. Children are, therefore, especially sensitive to their relative
standing among the peers in activities that determine prestige and popularity.
Peers are neither homogeneous nor selected indiscriminately. Children tend to choose peers who
share similar interests and values. Selective peer association will promote self-efficacy in
directions of mutual interest, leaving other potentialities underdeveloped. Because peers serve as a
major influence in the development and validation of self-efficacy, disrupted or impoverished peer
relationships can adversely affect the growth of personal efficacy. A low sense of social efficacy
can, in turn, create internal obstacles to favorable peer relationships. Thus, children who regard
themselves as socially inefficacious withdraw socially, perceive low acceptance by their peers and
have a low sense of self-worth. There are some forms of behavior where a high sense of efficacy
may be socially alienating rather than socially affiliating. For example, children who readily resort
to aggression perceive themselves as highly efficacious in getting things they want by aggressive
D. School as an Agency for Cultivating Cognitive Self-Efficacy
During the crucial formative period of children's lives, the school functions as the primary setting
for the cultivation and social validation of cognitive competencies. School is the place where
children develop the cognitive competencies and acquire the knowledge and problem-solving
skills essential for participating effectively in the larger society. Here their knowledge and thinking
skills are continually tested, evaluated, and socially compared. As children master cognitive skills,
they develop a growing sense of their intellectual efficacy. Many social factors, apart from the
formal instruction, such as peer modeling of cognitive skills, social comparison with the
performances of other students, motivational enhancement through goals and positive incentives,
and teachers interpretations of children's successes and failures in ways that reflect favorably or
unfavorably on their ability also affect children's judgments of their intellectual efficacy.
The task of creating learning environments conducive to development of cognitive skills rests
heavily on the talents and self-efficacy of teachers. Those who are have a high sense of efficacy
about their teaching capabilities can motivate their students and enhance their cognitive
development. Teachers who have a low sense of instructional efficacy favor a custodial orientation
that relies heavily on negative sanctions to get students to study.
Teachers operate collectively within an interactive social system rather than as isolates. The belief
systems of staffs create school cultures that can have vitalizing or demoralizing effects on how
well schools function as a social system. Schools in which the staff collectively judge themselves
as powerless to get students to achieve academic success convey a group sense of academic futility
that can pervade the entire life of the school. Schools in which staff members collectively judge
themselves capable of promoting academic success imbue their schools with a positive atmosphere
for development that promotes academic attainments regardless of whether they serve
predominantly advantaged or disadvantaged students.
Students' belief in their capabilities to master academic activities affects their aspirations, their
level of interest in academic activities, and their academic accomplishments. There are a number
of school practices that, for the less talented or ill prepared, tend to convert instructional
experiences into education in inefficacy. These include lock-step sequences of instruction, which
lose many children along the way; ability groupings which further diminish the perceived self-
efficacy of those cast in the lower ranks; and competitive practices where many are doomed to
failure for the success of a relative few.
Classroom structures affect the development of intellectual self-efficacy, in large part, by the
relative emphasis they place on social comparison versus self-comparison appraisal. Self-
appraisals of less able students suffer most when the whole group studies the same material and
teachers make frequent comparative evaluations. Under such a monolithic structure students rank
themselves according to capability with high consensus. Once established, reputations are not
easily changed. In a personalized classroom structure, individualized instruction tailored to
students' knowledge and skills enables all of them to expand their competencies and provides less
basis for demoralizing social comparison. As a result, students are more likely to compare their
rate of progress to their personal standards than to the performance of others. Self-comparison of
improvement in a personalized classroom structure raises perceived capability. Cooperative
learning structures, in which students work together and help one another also tend to promote
more positive self-evaluations of capability and higher academic attainments than do
individualistic or competitive ones.
E. Growth of Self-Efficacy Through Transitional Experiences of Adolescence
Each period of development brings with it new challenges for coping efficacy. As adolescents
approach the demands of adulthood, they must learn to assume full responsibility for themselves in
almost every dimension of life. This requires mastering many new skills and the ways of adult
society. Learning how to deal with pubertal changes, emotionally invested partnerships and
sexuality becomes a matter of considerable importance. The task of choosing what lifework to
pursue also looms large during this period. These are but a few of the areas in which new
competencies and self-beliefs of efficacy have to be developed.
With growing independence during adolescence some experimentation with risky behavior is not
all that uncommon. Adolescents expand and strengthen their sense of efficacy by learning how to
deal successfully with potentially troublesome matters in which they are unpracticed as well as
with advantageous life events. Insulation from problematic situations leaves one ill-prepared to
cope with potential difficulties. Whether adolescents foresake risky activities or become
chronically enmeshed in them is determined by the interplay of personal competencies, self-
management efficacy and the prevailing influences in their lives.
Impoverished hazardous environments present especially harsh realities with minimal resources
and social supports for culturally-valued pursuits, but extensive modeling, incentives and social
supports for transgressive styles of behavior. Such environments severely tax the coping efficacy
of youth enmeshed in them to make it through adolescence in ways that do not irreversibly
foreclose many beneficial life paths.
Adolescence has often been characterized as a period of psychosocial turmoil. While no period of
life is ever free of problems, contrary to the stereotype of "storm and stress," most adolescents
negotiate the important transitions of this period without undue disturbance or discord. However,
youngsters who enter adolescence beset by a disabling sense of inefficacy transport their
vulnerability to distress and debility to the new environmental demands. The ease with which the
transition from childhood to the demands of adulthood is made similarly depends on the strength
of personal efficacy built up through prior mastery experiences.
F. Self-Efficacy Concerns of Adulthood
Young adulthood is a period when people have to learn to cope with many new demands arising
from lasting partnerships, marital relationships, parenthood, and occupational careers. As in earlier
mastery tasks, a firm sense of self-efficacy is an important contributor to the attainment of further
competencies and success. Those who enter adulthood poorly equipped with skills and plagued by
self-doubts find many aspects of their adult life stressful and depressing.
Beginning a productive vocational career poses a major transitional challenge in early adulthood.
There are a number of ways in which self-efficacy beliefs contribute to career development and
success in vocational pursuits. In preparatory phases, people's perceived self-efficacy partly
determines how well they develop the basic cognitive, self-management and interpersonal skills on
which occupational careers are founded. As noted earlier, beliefs concerning one's capabilities are
influential determinants of the vocational life paths that are chosen.
It is one thing to get started in an occupational pursuit, it is another thing to do well and advance in
it. Psychosocial skills contribute more heavily to career success than do occupational technical
skills. Development of coping capabilities and skills in managing one's motivation, emotional
states and thought processes increases perceived self-regulatory efficacy. The higher the sense of
self-regulatory efficacy the better the occupational functioning. Rapid technological changes in the
modern workplace are placing an increasing premium on higher problem-solving skills and
resilient self-efficacy to cope effectively with job displacements and restructuring of vocational
The transition to parenthood suddenly thrusts young adults into the expanded role of both parent
and spouse. They now not only have to deal with the ever-changing challenges of raising children
but to manage interdependent relationships within a family system and social links to many
extrafamilial social systems including educational, recreational, medical, and caregiving facilities.
Parents who are secure in their parenting efficacy shepherd their children adequately through the
various phases of development without serious problems or severe strain on the marital
relationship. But it can be a trying period for those who lack a sense of efficacy to manage the
expanded familial demands. They are highly vulnerable to stress and depression.
Increasing numbers of mothers are joining the work force either by economic necessity or personal
preference. Combining family and career has now become the normative pattern. This requires
management of the demands of both familial and occupational roles. Because of the cultural lag
between societal practices and the changing status of women, they continue to bear the major share
of the homemaking responsibility. Women who have a strong sense of efficacy to manage the
multiple demands of family and work and to enlist their husbands' aid with childcare experience a
positive sense of well-being. But those who are beset by self-doubts in their ability to combine the
dual roles suffer physical and emotional strain.
By the middle years, people settle into established routines that stabilize their sense of personal
efficacy in the major areas of functioning. However, the stability is a shaky one because life does
not remain static. Rapid technological and social changes constantly require adaptations calling for
self-reappraisals of capabilities. In their occupations, the middle-aged find themselves pressured
by younger challengers. Situations in which people must compete for promotions, status, and even
work itself, force constant self-appraisals of capabilities by means of social comparison with
G. Reappraisals of Self-Efficacy With Advancing Age
The self-efficacy issues of the elderly center on reappraisals and misappraisals of their capabilities.
Biological conceptions of aging focus extensively on declining abilities. Many physical capacities
do decrease as people grow older, thus, requiring reappraisals of self-efficacy for activities in
which the biological functions have been significantly affected. However, gains in knowledge,
skills, and expertise compensate some loss in physical reserve capacity. When the elderly are
taught to use their intellectual capabilities, their improvement in cognitive functioning more than
offsets the average decrement in performance over two decades. Because people rarely exploit
their full potential, elderly persons who invest the necessary effort can function at the higher levels
of younger adults. By affecting level of involvement in activities, perceived self- efficacy can
contribute to the maintenance of social, physical and intellectual functioning over the adult life
Older people tend to judge changes in their intellectual capabilities largely in terms of their
memory performance. Lapses and difficulties in memory that young adults dismiss are inclined to
be interpreted by older adults as indicators of declining cognitive capabilities. Those who regard
memory as a biologically shrinking capacity with aging have low faith in their memory
capabilities and enlist little effort to remember things. Older adults who have a stronger sense of
memory efficacy exert greater cognitive effort to aid their recall and, as a result, achieve better
Much variability exists across behavioral domains and educational and socioeconomic levels, and
there is no uniform decline in beliefs in personal efficacy in old age. The persons against whom
the elderly compare themselves contribute much to the variability in perceived self-efficacy. Those
who measure their capabilities against people their age are less likely to view themselves as
declining in capabilities than if younger cohorts are used in comparative self-appraisal. Perceived
cognitive inefficacy is accompanied by lowered intellectual performances. A declining sense of
self-efficacy, which often may stem more from disuse and negative cultural expectations than from
biological aging, can thus set in motion self-perpetuating processes that result in declining
cognitive and behavioral functioning. People who are beset with uncertainties about their personal
efficacy not only curtail the range of their activities but undermine their efforts in those they
undertake. The result is a progressive loss of interest and skill.
Major life changes in later years are brought about by retirement, relocation, 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 older person's vulnerability to stress and depression both directly and indirectly by
impeding development of social supports which serve as a buffer against life stressors.
The roles into which older adults are cast impose sociocultural constraints on the cultivation and
maintenance of perceived self-efficacy. As people move to older-age phases most suffer losses of
resources, productive roles, access to opportunities and challenging activities. Monotonous
environments that require little thought or independent judgment diminish the quality of
functioning, intellectually challenging ones enhance it. Some of the declines in functioning with
age result from sociocultural dispossession of the environmental support for it. It requires a strong
sense of personal efficacy to reshape and maintain a productive life in cultures that cast their
elderly in powerless roles devoid of purpose. In societies that emphasize the potential for self-
development throughout the lifespan, rather than psychophysical decline with aging, the elderly
tend to lead productive and purposeful lives.
Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people's beliefs in their capabilities to exercise control
over their own functioning and over events that affect their lives. Beliefs in personal efficacy
affect life choices, level of motivation, quality of functioning, resilience to adversity and
vulnerability to stress and depression. People's beliefs in their efficacy are developed by four main
sources of influence. They include mastery experiences, seeing people similar to oneself manage
task demands successfully, social persuasion that one has the capabilities to succeed in given
activities, and inferences from somatic and emotional states indicative of personal strengths and
vulnerabilities. Ordinary realities are strewn with impediments, adversities, setbacks, frustrations
and inequities. People must, therefore, have a robust sense of efficacy to sustain the perseverant
effort needed to succeed. Succeeding periods of life present new types of competency demands
requiring further development of personal efficacy for successful functioning. The nature and
scope of perceived self-efficacy undergo changes throughout the course of the lifespan.
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