Sunday, July 20, 2008

Theoretical Frameword - Self-Efficacy


Self-efficacy is another component of Bandura’s social learning theory. Self-efficacy, according to Bandura (1994), is an individual’s belief about his ability to perform at a designated level. “Perceived self-efficacy plays a pivotal role in this process of self-management because it affects actions not only directly but also through its impact on cognitive, motivational, decisional, and affective determinants” (Bandura et al., 2003, p.769). That is, a person’s impression of their abilities will have an effect on the desire to perform an activity. In addition to this, Bandura, Vittorio, Barbaranelli, Gerbino, and Pastorelli’s (2003) theory of self-efficacy discovered that an individual’s self image can play a role in whether they have a positive or negative manner in which they will perform an activity. An individual, according to Bandura (1997), will have more incentive to attempt an activity if he or she believes he or she is capable of performing it.

Self-efficacy, will influence an individual’s aspirations (Bandura, 1997). That is, one whom has a high level of self-efficacy is likely to think soundly, create difficult challenges, and commit to meeting the challenges they set forth. Conversely, those “with a low sense of efficacy avoid difficult tasks” (Bandura, 1997, p. 5). Self-efficacy can not only promote motivation for an individual with high efficacy, but it can also serve as a model to which one can imitate. That is, if one observes an individual who has similar characteristics succeed, he or she is likely to feel as if they have the ability to succeed in a similar scenario.

Self-efficacy can be influenced in four ways; mastery and vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and reducing stresses (Bandura, 1994). Mastery, is built on performing tasks successfully. Conversely, failure will establish a negative sense of efficacy. However, if an individual “experience[s] only easy successes…[he or she will] come to expect quick results and…[will be] easily discouraged by failures” (Bandura, 1994, para. 5). Thus, an individual’s efficacy beliefs will increase if he or she is being continually and gradually challenged.

Vicarious experiences are those in which an individual experiences an activity performed by a model. The belief that observing a person of similar ability will raise one’s efficacy as the individual will believe they too are capable of performing the task (Bandura, 1994). However, this too can work negatively, as experiencing an individual of similar ability fail could create self-doubt. According to Bandura (1994), a model does more than simply provide an example to which one can assert whether they will succeed or fail, a model can also teach an observer.

A third influence of self-efficacy is that of social persuasion. A motivational speaker can provide encouragement towards an individual to perform a task, and conversely, one who verbally doubts an individual’s ability to perform a task will cause that individual to “dwell on personal deficiencies” in the face of a similar situation (Bandura, 1994, para. 8). It is easier, according to Bandura (1994) to negative influence ones efficacy verbally then it is to positively influence it. Positive appraisals will be ignored if an individual believes that they are incapable of performing a task. Supportive relationships will enhance one’s sense of efficacy (Bandura et al., 2003).

Finally, reducing an individual’s level of stress can also have an impact on efficacy (Bandura, 1994). If one has an elevated level of stress, he or she will view the resulting tensions as a “sign of vulnerability” and thus blame any resulting failures on this as well as create a sense of self-doubt for future activities when similar stresses are realized (Bandura, 1994, para. 11). Furthermore, an individual will assert that a physical debility results from fatigue, or aches.

Bandura et al. (2003), asserted that individuals whom have a high sense of self-efficacy view failures and setbacks as motivation to work harder. However, those with a low sense of efficacy will see those same issues as reason to give up (Bandura et al., 2003). That is to say, an individual with low self-efficacy will avoid putting in the extra effort it may take to accomplish a task (Bandura, 2007). Self-efficacy then, can be used as a predictive measure for one’s ability to go above and beyond.

Criticism’s of Self-Efficacy

Criticism’s of Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy include Hagen’s (2007) assertion that continual praise creates a false sense of ability. That is, if a student who is failing is continually told he or she is doing a good job, the student will have little urgency to try to better oneself. “Self-efficacy comes from the reality of accomplishing a task rather than from praise; further, empty praise raises all sorts of issues related to honesty, trust, and belief” (Hagen, 2007, para. 6). Thus, in order to raise students self-efficacy, one must be certain to do so appropriately.

Further criticism of providing praise is found when Stout (2001) discussed the dumbing down of education in America. Stout suggested that self-esteem ought to come through a student’s successes. The motivation to build one’s efficacy, according to Stout, is coming at the expense of academic success as students are being provided evaluations they do not deserve in order to save their feelings.

Additionally, efficacy measurements have been criticized for their generality (McMaugh & Debus, 1998). That is, seeking an individual’s general competence and supplying him with positive feedback will result in a student not focusing on areas of potential weaknesses. Not evaluating a specific academic task can result in a student having a wrongful self image.

Further criticism of self-efficacy occurs when Hawkins (1995) questions “whether attitudes cause behavior or whether behavior causes attitudes” (p. 238). That is, Hawkins maintained that it is not ones attitudes which cause an individual to act, rather, it is his or her actions which cause them to believe. Although Hawkins does believe that self-efficacy can be utilized as a predictor there may be superior factors which influence an individual’s performance than self-efficacy, such as gender.

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