Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Self-efficacy and achievement

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Self-efficacy and achievement:
What role does self-efficacy play in determining people's achievement outcomes?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This chapter explains the concept of self-efficacy and how it applies to achievement orientated behaviour. In addition to this, real world applications of this motivational construct will be applied to some common endeavours, such as academic achievement, weight loss, and the desire to quit smoking. These three items will be explored through relevant studies that link each to the important role of self-efficacy in acheiving successful outcomes. After reading this chapter, it is hoped one will gain an appreciation of the vital role self-efficacy plays, in not only determining a particular achievement outcome, but also in the ability to cope with the unpredictability of life in general.

What is self-efficacy?[edit | edit source]

When you think of self-efficacy, you would probably understand it as a level of self belief in your own skills, competencies and knowledge when pertaining to a particular task or situation(Ang & Dyne, 2006). This is partly true, as Bandura (1982) states “a capability is only as good as its execution”, with this in mind, self-efficacy is better understood as the perception of how well one can orchestrate their abilities, knowledge and sub skills to cope with and manage prospective events or situations (Bandura, 1982). In laymen’s terms, self-efficacy equals level of self belief in ones ability to form coping strategies within a given situation or environment. In the context of university study, self-efficacy would refer to a student’s belief in their ability to execute a course of action, utilizing relevant skills and knowledge, to complete given tasks that are required for achieving desired grades and learning (Joet Usher & Bressoux 2011). One student may have a high level of self efficacy in the academic domain whilst another’s self efficacy in the same domain may be low. To understand why this occurs could be best explained by how an individual develops self-efficacy and the sources of this development.

Foundations of self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

Bandura (1977) suggests that self-efficacy arises from four primary sources of information, these being: mastery experience, social persuasions, vicarious experience and emotional and physiological states. Mastery experience is one of the key sources of self-efficacy and is derived from interpretations in regards to ones performance during a particular task or situation (Joet, et al., 2011). If an individual perceives that they have been successful in a particular action, self-efficacy would usually rise and if the same individual thought that the same action was a failure, then self-efficacy is expected to fall. The important thing to note hear is that it is ones own perception of how they coped within the context of a particular performance, which ultimately determines how self-efficacy is, altered (Joet, et al., 2011). For example, take two university students who have both received the same grade on a statistics assignment, one might view the grade as an achievement within the context of the difficulty of the subject, how much effort was needed and how much help was required, whereas the second student might perceive the grade as a failure within the same context. As a result you have two people perceiving the same level of performance in ways that could both raise or lower self-efficacy known as mastery experience (Bandura, 1977).

A second source of self-efficacy comes from vicarious experience that is learning from watching others actions such as classmates, family and friends (Shunk, 1991). One of the best bases for comparing ones own performances is to find similar others. When similar peers are viewed successfully performing a task it conveys to the viewer that they could also accomplish the same task (Shunk, 1991). Vicarious experience has a typically weaker effect on self-efficacy when compared to experience mastery experience and any increase in self-efficacy vicariously obtained can be easily neutralised by subsequent failures (Shunk, 1991). Take for example a class presentation. You watch a shy classmate successfully complete the task and think to yourself “if they could do it so can I”. Through vicarious experience your self-efficacy towards the task is high, but you end up performing poorly on the presentation. As a result of this poor performance, your high self-efficacy towards similar tasks in the future has been negated.

Social persuasions are the third source of self-efficacy proposed by Bandura (1977). This pertains to evaluative feed back from various sources such as peers, similar others and significant others in regards to how you performed on a particular task or in a particular situation(Shunk, 1991).

Finally, how an individual interprets their emotional and physiological states during diverse situations can either hinder or promote high self-efficacy. For example, when a student gives a presentation you can bet that they are nervous and anxious before and more often than not, during their performance. One student might perceive these nerves as the bodies’ way of preparing them for a successful delivery whereas another student may view such feelings as an indication that they are not confident or competent enough to perform, this then becomes a hindrance that undermines their self-efficacy towards the subsequent task (Shunk, 1991).

In a nutshell, self-efficacy is formed from ones perceived performance accomplishments (mastery experience), observational experiences (vicarious learning) different sources of persuasion (social persuasion) and finally, physiological and emotional evaluation.

Achievement outcomes: Real-world applications[edit | edit source]

In achievement settings, with adequate skills, meaningful value of the desired outcome and a positive approach toward expected outcomes, it is hypothesised that self-efficacy greatly influences the choice and direction of an individual’s behaviour (Shunk, 1991). A person will usually not be motivated if they believe a particular course of action will result in a negative outcome. This helps explain why many people who have negative experiences in relation to academic achievement, weight loss and the desire to quit cigarettes, have relatively low self-efficacy towards these tasks ( Zundert, Ferguson, Shiffman & Engels, 2010). We will now look at the fore mentioned tasks and see how self-efficacy plays an important role in achieving success in the pursuit of theses goals.

Academic achievement[edit | edit source]

Just getting accepted into a university is an accomplishment in itself, actually persisting through seemingly endless assessment tasks and finally graduating, is an even more significant accomplishment (Vuong, Brown-Welty & Tracz, 2010). In America and more likely elsewhere in the world, first year university students have a high rate of attrition. More often than not, the common reasons behind this high drop out rate can be found in the students’ dissatisfaction with their university experience, their constant struggle to achieve academic competence and perceived lack of autonomy (Vuong et al., 2010).

Recent studies have suggested that an important cognitive resource for academic success is self-efficacy (Majer, 2009). Furthermore, research of first year university students, who were also the first members of their respective families to attend university, known as first generation students, found that self-efficacy was a significant predictor of student performance, expectations, retention and grade point average (GPA) (Majer, 2009). To test this theory, a sample of 96 first generation undergraduate university students, 28 men and 68 woman, mean age 24.4 years, were asked to complete the Beliefs in Educational Success Test (BEST). The BEST is based on Bandura’s (1997) cognitive-behavioural self-efficacy theory which basically revolves around ones sense of confidence that they have the ability to engage in behaviours that are goal orientated,(Majer, 2009). This test was used to measure the students’ level of confidence and self belief in being able to engage in behaviours relating to 10 hypothetical situations related to university education (Majer, 2009). Questions included a stem question “how confident are you…” (the stem question proceeds all the hypothetical situations), followed by academic specific situations such as, “in your ability to learn new information”, “that you will complete required coursework” or “seek a lecturers help during office hours” (Majer, 2009). Scores ranged from 0% (not at all confident) to 100% (very confident).
Results indicated that there was a positive relationship between levels of self-efficacy in the academic domain and end of year GPA scores and student retention rates. This suggests that the higher the self-efficacy towards academic achievement, the higher the GPA scores and retention rates will be (Majer, 2009). The implications of these findings highlight the importance of self-efficacy in academic achievement outcomes for first year students that could also be applied to much of the student body in general. In an effort to promote and increase educational success, educators and student support personnel may like to incorporate teachings that foster self-efficacy in their students (Majer, 2009).

Weight-loss achievement[edit | edit source]

One of the most chronic health problems facing the developed world today is obesity.(Warziski, Sereika, Styn, Music & Burke, 2008). Medical experts recommend that for obese and overweight individuals that losing and maintaining 5%-10% of their initial body weight is important in order to lessen the risk of developing coronary heart disease, type two diabetes and hypertension (Warziski, et al., 2008).

Not only is it difficult to initially lose weight, but it is also hard to prevent weight regain after initial loss. It estimated that within a year, most overweight and obese people who have initially been successful and achieved desired weight loss, will regain about a third of the lost weight.Worst still, many will go beyond their original post loss weight (Warziski, et al., 2008). When an individual successfully loses weight, this achievement is the consequence of a series of successful actions and behaviours, with this in mind, weight loss by itself is not a behaviour, but more like an accumulation of specific behaviours within the domain of weight loss (Linde, Rothman, Baldwin & Jeffery, 2006).

With what we already know about self-efficacy, one could easily theorise as to the contribution it plays in an individuals weight control practices and behaviours. Research into the effects of self-efficacy on weight loss and weight control has focused on the behaviours that contribute to these two endeavours.

One study has looked into self-efficacy towards eating behaviours and exercise self-efficacy, and their respective roles in weight loss (Linde, et al., 2006). Participants of the study consisted of 349 adults who were 15 to 40kg over their healthy body weight. The study was conducted over an eight week period, where participants’ weight and levels of self-efficacy were measured at the beginning of the trial, then at four weeks and finally at the end of the eighth week. Self-efficacy was measured across the two actions previously mentioned which fall into the domain of weight loss, these being eating self-efficacy and exercise self-efficacy (Linde, et al., 2006). The strength of each participants self-efficacy was measured utilising a modified form of the Weight Efficacy Life-Style Questionnaire, which originally only measured eating self-efficacy, but was used in this study to accommodate question pertaining to exercise self-efficacy as well (Linde, et al., 2006). The questions were designed to determine how confident a participant would be their abilities to follow exercise and eating plans in trying situations. Five exercise self-efficacy items included “How confident are you that you could follow your exercise plan if you were sore and tired?” and “How confident are you that you would be able to follow your exercise plan when you get very busy?”. There were also five eating self-efficacy questions which followed along the same tone with items such as “How confident are you that you would be able to follow your eating plan when you are in a bad mood?” or How confident are you that you would follow your eating plan on the weekends?” (Linde, et al., 2006). Responses ranged from 0 (not at all confident) to 8 (extremely confident). Results suggested that during and at the completion of the eight week trial, participants who recorded high perceptions of self-efficacy for eating and exercise, were able to stay to their specific eating and exercise plans and as a result, had positive impacts on their respective weight loss outcomes. Furthermore, the vast majority of these had managed to maintain their weight loss (Linde, et al., 2006).

As we have just seen, the role of self-efficacy in achieving weight loss is an important one. It helps to motivate an individual to perform a course of action towards a desired outcome. We can also take away from this, that self-efficacy has many facets. In the desire to achieve weight loss an individual must have high self-efficacy towards different situations and behaviours that would ultimately lead to achieving their goal. We will now look at the role self –efficacy plays in ones desire to quit smoking.

Giving up smoking[edit | edit source]

In the United States of America (USA) alone, an estimated 30% of smokers try to quit every year and of these around 81% will fail in the first month (Shiffman, et al., 2000). The ability to successfully give up smoking may be attributed to many variables such as the level of nicotine dependence, how often and how long one has smoked for other factors that may vary over time such as emotional states, cravings and ones perceived self efficacy (Shiffman, et al., 2000). Studies have found that self-efficacy is a robust predictor of outcomes in cessing to smoke. Furthermore, it has also been suggested that smoking behaviour in particular, when an individual has a relapse and starts smoking again, is negatively correlated with levels of self-efficacy, as smoking behaviour continues self-efficacy falls (Shiffman, et al., 2000).
In a study of 214 smokers, the level of self-efficacy of participants was recorded several times a day via a palm –top computer that gave audio prompts to indicate it when it was time to report self-efficacy levels. Self-efficacy is thought to be a critical component in achieving smoking cessation goals and researchers aimed to study both individual differences in self efficacy and self-efficacy as a dynamic process after attempting to quit (Shiffman, et al., 2000). The aim of the study was to view the effect of daily self-efficacy levels on lapse and relapse risk over a four week period. In addition to this, it was hypothesised that daily levels of self-efficacy would predict a relapse in the following days. In other words researches believed that if self-efficacy levels started to fall throughout a given day, then it was highly likely that the smoker would lapse and have a smoke, thus triggering a further decline in self-efficacy (Shiffman, et al., 2000).

Results suggested that self-efficacy was relatively stable throughout the day and mostly high and gave no indication of predicting a lapse. However, it was found that once a smoker had given into temptation and had a lapse, then self-efficacy levels did fall and lead to an eventual relapse (Shiffman, et al., 2000). In short this study suggests that self-efficacy is vulnerable to a perceived failure of a given task. With something as difficult as giving up smoking, it is easy to see how people underestimate the difficulty of achieving such an outcome. Although many participants in this study recorded high self-efficacy prior to lapsing, it may indicate overconfidence on their part in their coping abilities during trying times(Shiffman, et al., 2000).

Summary[edit | edit source]

This chapter has explored the concept of self-efficacy, its sources and its direct influence and role in pursuing some commonly desired achievement outcomes. The studies presented in this chapter are of real world application and it is hoped that one comes away with a greater appreciation of the role of self-efficacy in motivating and directing behaviours necessary to succeed at a given task. Whether you want to drop a few kilos, cut back on the cigarettes or achieve good grades in your studies, depends not only on your abilities, but more importantly on your perceived level of confidence or self-belief that you can organise those abilities to cope with the foreseen and unforseen demands of the task at hand. Remember Banduras (1982) quote: “a capability is only as good as its execution”.

References[edit | edit source]

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 2, 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 2, 122-147.

Joet,G., Usher, E.L.,& Bressoux, P. (2011). Sources of self- efficacy. An investigation of elementary school students in France. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 3,649-664.

Linde, J. A., Rothman, A.J.,& Jeffery, R.W. (2006). The impact of self-efficacy on behaviour change and weight change among overweight participants in a weight loss trial. Health Psychology, 25, 3, 282-291.

Majer, J.M. (2009). Self-efficacy and academic success among ethnically diverse first generation community college students. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education,2, 4, 243-250.

Schunk, D. H. (1991). Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 26, 207-231.

Shiffman, S., Balabanis, M.H., Paty, J.A., Engbeg, J., Gwaltney, C.J., Liu, K.S.,Gnys,M.,Hickcox, M., & Paton, S.M.(2000). Dynamic effects of self-efficacy on smoking lapse and relapse. Health Psychology, 19, 4, 315-323.

Tay,C., Ang, S., & Van Dyne, L. (2006). Personality, biological characteristics and job interview success: A longitudinal study of the mediating effects of interviewing self-efficacy and the moderating effects of internal locus of causality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 2, 445-454.

Vuong, M., Brown-Welty, S.,& Tracz, S. (2010). The effects of self-efficacy on academic success of first generation sophomore students. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 1, 50-64.

Warziski, M.T., Sereika, S. M., Styn, M A., Music, E.,& Burke, L.E. (2008). Changes in self-efficacy and dietary adherence: the impact on weight loss in the PREEFER study. Journal of Behaviour and Medicine, 31, 81-92.

Zundert, R.,Ferguson,S.G., Shiffman, S., & Engels, R.C. (2010). Dynamic effects of self-efficacy on smoking lapses and relapse among adolescents. Health Psychology, 29, 3, 246-254.