Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavior Change

Authors: Albert Bandura, Stanford University

Publication: Psychological Review

Year: 1977

Focus Area: Prevention, Decision Making

Relevance: Performing tasks – rather than watching others perform them – was more effective in increasing self-efficacy and helping people overcome a phobia. Prevention programs may be able to take advantage of this technique to help people take action to prevent fraud. For example, some studies show that people can identify a scam phone call and know that they should hang up, but cannot get themselves to follow through on that action in the moment.

Summary: Bandura addresses an apparent conflict in behavior change – whether change happens through decisions (cognitive processes) or through repetition of actions (procedures). Bandura proposes that these two methods are part of a common mechanism – that cognitive processes lead to change, but that actions are necessary to start those cognitive processes.

• Self-efficacy is a person’s own beliefs about their ability to do a task or activity. A person’s self-efficacy may not reflect their actual ability in that specific realm. Self-efficacy is more focused than self-esteem or confidence, which are broader terms that refer to beliefs about self-worth and strength of belief, respectively.
• This study tested the ability of snake phobics to overcome their fear of snakes through two different therapeutic methods: one in which the subject performed “progressively more threatening interactions with a boa constrictor”, and one in which the subject watched a therapist perform those tasks. There was also a control group that had no treatment.
• The subjects who performed the tasks themselves had better self-efficacy when faced with snakes in a follow-up test. They were also able to generalize this self-efficacy to other kinds of snakes and other situations that had not been part of the therapy.

Author Abstract: The present article presents an integrative theoretical framework to explain and to predict psychological changes achieved by different modes of treatment. This theory states that psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy. It is hypothesized that expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. Persistence in activities that are subjectively threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, through experiences of mastery, further enhancement of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions in defensive behavior. In the proposed model, expectations of personal efficacy are derived from four principal sources of information: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. The more dependable the experiential sources, the greater are the changes in perceived self-efficacy. A number of factors are identified as influencing the cognitive processing of efficacy information arising from enactive, vicarious, exhortative, and emotive sources. The differential power of diverse therapeutic procedures in analyzed in terms of the postulated cognitive mechanism of operation. Findings are reported from microanalyses of enactive, vicarious, and emotive of treatment that support the hypothesized relationship between perceived self-efficacy and behavioral change. Possible directions for further research are discussed.

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