Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Self-efficacy

Believing in oneself:
How self-efficacy can motivate us?
This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.

How our beliefs affect our lives

Figure 1. Self-efficacy can motivate us to achieve our goals.

From the moment we are born, we are told to believe in ourselves, and to have faith in our ability to achieve our goals. But where do these beliefs in oneself come from and what do these beliefs mean when attempting a task?

Beliefs about one's ability can be either enhancing to one's self worth or detrimental (Bandura & Locke, 2003). When a person’s beliefs are enhancing, this person will be more likely to participate in tasks and may even attempt new tasks that challenge their abilities (Bandura & Locke, 2003). However, if these beliefs are detrimental, a person may begin to avoid situations were those abilities are tested for fear of failure (Bandura & Locke, 2003).

As such, beliefs have the ability to affect what decisions are made, what paths are chosen and what effect success or failure will have the individuals’ self-worth (Bandura & Locke, 2003). More so, these beliefs can influence how an individual copes when presented with difficult life events and the emotional repercussions of perceived failure (Bandura & Locke, 2003; Bandura, 1997).

The effect of beliefs, and how an individual reacts to them, becomes a part of a persons self-concept or how they view themselves (Bandura & Locke, 2003). If positive, a person can utilise these beliefs to motivate themselves to attempt and ultimately achieve desired outcomes. However, if there is little belief in one's ability, then a person might see a decline in overall performance and potential lack of motivation due to a perceived lack of capabilities (Bandura & Locke, 2003).



Self-beliefs about one’s abilities have been termed self-efficacy, which is defined as an individual’s belief in his or her ability to perform and achieve a task (Neissaar & Raudsepp, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009; Maddux, 1995).

Figure 2. Self-efficacy is believing in our ability to achieve our goals.

Self-efficacy is not about an individual’s skill level but a person’s belief in his or her ability to achieve a specific task (Maddox, 1995).

Self-efficacy is a strong predictor for an individual’s behavioural choices and whether certain behaviours will be maintained or altered (Neissaar & Raudsepp, 2011; Wise & Trunnell, 2001). The level of self-efficacy in an person is also indicative of behaviour (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009; Wise & Trunnell, 2001). An individual with high self-efficacy is often more likely to participate in more challenging tasks, set higher goals and will be more highly motivated (Bandura, 1997; Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). However, an individual presenting with low perceived self-efficacy will avoid challenging tasks, have less significant goals and be less motivated (Bandura, 1997).

It is not possible for an individual to have a high level of self-efficacy for every part of his or her life (Bandura, 2006). For example, a singer may have strong self-efficacy belief about reaching certain notes in a song but will have lower efficacy beliefs in her ability to play football (Bandura, 2006).

Self-efficacy can be linked to a person's attempt to control life’s circumstances (Bandura, 1997). The stronger the belief in the ability to achieve a desired outcome, the more a person believes they are in control of his or her life (Bandura, 1997). A person will not attempt an activity or push personal abilities when the belief is that failure will follow (Caprara, Scabini & Regalia, 2006). Furthermore, when placed against difficult life situations, an individual will falter without a strong belief in success (Caprara, Scabini & Regalia, 2006).

Human agency

Figure 3. We are all agents of our own circumstances

Self-efficacy derives from the theory of human agency (Bandura, 1989, 2011). Self-efficacy beliefs are seen to be an attempt by an individual to control ones circumstances (Bandura, 1997). As such, human agency theorises that a person has a certain amount of control over life’s circumstances and are able to direct and alter behaviour to access this control (Bandura, 2011). Human agency is defined as the perceived control over our circumstances to attain specific outcomes (Bandura, 1997). To become an agent of ones own life, an individual must attempt, through behavioural changes, to achieve a his or her goals (Bandura, 2011).

Human agency theory is conceptualised is three ways[factual?]; Autonomous agency, Mechanical agency and Emergent Interactive agency.

Autonomous Agency argues that control over behaviour is entirely dependent on the will of an individual (Bandura, 1989). Actions taken by an individual are self-determined and regulated, in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome (Bandura, 1989).

Mechanical Agency sees our behaviour as highly influences by external mechanisms (Bandura, 1989). All internal events of an individual are highly influenced by external mechanisms (Bandura, 1989). All internal events of an individual are affected by circumstances external to that person (Bandura, 1989).

Emergent Interactive Agency is where self-efficacy emerges (Bandura, 1989). Bandura (1989) saw human agency as neither autonomous or mechanical, but a combination of both. This theory of agency states that this combination contributes to an individuals desire to perform certain tasks or avoid them completely (Bandura, 2001).

Characteristics of human agency


Human Agency Characteristics

  • Intentionality
Intention is based on the idea of planning for the consequences and outcome of actions
  • Forethought
Forethought is the process of applying thought to an action to achieve desired goals or outcomes
  • Self-Reactiveness
Motivating and controlling our behaviours to achieve desired outcomes
  • Self-Reflectiveness
By reflecting on behaviours a person is able to identify what behaviours achieve desired outcomes and can reproduce these

Bandura (2001)

Human agency, according to Bandura's theory (1989), comprises of four characteristics which influence a person's choice of behaviour.


Intentionality refers to action that is taken deliberately by a person to achieve an outcome (Bandura 2001). This characteristic of human agency is founded on the idea that an individual will plan actions based on a desired future outcome (Bandura, 2001). By planning an action to achieve a certain outcome in the future, a person attempts to guarantee this outcome without relying on prediction or expectation (Bandura, 2001).

When an individual does not plan for the consequences of a particular action, that often these consequences are both harmful and determinantal to persons self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 2001).

Intention is based on the idea of planning for the consequences and outcomes of a particular action (Bandura, 2001). If intention is used when making a decision then theoretically, the outcomes of these actions will easier to anticipate and control (Bandura, 2001). Intentionality can be thought of as the saying ‘think before you act’.


Forethought is the process of applying thought to an action to achieve desired goals or outcomes. The act of forethought allows an individual to envisage an outcome and attempt to act in ways in which to manifest this (Bandura, 2001).

However, nothing in human experience is predictable or assured, hence forethought can be used by an individual as a motivational tool in which to envisage desired goals and attempt to change behaviours to achieve them (Bandura, 2001). As behaviour is energised by our desired goals, forethought allows for individuals to come to realisation that they are in control of their actions (Bandura, 2001). This realisation then assists individuals in recognising that control can help them achieve desired outcomes (Bandura, 2001).

Human Agency Characteristics Examples

  • Intentionality
If I don't do this assignment I will fail, however if I start today then I will pass
  • Forethought
I want a HD in this book chapter, this means I need to start writing it early to get the grade I want
  • Self-Reactiveness
If I start this assignment early, I will get a good mark and then I can go to the party
  • Self-Reflectiveness
I failed that assignment, looking back I know I didn't start early enough and was rushed at the end


Although a person may wish for certain outcomes to just manifest due to their own forethought and intentions, this is not the case (Bandura, 2001). One must also rely on one's elf to motivate and control his or her actions to achieve these outcomes (Bandura, 2001). Once an individual has a plan and intention, he or she needs to motivate and regulate their own behaviour to achieve goals (Bandura, 2001).

To motivate and regulate one's actions, an individual can use the creation of goals to direct behaviour. Goals essentially allow for direction in behaviour and allow for an individual to decide which actions to take to achieve these goals (Bandura, 2001). Through goals, an individual can evaluate actions taken and adjust or maintain them accordingly (Bandura, 2001). Although goals are not indicative of an outcome they do motivate and direct our behaviours (Bandura, 2001). Goals allow for a person to create incentives, which further energise individuals to pursue and engage in behaviours that reap rewards (Bandura, 2001). The more difficult and challenging the goals, are the more incentive and motivated an individual will become, further energising positive behaviours.


As an agent of our own circumstances, we also have the ability to reflect upon these actions (Bandura, 2001). By reflecting on his/her behaviours, a person is able to further investigate what motivates and inspires them, and what behaviours resulted in that desired outcomes (Bandura, 2001).

A by product of this reflection is the ability to form beliefs about one's abilities and what they are capable of achieving or not achieving (Bandura, 2001). These beliefs are self-efficacy beliefs and are thought to be the core basis of human agency (Bandura, 2001). Without beliefs of one's ability to achieve goals, control decisions and actions, a person will struggle to cope when confronted with a challenge or task (Bandura, 2001). These beliefs are an important part of a person’s ability to motivate oneself to achieve or peruse a task (Bandura, 2001).

The origins of self-efficacy beliefs


Origins of Self-Efficacy Beliefs

  • Mastery Experience
By attempting a new task, an individual can develop self-efficacy beleifs
  • Vicarious Experience
A person can model personal self-efficacy beleifs, by viewing an individual succeeding in a specific task
  • Social Persuasion
A persons self-efficacy can be direclty influenced by a trusted individuals opinion
  • Physiological and Emotional State
The physical and emotional reaction to a task can indicate the self-efficacy beliefs of that person

Wise & Trunnell (2001)

How a person develops self-efficacy beliefs is through four sources of information. These four sources developed by Bandura (1995), illustrate what influences the development of self-efficacy beliefs about our abilities.

*Mastery experiences

Considered the most influential source of efficacy for an individual is mastery experience (Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009; Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Defined mastery experience is seen when a person attempts a new task. By attempting this task an individual is developing a sense of self-efficacy based on his or her performance (Wise & Trunnell, 2001; Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011).

When that performance is analysed and interpreted to be successful or unsuccessful, we are participating in mastery experience (Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011). Interpretation of successful events will help increase a persons self-efficacy beliefs, whereas unsuccessful events will only undermine such beliefs (Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011). However for successful events to effect a persons efficacy, the event itself needs to be deemed significant to an individual and have little influence from external forces such as somebody helping the person to complete the task (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). Too much interference by an external factor may be viewed as tainting the success of the performance and therefore the performance will be deemed unworthy to be incorporated into a person's overall efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1995).

Vicarious experience

Observation of another trusted individual attempting and ultimately succeeding in a task can increase an one's self-efficacy (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). When viewing this individual succeeding in a task, a person is able to model their self-efficacy on the outcome (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). For example, if a mother colours inside of the lines, the child will believe they themselves are capable of doing the same. This modelling will be even stronger if an individual and the model are linked more intimately then strangers (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). For if the individual knows the model then success or failure of a task will have a greater effect (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. For if the individual knows the model then success or failure of a task will have a greater effect (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009)[grammar?].

It has been found that a majority of people will seek out models who are successful in tasks that are important to that individual, increasing the value of the observation (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). This source of efficacy can be effective for individual who are unsure or afraid of attempting a new skill, by using a successful model, those individuals can develop efficacy through this observation (Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011).

Origins of self-efficacy belief examples

  • Mastery Experience
I am going to try and paint that picture, just by trying I am building my confidence in this task
  • Vicarious Experience
I just saw my friend ride that bike, if they can do it so can I
  • Social Persuasion
My father told me that he had faith in my ability to ride my bike without training wheels. By him saying this I feel more confident and optimistic about this task
  • Physiological and Emotional State
I am just about to enter the exam room, I feel light headed and I have never been this stressed before, maybe this means I haven't studied enough

Social persuasion

When an opinion is expressed about our ability to perform in a task by a trusted individual, this can affect our self-efficacy beliefs in our ability to succeed (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). If a trusted experienced individual expresses the belief that a person can achieve in a task then an increase in self-efficacy will occur (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Alternatively, if that same person expresses doubt in our ability, efficacy will decrease (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Often feedback from teachers or colleagues is an illustration of persuasive statements and the effect on efficacy beliefs (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). The encouragement that these statements elicit can encourage a person to attempt new tasks and hopefully increase his or her overall efficacy beliefs (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). However, if the boost to self confidence is not realistic and disbelieved by the individual, this will lead to a decrease in efficacy (Bandura, 1995). Hence, the use of persuasion can lead people to believe that they are able to do a task and that they do have the capabilities to succeed (Bandura, 1995).

Although it has been argued that a person's opinion may not drastically alter our self-efficacy beliefs but may help encourage positive beliefs about our capabilities in certain task, allowing for more opportunity to increase self-efficacy (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009)[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Physiological and emotional state

Our physical and emotional reactions to tasks can also be an indication of our self-efficacy beliefs (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Physical symptoms that may occur when a person is presented with a task that they have not performed before include, light headiness, sweating and accelerated heart rate (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Emotionally in this situation, an individual may feel anxiety or stress (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). When approaching a task, an individual will interpret these signs and symptoms as whether or not there is belief in his or her capabilities to achieve the task and may attempt or not attempt the task due to this interpretation (Wise & Trunnell, 2001).

For example, if a person is experiencing anxiety before an exam, it could be interpreted by the person as an indication that s/he does not have the capability to pass and ultimately this will undermine the tasks success (Wise & Trunnell, 2001). Interpretation of the emotional and physical state is more important to self-efficacy beliefs then actual symptoms themselves (Bandura, 1995).

However, it has been noted that some moderate increases in the physical and emotional state can be interpreted by some individuals as a challenge to succeed and behaviours may become more energised, which can potentially increase a person's self-efficacy beliefs (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). If a person has high efficacy then any symptoms will be interpreted as an energising experience, however those with low efficacy will view arousal as a debilitating (Bandura, 1995).

How self-efficacy can motivate us


Self-efficacy beliefs can be a significant tool in motivating individuals to achieve desired goals and outcomes. These beliefs have the ability to direct and energise behaviour towards these ambitions (Bandura, 2001). When an individual displays high self-efficacy beliefs, new tasks and challenges will be undertaken with far greater motivation then those with low efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Joet, Usher & Bressoux, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009).

Self-efficacy beliefs are considered a significant predictor of human behaviour (Neissaar & Raudsepp, 2011; Wise & Trunnell, 2001). As such, a person who does not believe that he or she is capable of completing or succeeding in a task, will put little effort into the task or may not attempt the task at all (Neissaar & Raudsepp, 2011; Wise & Trunnell, 2001). To attempt to harness the potential of self-efficacy and hence motivation, a person must first address the four sources of these beliefs (Bandura, 1995). For a teacher using self-efficacy in learning situations, will see each source of efficacy as an opportunity to improve grades and overall behaviour in students (Pajares & Tim Urdan, 2006)[grammar?]. Similarly, a personal trainer or coach may use one or all sources of these beliefs to motivate an athlete/student to win the race or push themselves further in training (Heissar & Raudsapp, 2011; Welch, Hulley & Beauchamp, 2010).

In recent studies by Heissar and Raudsapp (2011) and Welch et al. (2010), the effect of strong self-efficacy in relation to exercise in woman was investigated. Both studies supported the theory that an individual who holds higher opinions on his or her ability to achieve a task will be more likely to preserve and be more motivated towards said task (Heissar & Raudsapp, 2011; Welch et al., 2010). Furthermore, Welch et al. (2010), suggests that by incorporating self-efficacy into programs such as exercise, individuals will see an increase in motivation and goal achievement.

By presenting an individual with tasks in which to master, a model for which to observe, positive feedback and a clear interpretation of bodily reactions, self-efficacy can be built into a powerful force which can propel an individual towards success[Rewrite to improve clarity].



Self-efficacy beliefs are an individual’s belief of his or her ability to accomplish a task. It is important to note that self-efficacy beliefs are not about a person’s skill level but about his or her confidence in completing and ultimately succeeding in a task. Developed by Albert Bandura, this premise was developed through the theory of human agency. Human agency sees an individual attempt to control the circumstances of his or her life, in the hopes of achieving a desired outcome or goal.

Characteristics of human agency illustrate how an individual will use the self to monitor, alter and motivate behaviours. Apart of Bandura’s theory of human agency is self-efficacy, which has been said to be about an attempt to control life’s circumstances through beliefs about our personal ability[grammar?]. These beliefs are based on four distinct sources: mastery experience, vicarious experience, social persuasion and physiological and emotional arousal. Each of these sources attempt to explain what influences an individual’s belief in themselves and how these sources when managed can help motivate an individual towards success. As such many organisations, schools and workplaces have used self-efficacy beliefs to motivate individuals to reach their full potential.



1 What human agency characteristic focuses on intention?


2 Self-efficacy is apart of which human agency theory?

Autonomous Agency
Mechanical Agency
Emergent Interactive Theory

3 Who developed the theory of self-efficacy?

Ivan pavlov
Albert Bandura
Sigmud Freud
Carl Rogers

4 Self-Efficacy is about skills not ability?


5 Self-Efficacy can energise behaviour to achieve a goals?


6 Vicarious experience is to interanlise feedback and attribute it to self-efficacy beleifs?


7 When a trusted person tells a person that they can achieve a task, which source of efficacy is being used?

Social Persuasion
Mastery experience
Physiological and emotional state
Vicarious Experience

See also




Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy. Harvard Medical Letter. 13(9), 4-6 Bandura, A., & Locke, E.A. (2003). Negative Self-Efficacy and Goal Effects Revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology. 88(1), 87-99

Bandura, A. (1989). Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory. American Psychologist. 44(9), 1175-1184

Bandura, A. (2001).Social Cognitive Theory: An Agentic perspective. Annual Reviews Psychology, 52, 1-26

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for Creating Self-Efficacy Scales. In Pajares, F., & Urdan, T. (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents (pp 97- 116). Connecticut: Information Age Publishing

Bandura, A. (1995).Exercise of Personal and Collective Efficacy in Changing Societies. In Bandura, A. (Eds.), Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies,(pp 1-45 ). New York: Cambridge University Press

Caprara, G.V., Scabini, E., & Regalia, C. (2006). The Impact of Perceived Family Efficacy Beliefs on Adolescent Development. In Pajares, F., & Urdan, T. (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents (pp 97- 116). Connecticut: Information Age Publishing

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), 649-663. Doi: 10.1037/a0024048

Maddux, J, E. (1995). Self-Efficacy Theory: An Introduction. In Maddux, J.E. (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Adaptation, and Adjustment: Theory, Research and Application (pp 3-27). New York: Plenum Press

Nelessaar, I., & Raudsepp, L. (2011). Changes in Physical Activity, Self-Efficacy and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescent Girls. Paediatric Exercise Science, 23, 331-343

Pajares, F. (2006).Self-Efficacy During Childhood and Adolescence: Implications for Teachers and Parents. In Pajares, F., & Urdan, T. (Eds.), Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents (pp 97- 116). Connecticut: Information Age Publishing

Tschannen-Moran, M., & McMaster, P. (2009). Sources of Self-Efficacy: Four Professional Development Formats and Their Relationship to Self-Efficacy and Implementation of a New Teaching Strategy. The Elementary School Journal, 110(2), 228-245

Welch, A.S., Hulley, A., & Beauchamp, M. (2010). Affect and Self-Efficacy Responses During Moderate-Intensity Exercise among Low-Active Women: The Effect of Cognitive Appraisal. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 32, 154-175

Wise, J.B., & Trunnell, E.P. (2001). The Influence of Self-Efficacy Upon Efficacy Strengths. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 23, 268-280