Introduction to Sport and Exercise Psychology: “Examine Bandura’s (1977) Theory of Self-Efficacy.” [52%, 2004]


Chris Larham’s original essay examining Bandura’s (1977) theory of self-efficacy [52%, 2004] can be opened in a print-friendly text document format here
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NOTE: Works [research, books etc.] created by three or more authors should be referenced in the format ‘Taylor et al. (1985)’, not ‘Taylor, Bandura, Ewert, Miller, and Debusk (1985)’ as used in this essay.  The in-text referencing and post-essay reference list have been left untouched to accurately reflect the academic level of an essay graded at 52% for a 20-credit First Year Undergraduate BSc Degree module.  Each University will have guidelines on the Harvard/Numeric referencing formats which students should adhere to.

Examine Bandura’s (1977) Theory of Self-Efficacy

{CONTENTS: Introduction; Self-efficacy/self-confidence distinction; Distinction example; Focus of self-efficacy theory; Creation of self-efficacy expectations; ‘Mastery technique’; Support for mastery technique; ‘Vicarious experiences’; Sensitivity to ‘vicarious experiences’; Importance of models in ‘vicarious experiences’; ‘Social Persuasion Technique’; Positive/negative social persuasions; Uses of ‘social persuasion technique’; Interpretations of somatic and emotional states; Positive/negative somatic interpretations; Positive/negative emotional interpretations; Collective self-efficacy; Research supporting collective self-efficacy; Building self-efficacy through goal setting; Research supporting goal-setting technique; Research supporting self-efficacy theory; Conclusion.}

In this essay I am going to examine Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy by looking closely at the individual components of his proposed model, giving examples of behaviour displayed by individuals with both high and low levels of self-efficacy, and scrutinizing the research done to test his theory. [^]

In order to understand Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, it is necessary to distinguish between self-efficacy and self-confidence; two related, but not identical, concepts.

“Self-efficacy cognitions represent the convictions or beliefs that one can successfully execute a course of action to produce a certain behaviour. In very simple terms self-efficacy represents a form of situation-specific self-confidence.” It is this situation-specificity that differentiates self-efficacy from the accepted, global construct of self-confidence.

Self-confidence can be described as a noun meaning, “Behaving calmly because you have no doubts about your ability or knowledge.” [^]

An example of this self-efficacy/self-confidence distinction from the sporting domain would be an individual who has high self-confidence in their ability to perform a complex twisting dive but differing levels of self-efficacy for each specific component of the overall, global task (i.e. variation in self-efficacy levels for performing the initial jump, accomplishing stage one of the twist, and succeeding in each of the subsequent stages necessary to achieve the desired twist). [^]

The focus of self-efficacy theory lies in the way human functioning and behaviour is affected by the individual’s perception of how fit they are to meet the task requirements. It is concerned with the judgements of an individual as to what he or she can do with the skills at their disposal, not with the individual’s actual skills themselves. According to Bandura, self-efficacy beliefs impact upon: an individual’s activity choice; the amount of effort expended in the chosen activity; and the levels of persistence demonstrated by the individual when faced with stressful stimuli. [^]

Bandura proposed that self-efficacy expectations are created through the integration of four major factors: mastery experience; vicarious experiences; social persuasion technique; and the interpretation of one’s somatic and emotional states. [^]

‘Mastery technique’ refers to an individual’s past performance accomplishments, stating that an individual who has previously succeeded in the required task will have higher self-efficacy expectations than one who has experienced failure. Bandura believes that individuals look back to previous experience as a link to the present task, basing their current self-efficacy beliefs on previous task encounters. [^]

Research carried out by Taylor, Bandura, Ewart, Miller, and Debusk (1985) demonstrated that the cardiac expectations of both the patients undergoing rehabilitation programmes and their spouses were significant predictors of cardiac function. This suggests that the patients and their spouses formed strong efficacy beliefs on the basis of previous cardiac function and therefore lends weight to Bandura’s ‘mastery technique’ proposal.

In a similar vein, Ewart, Taylor, Reese, and Debusk (1983) found that post-myocardial patients – as they attenpted to recover and pursue their normal activities – put more effort into their rehabilitation programme if they had higher self-efficacy beliefs. This suggests that if the patients believed they could achieve the tasks set, based on their prior levels of functioning, their performance would invariably improve. [^]

The second factor in forming self-efficacy beliefs according to Bandura’s model is ‘vicarious experiences’. This component proposes that watching or visualizing others perform the task can positively or negatively impact upon personal self-efficacy formation. [^]

Although ‘vicarious experience’ has been shown to be weaker than ‘mastery technique’, individuals are particularly sensitive to it when unsure of their own abilities or when they possess little prior experience. Research conducted into this area (Bandura & Adams, 1977; Landers & Rebeder, 1979) has also shown it to be a dependable source of efficacy formation across a plethora of situations. [^]

Highly self-efficacious individuals will further increase their self-efficacy if the models teach them a better, more effective way of completing the task. This process of modelling through ‘vicarious experience’ is particularly powerful if the observers see similar attributes to themselves in the successful model. Conversely, the influence of ‘vicarious experience’ is weakened if the model is perceived to be very different to the observer; logically, the observer’s self-efficacy will be undermined if the model fails to complete the task. [^]

‘Social Persuasion Technique’ can be explained in terms of the effects on the individual when exposed to the verbal judgements of others. [^]

Positive social persuasions (for example praise, or a ‘you-can-do-it’ pep talk) can encourage and empower the individual, leading to higher self-efficacy expectations. In contrast, negative social persuasions can defeat and weaken self-efficacy beliefs. It has been shown to be easier to weaken self-efficacy beliefs through negative persuasions (harsh criticism, for example) than it is to strengthen self-efficacy beliefs through positive judgements. [^]

‘Social Persuasion Technique’ is used both by coaches and team colleagues in the sporting domain and also by teachers and lecturers in the academic realm. The technique can also be seen in social situations, between members of a peer group. [^]

The final major component of self-efficacy belief creation is the interpretation of somatic and emotional states by the individual. A set task can induce high emotional reactions; the interpretation of these physiological changes is linked to the individual’s anticipated outcome success or failure, and thus helps form their self-efficacy beliefs. [^]

Increased respiration when faced with a challenge can be interpreted positively or negatively by the individual. A positive cognitive evaluation of their physiological state would be that their body is getting ready for the completion of the task; a negative evaluation would be that their body is becoming stressed, unable to cope with the challenge. [^]

The individual’s affective reactions to their physiological state changes impacts upon additional stress and agitation. Therefore, negative evaluations lead to increased stress and agitation, whilst positive appraisals can reduce stress and improve self-efficacy beliefs. Bandura proposed that individuals are able to strengthen self-efficacy beliefs by improving their emotional and physical well-being, reducing negativity. [^]

Linked into the concept of self-efficacy, Bandura proposed the notion of collective self-efficacy. Just as the choices made, effort expended, and persistence demonstrated by an individual are influenced by self-efficacy, collective self-efficacy similarly affects how a group will behave in overcoming challenges, difficulties or barriers. [^]

The idea that self-efficacy theory can be generalized to group situations has been strengthened by research conducted by Feltz, Bandura, Albrect & Corcoran, 1988; Feltz, Corcoran & Lirgg, 1989. This study examined the link between individual (self-) and team (collective self-) efficacy and team performance over a 32-game hockey season, using correlational analysis methodology. They found that individual efficacy was initially more closely linked to team performance (for the first game) than collective efficacy, but as the season progressed collective efficacy became more closely related (over the span of the first eight games). This data suggests that the phenomenon of collective self-efficacy, although taking time to develop, is a valid proposal and eventually becomes a stronger predictor of group behaviour than personal capability confidence. [^]

One way of building self-efficacy beliefs is through setting one’s own goals. An example of this from the sporting domain would be a marathon runner setting him- or her- self a new target time for marathon completion. The theory behind this technique for enhancing positive sports performance is that by setting one’s own targets (that one believes in), performance will improve in line with the improved, self-defined self-efficacy beliefs. [^]

Research conducted into the goal-setting technique (Burton, 1989; Hall & Byrne, 1988; Hall, Weinberg & Jackson, 1987) has added weight to this aspect of aiding one’s personal self-efficacy beliefs, although it has been suggested that further studies should be carried out to provide an entirely reliable, empirical guide. [^]

The wealth of existing, accepted empirical research adds great weight to Bandura’s (1977) Theory of Self-Efficacy. Sallis and colleagues (1986) found that the efficacy cognitions of an elderly adult community sample predicted the activity intensity level they achieved.

Taking a sample of middle-aged, sedentary adults, McAuley (1992) showed that self-efficacy was linked to exercise programme adherence. From the point of view that exercise is a dynamic process, McAuley demonstrated efficacy cognitions to be accurately indicative at three months. At five months, however, previous exercise behaviour (or ‘past performance accomplishment’) was the most indicative factor.

Employing structural equation modelling over the course of a ten-week program, and for three months post-program, McAuley (1989) demonstrated self-efficacy beliefs and the intention to participate in other physical activities impacted both upon program attendance and success perceptions upon program termination. Self-efficacy also impacted upon follow-up self-reported behaviour.

In support of McAuley’s above findings, Dzewaltowski (1989) and Noble & Shaw (1990) found that self-efficacy belief was the main reason for college undergraduate students’ self-reported behaviour variation. [^]

In conclusion, given the different measures, definitions, environments, and designs used in self-efficacy investigation, and the strong support given by such investigations to Bandura’s (1977) Theory of Self-Efficacy, it appears that it is a very strong model in explaining individuals’ behaviour and achievements through concentrating not on the skills the individual actually possesses but on the judgements of what the individual can do with the skills at his or her disposal. [^]


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34-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, being a bit of a geek, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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Posted in Introduction to Sport and Exercise Psychology

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