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Self-Efficacy Case Example

Overview / Introduction

Have you ever tried to lose weight?  Do you remember the motivation you had and how hard you worked to lose each pound?  Did you work hard and persist because you believed you could reach your goal?  If you have experienced weight loss, then you understand how Self-Efficacy Theory works.  The main idea behind Self-Efficacy Theory is that a person’s motivation and how hard they work are determined by the belief that they can accomplish the task at hand.  As a person’s motivation increases, self-efficacy also increases (PSU WC, 2012).

Self-efficacy is a part of the Social Cognitive Theory created by Albert Bandura. Bandura was not satisfied with the principles of behaviorism as it did not address the influence of cognition on motivation, and psychoanalysis fails to address the role of the situation and thus proposed Social Cognitive Theory. Social Cognitive Theory stresses how goals drive our motivation; there are three things that work together to influence a person's thoughts, emotions and behaviors. These three factors are behavioral, personal, or environmental; also referred to as Bandura's Triadic Reciprocal Determinism.  Because self-efficacy is about believing that one can successfully reach a goal, it is an extension of Social Cognitive Theory and is most well known among the other parts of the theory (PSU WC, 2012). 

A person’s self-efficacy is measured by two things, magnitude and strength., 2009

There are four sources of information that build self-efficacy: performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback. 

  1. Performance outcomes are past experiences that a person can look back on to learn from and build their confidence.  This is the source of information that is the most powerful in building self-efficacy.
  2. Vicarious experiences are when a person watches another person perform and compare themselves to that person to increase their own competence.  They may tell themselves, “If they can do it, so can I!”
  3. Verbal persuasion is easy to use and refers to providing feedback regarding the person’s performance; this can be either positive or negative feedback.
  4. Physiological feedback is when, during performance, the body responds with sensations things like nervousness, sweaty palms, heart that beat fast, and/or blushing.  This is the least influential of the four (PSU WC, 2012).

People come to initial beliefs about their performance based on these sources of information, which may adjust as the information changes (PSU WC, 2012).

Those that have lost weight successfully must be high in self-efficacy.  A person that has high self-efficacy will set higher goals to which they are committed.  They will develop a plan to effectively reach their goal and do not waiver in light of negative feedback. Their minds are strong and committed, which is a great example of "mind over matter” (PSU WC, L7, 2012, Pg. 8) (PSU WC, 2012). 

"They are able who think they are able."

Self-efficacy is a critical component for weight loss.  The following case is about Jane, who has tried and failed at losing weight until now.  Jane has finally succeeded in her efforts through the application of the self-efficacy theory.

Details of Case  

Jane Doe was trying to lose weight.  For most of her life, Jane had not had a problem maintaining her weight.   She had gained some weight and was looking to get back into shape.  She tried several different diets and did actually lose weight, but her performance outcomes were only gained the weight back in a few short months producing low .  Jane was discouraged by her performance outcomes and her self-efficacy was at an all time low. As those that are low in self-efficacy tend to give-up or lower their expectations in reaching their goals (PSU WC, 2012).

Jane’s twin sister, Joan, had similar battles with her weight and had seemed to overcome her weight issue.  Jane asked her sister how she had been able to get into shape and stay there.  Joan explained that because they were twins, they had a very similar makeup.  This meant that Jane had the ability to lose weight just like Joan.  She just needed to motivate herself, commit to a plan and stick with it.  By doing so she would increase her self-efficacy and eventually reach her goal.  Below, details of how Jane was able to lose the weight by applying the self-efficacy theory are discussed., 2012

Resolving the Issue

Jane wants to lose weight but needs to motivate herself to do so. Weight loss can be a very large obstacle to overcome in a society that promotes fast food and unhealthy alternatives to proper meals. Too often we lead busy lives and are faced with the challenge of eating something quick so we can forge forward with our schedule without taking time to make a proper healthy meal. Jane needed to find ways to motivate herself to break her bad habits and start living a healthier life. The first thing Jane needed to do was believe in herself and her ability to succeed. She was surrounded by many things that could help her believe she could reach her goal.

Her main motivation was her twin sister, Joan. Because they are twins their make-up is similar so Jane looked to Joan for guidance in weight loss. This type of motivation is called vicarious experience: Jane finds someone similar (i.e., Joan) and watches them succeed, therefore increasing her self-efficacy so that she believes she can also succeed. Of course the opposite can occur also, such as if Jane's sister had failed, Jane may believe that her chances of success are less and thus her self-efficacy is lowered so she may then decide not to even try (PSU WC, 2012).

Jane also has verbal persuasions in her life that improve her self-efficacy. As she starts to lose weight, her family gives her words of encouragement. With the positive reinforcement from members of her family she starts to believe in herself and her chances of success increase with every word. If the feedback she receives from her family is negative, it could lower her self-efficacy. Verbal persuasion is based on the giver's credibility. If the person delivering the message lacks credibility then their message will be discredited, and thus have little effect on the person and their motivation (PSU WC, 2012).

One of the biggest problems with motivation that Jane will have to deal with is her past performance outcomes. Jane has tried many times to lose weight, and though she has seen some short term success, she reverts back to old habits that make her regain the weight. Performance outcomes have an effect on one's self-efficacy in that if you have tried before and succeeded then you believe your chances of success to be great. However, if you have tried and failed, you may be leery to try again or believe that your efforts will be futile. This is where Jane is going to need positive feedback and other environmental factors to improve her motivation and self-efficacy (PSU WC, 2012).

Lastly, Jane's emotional arousal or physiological feedback will also play a part in her weight loss. Her body's signals in regards to this may influence her positively or negatively. If Jane wants to join an organization, such as Weight Watchers, but she is shy, she may experience some emotional duress that will stop her from joining the group. In contrast, receiving positive comments about her appearance may give her feelings that will motivate her and improve her self-efficacy (PSU WC, 2012).

Based on these sources of information explained above, Jane was now able to have the extra motivation needed to reach her goals in her weight loss endeavors. Even though Jane did originally have some motivation to lose weight, it just was not enough.  "People will be more motivated when they feel competent to do a task and think that they can successfully accomplish desired goals" (PSU WC, L7, 2012, Pg. 4) (PSU WC, 2012).


As part of Social Cognitive Theory, self-efficacy focuses on a person’s belief that he or she will successfully complete a goal. This belief is influenced by a combination of personal, behavioral, and environmental factors which affect both motivation and goal achievement. As previously mentioned, the four sources of information used to build self-efficacy are performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback. In the case described above, Jane is able to successfully lose weight and keep it off due to the new information she received and an increased self-efficacy (PSU WC, 2012).

As Jane was struggling to achieve her goal, it became necessary for her to focus on the beliefs she had about her ability to lose weight. Speaking with her sister helped her gain motivation because Joan not only encouraged her efforts but provided a vicarious experience. From this push in motivation, Jane’s belief in her ability to lose weight began to increase. With this increase in motivation and self-efficacy, Jane began to lose weight. When others noticed her weight loss, they gave her verbal persuasion in the form of encouragement which further increased the strength of her self-efficacy. Because Jane was becoming closer to achieving her goal, she replaced her old ideas about being a failure with new ideas about personal success. She began receiving even more encouragement from the people around her and experienced positive emotions and a further increase in self-efficacy. With all of these factors working together, Jane was able to attain permanent weight loss (PSU WC, 2012).  


(2009). Google Images: [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

(2010). [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2012). PSYCH 484, Lesson 7: Self-efficacy theory: Do I think that I can succeed in my work? Retrieved from

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