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  • Fall 2013 Self-Efficacy Case Study
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Self-efficacy concept is a part of a broader perspective, Social Cognitive Meta-Theory, which aims to explain behavior and motivation by emphasizing the interaction and mutual influence of behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors. Self-efficacy refers to an individual's subjective beliefs about his/her capability to succeed at performing a specific task. People usually possess differing degrees of self-efficacy about various tasks. For example, some believe they are good in math but not so good in chemistry, while for others it is the other way around. The various self-efficacy examples people have ordinarily evolve out of previous successful or unsuccessful experiences, observations of others, as well as others' encouragement or doubt, and various  physiological factors. In general, the more self-efficacy an individual has, the more motivated and persistent he/she will be in accomplishing a task, and the more difficult tasks he/she will attempt and succeed at. Feelings of self-efficacy start developing in early childhood and continue throughout an individual's life; they are not constant and fixed and can be enhanced or diminished. Studies have indicated that motivation will increase as perceptions of self-efficacy increase. In addition, self efficacy can be increased by accomplishing small tasks and gaining confidence in your ability. This is often how a manager will build self-efficacy for an employee (PSU WC, L.7, p.4).


Bandura stated "The capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of life is the essence of humanness. Unless people believe they can produce desired results and forestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or persevere in the face of difficulties." (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2004, p. 413).


 Development of Self-Efficacy

 Gist and Mitchell (1992) stated that Bandura was able to identify four primary factors that lead to the development of self-efficacy.  These four factors, in the order of greatest influence, are enactive mastery, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological arousal (Gist & Mitchell, 1992).


  1. Enactive Mastery (Performance Outcomes) – This factor is the repeated performance accomplishments of an individual.  This factor is the most influential of all four factors when it comes to the development of self-efficacy (Gist, 1987).  These performance outcomes are often based on personal experiences (PSU WC, 2013, L7 p.6). When an individual does well their self-efficacy rises.  Conversely, when an individual does poorly their self-efficacy lowers. A negative outcome could also push an individual to work harder to achieve better results the next time around.

  2. Vicarious Experience – This factor is sometimes known as modeling.  Modeling is observing of others performing a task and developing ones self-efficacy off the effectiveness of the model (Gist, 1987).  Studies have worked with the idea of self-modeling where video tapes have been taken of an individual and edited to only show the positive results of a task.  The research has shown that this idea of self-modeling has been successful in raising self-efficacy (Gist, 1987).  As with enactive mastery, if the model performs positively, self-efficacy goes up; when the model does poorly, self-efficacy drops.

  3. Verbal Persuasion – This factor is a favorite of supervisors.  This factor is simply verbal encouragement.  It is believed that verbal encouragement raises self-efficacy while verbal discouragement can lower it (Gist, 1987).

  4. Physiological Arousal – This final factor involves an individual’s perception of their physiological state.  This individual uses this perception to access how capable they are at performing the given task (Gist, 1987).  Let’s think about this in terms of public speaking.  Say an individual gets up to give a speech and their palms start to sweat and their stomach begins to turn.  This individual might perceive that these physiological cues are telling the individual that they are not capable of giving this speech.  Therefore, their self-efficacy would be lowered.

 Case Details


(Huffington Post)


Larry is 26 years old. He has been working for a media design company for two years. He is a talented individual but not very self-confident and assertive. His manager, Jane, notices his talent and potential but also realizes that those qualities do not always translate into superior performance. She wonders what factors prohibit him from delivering better results at work.

After talking to Larry, Jane realizes that he doesn't believe he is very talented and creative. Because of his low self-efficacy for his job, he does not feel that trying harder will bring about superior performance or desirable outcomes, such as respect of others and positive performance rating. He has many ideas for projects the company is working on but he usually just keeps them to himself because, in his opinion, they don't fall in line with company's direction. Jane really likes some of Larry's designs and does think that they follow with the company's direction.  She would like to devise a plan to bring Larry out of his shell and help him perform on a higher level.


Applying the Theory

Jane's plan is to utilize the concepts of the self-efficacy theory to help build Larry's confidence and the sense of mastery.   

Enactive Mastery (Performance outcomes)
  1. Jane will give Larry assignments that progress from easy to difficult levels. Successfully accomplishing progressively difficult tasks should help Larry realize that he is competent at his job and capable of superior performance. Allowing him to work on tasks at which he excels, as well as offering opportunities to try new task, challenges him and encourages a balance of success and personal and professional growth for Larry.
 Vicarious experience
  • Jane encourages Larry to observe other people at company meetings, note how forthcoming they are in bringing up their ideas and suggestions. The social and professional climate at the company is very supportive and non-judgmental; no idea is looked down upon, no matter how outlandish. After all, the job they are doing is all about creativity and thinking outside the box. This experience should help Larry be more vocal and forthcoming with his ideas from the learning to model their behavior. By watching his peers, he will first learn which allows him to repeat or to mimic their ways and then finally develop his own. The full engagement with the mentors also promotes social interaction which leads to a higher self esteem and confidence in one self.
Verbal Persuasion
  • Jane plans to give Larry plenty of encouragement overall but especially during the enactive mastery process.  For example, after every assignment is accomplished, Larry will receive encouraging and supportive feedback in front of the entire group. This public acknowledgement in front of his peers will build and encourage his self-confidence in himself. With this feeling of respect among his co-workers, Larry will not feel so timid or scared to step up. This step should aid in restoring and strengthening Larry's confidence in his abilities.
Physiological Arousal
  • In order for Larry to be able to associate certain levels of accomplishments with different emotions, Jane will allow him to perform certain tasks under different scenarios and circumstances. Individuals perform differently based on the environment they are working in. It is like a trial by error situation, Larry may perform the same task more efficiently by feeling more pressure or the total opposite and altogether fail. Jane should allow him to experience different situations whereas it will conjure certain feelings that he will always associate with accomplishing a task successfully even under pressure. Given the opportunity to work in different conditions, Larry will have a self knowledge of how to handle any situation as it arises. This exercise will help increase Larry's self-efficacy to believe in his ability to do it.

Measuring the Theory

In order to measure Larry's progress, Jane will plan to utilize the General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE). The GSE consists of a 10 question psychometric scale that is designed to assess how a person feels about their own self-efficacy with a variety of life demands (Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995). The scale was originally developed by Matthias Jerusalem and Ralf Schwarzer in 1981. Since then, it has been used in numerous studies with hundreds of thousands of participants. The GSE focuses solely on an individual's perceived self-efficacy.  

Jane will administer this questionnaire before she begins applying the self-efficacy theory as discussed above. Then, she will plan to have Larry fill out the questionnaire every three months to measure his progress. The outcomes of these questionnaires will give her material evidence of Larry's growth.



Researchers Gegenfurtner, Veermans & Vauras (2013) performed a meta analysis of multiple work analytic studies and concluded that training outcomes "showed higher population correlation estimates between self-efficacy and transfer when the training was technology-enhanced" (p. 76). Meaning, simply allowing Larry to watch or interact with peers might not be as beneficial as hands on training with software used for ad creation and collaborative learning scenarios that involve learning in a more enriched environment. Larry will benefit most from a combination of social interaction with his work peers and the mental stimulation that technology based learning provides. Jane will get higher post training self-efficacy ratings for Larry if she makes sure to have a well blended mix of peer to peer training along with more complex, technical training.

Self motivation is the core of self-efficacy. An individual relates to the intrinsic need for competence to feel a certain level of self-efficacy. A person with low self-efficacy may appear to be unmotivated, but a manager should be cautious about attributing that to a lack of extrinsic motivators or labeling the person “a weak link.” Reeve (2009) says that many people with low self-efficacy become entrenched in self-doubt because they “never get a chance to prove themselves wrong and never give themselves opportunities to observe expert models or receive instruction” (p. 238). An employer can't control an employee's self-efficacy but an effective manager can encourage it. With these various steps to Jane's plan, she will be able to engage Larry on many different levels of his self motivating factors. This additional training along with the coaching/mentoring will provide the confidence that Larry was lacking. These various exercise serves as empowerment opportunities for Larry.The two important factors here is that you have (1) a manager that can recognize an employee that has the innate abilities but need that extra push to bring it out and (2) a trusting employee that is willing to take up the challenge of Jane's plan to become better at what he does. Without these two critical factors, the plan will fail.


Funder, David, C. (2010). The Personality Puzzle. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Gegenfurtner, A., Veermans, K., & Vauras, M. (2013). Effects of computer support, collaboration, and time lag on performance self-efficacy and transfer of training: A longitudinal meta-analysis. Special Issue: Transfer of Training: New Conceptualizations Through Integrated Research Perspectives8, 75-89. Retrieved from

Gist, M. E. (1987, July).  Self-Efficacy: Implications for Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management.  The Academy of Management Review, 12(3), 472-485 

Gist, M. E., & Mitchell, T. R. (1992, April).  Self-Efficacy: A Theoretical Analysis of Its Determinants and Malleability.  The Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 183-211

Hockenbury, Don, H.,& Hockenbury, Sandra,E. (2004). Discovering Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers

Job Burnout. (n.d.). Retrieved from Http://

Miller, B. (2010, June 14). Overcoming obstacles to avoid. Retrieved from

 Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2011). PSYCH 484 Lesson 7: Self-Efficacy Theory. Retrieved from

Reeve, J. ( 2009). 5th edition. Understanding Motivation and Emotion. New York: Wiley Press

Schwarzer, R. & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized Self-Efficacy Scale. In J. Weinman, S. Wright, & M. Johnston, Measures in Health Psychology: A User's Portfolio. Casual and Control Beliefs (pp. 35-37). Windsor, UK: NFER-NELSON. Retrieved from:


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