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  • Fall 2014 Self-Efficacy and Social Cognitive Case Study
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Self-efficacy is a theory within the theory known as Social Cognitive Theory. Since it encompasses multiple theories, it is called a meta-theory. Social Cognitive Theory evolved from Social Learning Theory, with the help of Albert Bandura “highlighting the interplay of cognitive, behavioral, individual, and environmental factors that all work together to determine motivation and behavior” (PSU WC, L7, p 2). Understanding Social Cognitive Theory is paramount for the comprehension of Self-Efficacy; therefore, its views must be noted in order to understand the interrelatedness of these theories.  Albert Bandura was dissatisfied with Behaviorism and the details that it was lacking. Bandura realized an important component of social theory was missing: self-beliefs. Self-beliefs are what separate self-efficacy theory from the rest of the social cognitive theories. In 1977, Bandura published “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change," in which he identified the importance of self-beliefs. The perspective on how people are viewed shifted from “reactive organisms” to “self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting, and self-regulating” as well as guided by “environmental forces or inner impulses."  (Pajares, F., 2002).


The primary difference between self-efficacy theory and the other social cognitive theories is that self-efficacy theory focuses on personal experiences rather than external factors.  Although external factors, such as environment, do play a part it is how an individual’s perception based upon their overall experiences which determines ones motivation.  According to self-efficacy scholars (Bandura, 1977; Gist & Michell, 1992), efficacy judgments are determined based on four primary sources of information:  performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback (PSU WC, L7, p6). 


 Self-Efficacy Video Link


This is where Social Cognitive Theory comes in. Social Cognitive Theory is described as a method of understanding various determinants as it pertains to the interactions of the individual. Albert Bandura continued to develop this theory, paying strict attention to the determinants’ interaction with the individual, which he later named “triadic reciprocal determinism”. Triadic reciprocal determinism is composed of three factors: behavioral, environmental, and personal. These three factors help improve, maintain, or decrease self-efficacy, the “belief about the likelihood of successfully completing a task or goal” (PSU WC, L7, p4). As we dive into Self-Efficacy Theory, we will be relating our case study to how these factors contribute to an individual’s self-efficacy.



Pajares, F. (2002).


Case Study:

Jana is a retail manager for a high-end apparel brand. As a manager, she must manage the performance of her staff. Upon taking over a new store, Jana inherited an existing team that was not performing up to the company standards. One of her Assistant Managers, Michael, has been with the company for 25 years. When Jana first came on board, she stressed the importance of performing above the company average as they are required/encouraged to do so. However, she discovered that the existing team had a lack of confidence in achieving these goals. Michael did not understand the importance of the goals or the importance of achieving them. He instead blamed the lack of business, shortness in customer traffic, etc. for the store’s (and his) substandard performance. He had low-self efficacy, and this greatly influenced his performance, his interaction with other team members, and all opinions he had formed about the business. Jana, on the other hand, was the exact opposite. Jana had come from a store where she always believed her team could be the best, and their performance proved that belief. As a result, she and her team were able to achieve all of their performance goals.  Now, she is transitioning into a store where that belief is not shared, and this low self-efficacy is greatly affecting the performance of her new store.

Jana has been in the new store for three months and has pushed Michael to "buy into” the fact that they can and will be the best. This strategy worked for about a month, but then a significant decrease in performance had taken place; Michael has reverted back to his old habits. Jana believes it is because he doesn't actually believe that he and the team can do what is expected of them. Another factor Jana contributes to Michael’s lack of motivation is the beliefs of his former manager, Jeff. Jeff managed the store for seven years with Michael and had the same beliefs as Michael. The store underperformed for years until finally Jeff was let go. Jana believes that this created an environment in the store to accept poor performance and it developed as a norm within the store.

Jana’s self-efficacy is on the other side of the spectrum. There are some things that have helped Jana to obtain her high level of self-efficacy. She experienced a lot of adversity and overcame it. She won prestigious awards, recognition for building up poorly performing stores into top performing stores. Jana is seen as a really optimistic person who is rather ambitious. All of these factors have contributed to high self-efficacy.



Again, Bandura defines “self-efficacy” as "the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations” (Albert Bandura 1994). Essentially Bandura is saying that someone has to actually believe in the process or goal to accomplish it. As our case study points out, Michael is no longer making an effort to “buy into” the goal of success that has been set by the new retail manager. Instead of realizing or admitting that he may be the lead factor that is making performance unacceptable, Michael wants to blame environmental factors. We can see, however, that his poor behavior/performance is influencing co-workers.  The four efficacy judgments as they pertain to our case study are as follows and each factor can be independent of each other. 

  • Performance Outcomes:
    • Previous experiences which produced either a positive, high self-efficacy, or negative, low self-efficacy, outcome.  In Michael’s case he might have tried to be the best store, but despite his efforts they still weren’t the best and therefore he’s not fully committed to put forth his best effort now.  Because of his prior failed attempts, this is having the most profound effect on his self-efficacy.
  • Vicarious Experiences:
    • Is similar to the “comparison other” with a difference being an individual will observe others’ performance and compare their own competence level.  If they share a similar performance style that is positive, then that will result in a higher level of self-efficacy, but if they compare their performance as negative it will be a lower level of self-efficacy.  Michael might be comparing his style to Jeff’s style which had a negative outcome and therefore lowered Michael’s self-efficacy level and lowered his overall motivation.
  • Verbal Persuasion:
    • It appears that in the past, Michael received discouragement from his manager, which had a negative effect on his self-efficacy.  In our case study example, Jana is using a positive verbal persuasion technique to inspire her team, while Michael is using the same tactic to discourage Jana as well as the whole team.  
  • Physiological Feedback: 
    • Does Michael experience physical discomfort when he performs well because he’s worried he’ll have to continue to “out-do” his last performance?  Do Jana’s      endorphins rise dramatically when she has successfully rallied her team to be the most profitable store?  In either case both are examples of physiological feedback which are “sensations that one receives from the body during performance.” 

Bandura’s Triadic Reciprocal Determinism further sparked his development of the Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura 1986). Bandura’s main point in Social Cognitive Theory is his belief that people aren’t influenced by a single factor. He believes that emotions, thoughts, and beliefs can be heavily influenced by a combination of factors to include others’ influence (PSU WC, L7, p3).

  • Environmental Factors:    
    • Michael blames lack of customer traffic, business, etc. for the store’s performance. Although these factors may exist, these are issues that could be worked on by designing a plan to overcome these challenges. However, this is not the main problem. Michael’s personal beliefs are the main factor.  An environmental factor that also contributes to Michael’s low self-efficacy is the store environment that he was so used to working in. If the store environment did not hold the standard of the company in place for their team it is no wonder that the Assistant Manager did not either. Having worked for almost a decade under this low standard environment could have contributed greatly to Michael’s low self-efficacy.
  • Personal Factors:
    • Michael “pretended” to buy into the new company goal in the beginning. After a month, it is clear that Michael does not personally believe that this company can overcome its poor performance. With Michael being the manager that everyone looks toward for guidance, his personal beliefs are beginning to affect co-workers, as his beliefs are starting to become clear through his behavior.
  • Behavioral Factors:
    • Michael is actively returning to his “old habits”, showing that he isn’t buying into the new plan for the company to reach their newly-developed goal. This behavior is reflected outwardly, and it is viewed by not only the new manager, but his subordinates as well. His behavior and lack of confidence, belief, or motivation could actively sway other workers to “mirror” Michael’s negative behavior and overall thinking pattern that will ultimately result in failure.  Michael’s behavior could ultimately lead to the store falling further into decline by following Michael’s Social Cognitive behaviors, rather than following the direction of the new, and highly successful manager who 100% believes this store can make a turnaround and reach its goals.



Through our knowledge of Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, we can understand the case involving Michael and Jana presented above. Bandura’s theory involves cognitive, behavioral, individual, and environmental factors. It is basically a catch-all theory that attributes an event/feeling/behavior to one, many, or all of these factors. Summarizing these factors into one “entity”, Bandura formed Triadic reciprocal determinism. It is composed of three factors: behavioral, environmental, and personal, the same as the factors mentioned previously. This is a part of the self-efficacy theory that is a part of the larger “mother theory”, Social Cognitive Theory. This all-inclusive theory helps us to analyze the case at hand. Jana becomes the manager for a high-end store branch that is not performing well due to self-efficacy issues. This is the exact opposite of the store that Jana came from. She found that an employee by the name of Michael was the reason for this lack of high self-efficacy. Michael was affected by all three factors in the triadic reciprocal determinism model. There were personal factors (no beliefs in future improvement), environmental factors (lack of traffic, lack of business, store environment provided by the previous store manager), and behavioral factors (temporary external behavior improvement, return to old habits). To solve this low self-efficacy issue, Jana could hold meetings to address self-efficacy, organize company exercises/training programs to train employees to instill in themselves high self-efficacy, and/or advise the employees individually/personally. In other words, Jana and other employees at the store can improve self-efficacy by obtaining better performance outcomes, experiencing vicarious experiences, providing verbal persuasion, and noticing physiological feedback.  Jana should also structure Michael’s goals so they are progressively more challenging. Giving him an initial set of goals that he is more likely to achieve will build his self-efficacy as well as his self-esteem.



Reference List: 

Cherry, K. (n.d.) “What is Self-Efficacy?” Retrieved October 9, 2014, from

Pajares, F. (2002). Overview of social cognitive theory and of self-efficacy. Retrieved October 10, 2014, from

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2014). PSYCH 484 Lesson 7: Self-Efficacy Theory: “Do I think that I can succeed in my work?” Retrieved from:



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