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  • Fall 2015 - Group 2 - Self-Efficacy and Social Cognitive Theories Case Study
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Leonardo DaVinci is noted as saying, "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return" (Flamini, 2013).  While DaVinci was referring to the literal processes involved in flight, these words can easily be applied to the theory of self-efficacy. Once an individual experiences success at a task, they will be more inclined to believe that they will have the same success at the same task in the future.  The confidence they gain from that success will lead the individual to tackle more difficult or challenging scenarios moving forward because they believe that they will be successful (Bandura, 1977). The individual will approach problems with confidence rather than seeing obstacles as impossibilities. The converse is also true - if an individual has experienced failure or feels incompetent regarding a specific task, they will be much less inclined to attempt the task or activity, if they try it at all.

Whenever we are faced with a task or goal, the belief that we are able to successfully achieve that goal is based on self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations (Cherry, n.d.).  Just like Watty Piper's book "The Little Engine that Could" people will be more motivated when they feel competent to perform a task and think they can successfully accomplish the desired goal (PSU WC, 2015, L. 7, p. 4).

Self-efficacy was developed by Albert Bandura as part of a larger theory called Social Learning Theory now known as Social Cognitive Theory (PSU WC, 2015, L. 7, p. 2). The basic idea behind this theory is that motivation and performance can be determined by how effective people believe they can be (Bandura, 1982, as cited by PSU WC, 2015, L. 7, p. 4).  If you think you can perform a certain task, your motivation will increase as well as your self-efficacy, but if your confidence in completing a task is low, then your motivation and self-efficacy will be low as well. These beliefs about whether or not one can complete a task or goal can be determined from four basic sources of information: performance outcome, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback (PSU WC, 2015, L. 7, p. 6).  The following case study shows how self-efficacy and its components played a role in helping Beth make a successful career change. 

                      Source: (EnglandHandball, 2015) 


At 42 years old, Beth needed a change. She began working in the real estate field about 15 years prior after being laid off from a job in financial planning. She took a job with a home inspector so that she could start building her resume after 2 years on unemployment. That position led her to work for realtor offices, a foreclosed property management company, and ultimately a job managing file auditors for a mortgage company. Beth was a competent and successful manager. She was confident in her abilities but she knew that she wanted more out of her career.

Opportunity knocked on Beth's door in the form of an old high school friend. Rachel had been working for the last 18 years for a company that runs competitions for high school, junior high and elementary school bands, choirs and orchestras. There was an opening for a festival director, and she approached Beth about making the change. This would be a 180 degree turnaround for Beth. Her skills and knowledge were based in property title reports, real estate contracts, and loan disclosure paperwork and deed transfers. What did she know about running competitions other than distant memories from participating in them in high school? The job change would involve a pay cut and an increased amount of time on the road. There would be new people to meet and tasks to master. There would even be public speaking at awards ceremonies and conferences. Beth was nervous, but her self-efficacy started to build as she began to analyze the move.

Before real estate, Beth had helped plan corporate events for a company. They were often successful events with people booking their next trip upon their return from the current event. Beth's experiences with success in that job provided confidence that this new job would be much the same. As she considered the new position, Beth's friend, Rachel and Rachel's husband, Jeff, encouraged Beth. Knowing her personality and her interests, Rachel and Jeff encouraged Beth with supportive words and verbal confidences that she would be able to handle the job without any difficulties. Her knack for attention to detail and her interpersonal skills were essential to success as a festival director. Beth made the jump and decided to pursue this new career.



Starting with the Social Learning Theory, we can see how environment and personal characteristics interacted with behavior to influence motivation. Beth's past and present environment interacted with her personal interest in music to motivate her behavior of changing careers. This motivation was enhanced through the performance outcome, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback of the Self-Efficacy Theory (Bandura, 1986, as cited in PSU WC, 2015, L. 7).

Beth stated that she needed a change and mentioned wanting more out of her career. This indicated dissatisfaction with her current role and career. Her personal interests were not lining up with her current career role; the fact that she was laid off at the time of beginning the real estate job, she no doubt felt that she had to take the job. This environmental factor forced her into that job which played into her dissatisfaction.

A new situation presented itself when an environmental factor was introduced through her friend mentioning a new career opportunity. This environmental influence worked with her interest in music to guide her behavior in pursuing this career move. Thus, Bandura's (1986) Social Cognitive Theory that "depending on the situation, behavior, personal characteristics, or environment can play a lead role in determining behavior," (PSU WC, 2015, L. 7, p. 3) is demonstrated in the example of Beth's career move.

Looking now at the Self-Efficacy Theory, we can see that Beth had high self-efficacy due to performance outcomes, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback in her past experiences. She viewed herself as a competent and successful manager. She was confident in her abilities. This view came from past performance outcomes where she successfully completed projects. She then realized that the new projects were similar which made her believe that she could complete future projects successfully too. Second, Rachel and Jeff provided verbal praise of Beth's ability to perform the new job and at a high level. Beth stated that her friends knew her personality and interests. This is not a straightforward verbal persuasion, but it was received (perceived) as a compliment by Beth, and like other motivational factors, the key is one's perception. Further verbal compliments noted that her attention to detail and interpersonal skills were essential to the job. These statements raised Beth's level of self-efficacy by showing her that she had already performed successfully in this type of function in the past.  

Finally, Beth's physiological feedback started out as being "nervous" because of the unknown functions of her new job, but then turned to excitement at the prospect of a new job. She grew more excited in that it involved something with a high personal interest and even more excited when she was informed that her skill set matched that of the new job. Beth's high self-efficacy was measured by the confidence that she could do the job (self-efficacy magnitude) and that she could be successful at it (self-efficacy strength) as defined by the online lesson (PSU WC, 2015, L. 7). 



Self-Efficacy Theory is a branch from the tree of Social Cognitive Theory, so let's break down those two words: social and cognitive. "Social" refers to human interaction interlaced with emotions, thoughts and actions and its role in motivation. "Cognitive" refers to processes of self-observation and evaluation, and its role in motivation. Social Cognitive Theory encompasses all of these things, and is so vast that it can be looked at more internally; this is where Self-Efficacy Theory comes into play. In the above case example, Beth displayed high self-efficacy; she believed she could take on a new job and do so successfully. Beth had a specific task, a specific goal in changing careers, and because of this we can differentiate between self- efficacy and self-esteem. Having confidence in oneself is said to be having high self-esteem, which is something Beth also possesses, however that defines her in a generality whereas self-efficacy is believing in accomplishing something more specific (PSU WC, 2015, L.7).


Figure 1: Coquese Washington is the Head Coach of the women's basketball team at Penn State University. She likely has high self-efficacy due to the past successful seasons she has had since 2007. (The Pennsylvania State University Athletic Department, 2015)


In Beth's case, building her self-efficacy has built upon her self-esteem. She proved to herself that she could be successful in her new job; she was capable. However, in a different case, one may have high self-esteem (they like who they are) but have low self-efficacy (they believe they are not capable of a specific task). These two terms differ but have a certain level of interrelatedness (PSU WC, 2015, L.7). This connection (between self-esteem and self-efficacy) is a good example of something Bandura (1986) calls triadic reciprocal determinism, "the mutual influence of behavior, personal characteristics, and the environment on each other" (PSU WC, 2015, L.7, p. 3).

Because of Beth's ability to perform well in her new job, she gained high self-efficacy. If in the future Beth were to again have another career opportunity, her self-efficacy would continue to be high because of her previous performance outcomes. It is this kind of personal experience that lends itself to being the most influential when it comes to building self-efficacy (PSU WC, 2015, L.7). 


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review, 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cherry, K. (n.d.) What is Self-Efficacy? Retrieved from:

EnglandHandball. (2015, June 18). SlideShare. Retrieved from LinkedIn Corporation:

Flamini, R. (2013, September 12). The Da Vinci codex: Treasured sketches of flight on rare display at Smithsonian. Retrieved from The Washington Times:

Self-Efficacy Theory. (n.d.). Work Attitudes and Motivation – PSYCH 484. Online course lesson, Penn State World Campus, The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved

The Pennsylvania State University Athletic Department. (2015). Penn State Coaching Staff. Retrieved from Go PSU Sports:

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