Child pages
  • Summer 2014 Self-Efficacy and Social Cognitive Case Study
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata


In the world of academia, women of color must face many discriminatory practices based on inherent bias, gender, race, class, sexuality, and other varying factors.  According to a 2010 survey, women only held 31 percent of all tenured faculty in the United State universities and colleges; African American women accounted for 7 percent of those women (, 2012).  Only 2 percent of African American women will reach a professoriate, which is less than their representation in the American population of 6.7 percent (US Census Bureau, 2010).  Women often find higher success rates to tenure in fields of humanities and social sciences, but they are still behind in faculty positions for math and science.

Diversity within the American workforce has slowly increased, yet the patriarchal inclinations still ring deep in how employers promote their faculty members.  A women’s choice to have a child will have a greater impact than her male counterparts.  Married men with children are often viewed as being stable and secure, while married women with children can be seen as a liability and believed to be the primary caregivers.  Women with children are more likely to find work locations, hours, and schedules which can fit and flex to their family’s needs.  

The funneling effect of women in academia has created a shallow pool of potential faculty candidates where qualified minorities are few in the application processes (Rifkin).  African American women in academe have less superior support or peer representation.  Women of color also have fewer role models whom they can shadow, so they look for external support through other off-campus resources and other African American women (Cook, 2013). Tokenism can create a stigma that enables stereotyping, external/internal pressures on performance, distancing by majority members, and stunted job growth. 

Albert Bandura helped to create the Social Learning Theory which focuses on conditions for effective modeling: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation (Bandurra, 1971).  He helped to bridge the gap between environment and cognition in motivation. The Social Cognitive Theory and Self-Efficacy Theory fit under the umbrella of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, but they focus more on the human behaviors, actions, and emotions than just modeling.  An individual’s behaviors and thoughts are varying due to a combination of influences throughout their life time, self-imposed or brought on by other events. 

Self-efficacy is the ability for a person to successfully complete a goal or tasks through their own motivation, cognitive resources, and personal control in taking charge of such actions (Penn State, W. C. 2014).  The four efficacy judgments include: performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback.  People need to attain all four for them to have confidence in performing the specific goal or task.  The Self-Efficacy Theory can help individuals see what needs are missing as they re-evaluate their situation and set new goals for success.  African American women in academe can utilize the Self-Efficacy Theory to boost their motivation and create a take-charge career path as they build a path to success.


Alicia Philips is a 38 year old African American female who has worked as an Associate Professor in the Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, & Biochemistry department of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.  Ms. Philips has been working on the tenure track for the past 8 years.  She was happy with her career path but has noticed the last couple years that it has been stalling. 

A native to central Pennsylvania, Alicia Philips had dreamed of attending the Pennsylvania State University’s main campus.  Her parents had wanted her to pursue a more stable career and become a high school teacher, like her older sister.  Ms. Philips comes from a long line of teachers, so she began her college years in the school of education.  It would take one semester of chemistry for her to see her true passion would be more fulfilled in the world of academia and research.  Her specialty would be in the field of biochemistry with an emphasis on catabolic metabolism, a medication which breaks down larger molecules into smaller ones that can be more readily absorbed. Ms. Philips earned a doctorate in Biochemistry from Brown University in 2005.  She immediately entered in a post-doctoral fellowship and began her tenure-track the following year.  

While working towards her tenure, she married her husband (Paul) and gave birth to their two girls, now 1 ½ and 4 years old.  Paul is a computer programmer who has the flexibility to work from home, so he is the primary caregiver for their daughters.  Ms. Philips has felt many pressures over the years to be extra productive in her publishing work, even when she was on maternity leave.  She did not want to fall behind to her male counterparts.  Alicia Philips can often been seen in her office working early in the morning and into the evening hours.  

Ms. Philips has a strong foundation in research and publications as she produces more published work than any other tenure applicant, yet lacks the support of faculty members.  She has an enthusiasm for science and her courses are rank as one of the top chemistry classes by students; her innovative teaching techniques are well organized which allows for her students to maximize their critical thinking.  She is currently teaching four courses a semester (with the average associate professors/professors teaching 2-3 courses per semester). 

Faculty members have volunteered Alicia Philips to be the Chair of the Diversity Committee for the past 4 years where she is responsible for promoting policies and curriculum enhancements that will help support a diverse community.  The task is very time consuming, but her diversity events are known throughout the campus to be very helpful.  Ms. Philips also heads the Women in Science Team as she helps to participate in lectures and various seminars to help educate women in the world of science.  She also feels a need to participate in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, a nationwide program that encourages mentoring opportunities for minority students (Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program). 

The tenure track for Ms. Philips has left her feeling overwhelmed and pushed to her limits.  Brown University’s Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, & Biochemistry department has few peers who can relate to her needs so she is often left to complete research projects on her own.  Women in the science department are known for giving up on reaching their goals as a full time faculty member and often exit the program before they complete it. Male colleagues are quite blatant about their gender biases while they joke about women lacking the aptitude for math and science.  Ms. Philips’ award for innovative processes was viewed as a given because of her race and gender, but not her skills. As the lack of respect increases, Alicia Philips motivation is faltering as she comes to a reality of hitting the glass ceiling in her career.  Her research hours have begun to diminish within the last couple of months, along with her number of yearly scientific publications and she questions moving on to a new career. 


Ms. Phillip's situation presents problems from many areas in her life that can affect how she feels about her future at Brown University. She obviously has had high feelings of self-efficacy in the past because of her impressive accomplishments and high drive. However, environmental and personal experiences are serving to bring these feelings down in the past two years.

Ms. Phillips has a high judgment in both strength and magnitude of her work in molecular and cell biology and chemistry. This is coupled with the fact that she has few equals among her peers and little support in general among her peers. This is affecting the level of self-efficacy she feels towards advancing in her field.

Environmental factors, such as being "volunteered" for the Chair of the Diversity Committee and the Mellon May's Undergraduate Fellowship program have placed more demands on her time. When combined with the demands of marriage and motherhood the physiological feedback(stress) from this workload and teaching four courses are weakening the level of strength and magnitude of her self-efficacy in her career.

The lack of respect by her male colleagues and the not so subtle remarks and disparagement  is a form of discouraging verbal persuasion that also erodes her level of self-efficacy in her position.

Having no comparable female peers to base her expectations on. She does not have vicarious experiences with her department with which to base her level of competence on (Penn State, W. C. 2014).

Finally, Ms. Phillips has had high performance output in the years leading up to this one. This level of output should have led to higher outcomes. Instead, she is still languishing and waiting to see if she will receive tenure. As a consequence, she has begun to doubt her efficacy and what her role at Brown is. This has led to a  decreased output that may affect her chances at tenure even more. 


Self-efficacy is described as a person’s own motivation and beliefs regarding their abilities to succeed at what they wish to accomplish. Over the past two years, environmental and personal experiences have changed Ms. Philips self-efficacy. She now has low self-efficacy and is slowing giving up on her goals. She has been dealing with many emotional battles while at Brown University while she has been working toward tenure for the past 8 years. 

Self-efficacy scholars, Bandura, Gist & Mitchell, believe that individuals judge themselves based on four primary sources which include performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion and physiological feedback. While each of these are Ms. Philips weaknesses and have lowered her self-efficacy, they can also be turned into her strengths (Penn State, W. C. 2014).

Performance outcomes refer to any personal experience that someone may have had. Specifically, successful experiences which produce high self-efficacy feelings. Mr. Philips is able to take her previous experiences including her strength, knowledge and magnitude of her work in molecular and cell biology and chemistry and her high drive at Brown University and turn them into motivation, continuing her career at Brown University and working toward tenure. Such positive feelings can inspire and recreate a feeling of happiness and motivation, which she once had. 

Vicarious experiences refer to any observation of other individuals performances in which you would compare with your own. While Ms. Philips does not have comparable female peers to base her expectations on, she has only judged her own work and success, based on her fellow male collogues.  Ms. Philips should take her experiences and become a positive role model for any female individuals whom may look to her for knowledge at a later date. 

Verbal persuasion refers to any encouragement or discouragement that an individual may receive regarding their abilities in performing a task. While Ms. Philips has unfortunately encountered disrespectful and discouraging verbal persuasion from her male collogues, she has other reasons to look to the brighter side of things and not let these comments and behaviors set her back any longer. Ms. Philips needs to focus on the positive relationships that she is building in the four courses that she is teaching. Working with so many students will offer her many opportunities for verbal persuasion. Ms. Philips should also be focusing on the reputation that she has developed. Faculty members continue to volunteer her to be the Chair of the Diversity Committee. While they may not express it verbally to her, the volunteer action acknowledges her strengths in the program. The relationships, lectures and seminars that she continues to create and take part it will emotionally satisfy her knowing that she is making a difference in the lives of others. Ms. Philips should surround herself with people whom believe in her and share their positive thoughts of encouragement. 

Finally, physiological feedback refers to the physical reactions that the body receives including but not limited to anxiety, racing heart and agitation. By Ms. Philips keeping these types of physical characteristics and emotions under control, she will be more likely to succeed and feel confident in what she is trying to accomplish. 


Throughout her academic career, Alicia has been challenged in a series of ways that made her doubt her abilities in the scientific field. She has always had self confidence and a strong sense of self-efficacy.  Due to her resilience, persistence and high self-esteem, she was able to apply the methods of self-efficacy to improve her motivation.

First, she reflected back on her performance outcomes. Her colleagues and peers may have discouraged her verbally and accredited her achievements to her gender and skin color, but she work hard and diligently for her accomplishments. In comparison to her peers, her performance was way above average which ultimately contributed to her award. Not matter how difficult the situation was, Alicia knew from all her previous accomplishments (i.e getting a doctorate and volunteering for multiple charities), that she could perform in her field at the highest level.

Alicia may have had a lack of vicarious experiences in her particular field and occupation but, she has had vicarious experiences in other areas of her life. Considering she came from a long line of teachers, she was able to look at the experiences of her family and apply them to her own situation. She has also looked at the the experiences of role models she had for herself, she has always admired the work of other successful African American women such as Maya Angelou and Condeleeza Rice. She has allowed the experiences and successes of others motivate her and increase her sense of self-efficacy.

Verbal persuasion may have been the most influential source of self-efficacy. Alicia has received negetive verbal persuasion from her peers since she arrived at Brown. She has been very discouraged at work because of this. However, the positive feedback she receives from her family is much more rewarding. As a source of extrinsic motivation, she knows her family means more than the opinion of her colleagues. Her husband Paul, may work from home, but much of his time spent with their children. Because of this, Alicia is the primary financial support for her family. Even though she doubts herself, she knows that she has to continue to pursuit her goals for her family.

Resources (2012). Retrieved 2014, from Associations of American Colleges and Universities:

Bandurra, A. (1971). Social Learning Theory. 1-46. (2011, September). Retrieved June 2014, from 2010 Census Briefs: The Black Population:

Cook, S. G. (2013, April). Black Women's Dilemma: Be Real or Be Ignored. Retrieved June 2014, from Women in Higher education:

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowsip Program. (2014). Retrieved June 2014, from

Penn State, W. C. (2014). Psych 484 Lesson 7. Retrieved June 2014, from worldcampus.psu.ed:

Rifkin, T. (n.d.). Public Communicty College Faculty. Retrieved June 2014, from American Association of Community Colleges:

Social Learning Theory (Bandura). (n.d.). Retrieved June 2014, from Learning


  • No labels