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Overview of Social Cognitive and Self-Efficacy Theories 


  • Performance Outcomes: According to Bandura, performance outcomes or past experiences, are the most important source of self-efficacy.  Positive and negative experiences can influence the ability of an individual to perform a given task. If one has performed well at a task previously, he or she is more likely to feel competent and perform well at a similarly associated task (Bandura, 1977). For example, if one  
    • Positive example: If an individual performed well in a previous job assignment, the they are more likely to feel confident and have high self-efficacy in performing the task when their manager assigns them a similar task. The individual’s self-efficacy will be high in that particular area, and since he or she has a high self-efficacy, he or she is more likely to try harder and complete the task with much better results.
    The opposite is also true, where if
    • Negative example: If an individual experiences a failure, they will most likely experience a reduction in self-efficacy.  However, if these failures are later overcome by conviction, it can serve to increase self-motivated persistence when the situation is viewed as an achievable challenge (Bandura, 1977).

     "Mastery experiences are the most influential source of efficacy information because they provide the most authentic evidence of whether one can muster whatever it takes to succeed. Success  builds a robust belief in one's personal efficacy.  Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established" Albert Bandura (1997).


  • Vicarious Experiences: People can develop high or low self-efficacy vicariously through other people’s performances. A person can watch another someone in a similar position perform, and then compare his own competence with the other individual’s competence (Bandura, 1977). If a person sees someone similar to them succeed, it can increase their self-efficacy. However, the opposite is also true; seeing someone similar fail can lower self-efficacy. An example of how vicarious experiences can increase  
    • Increase in self-efficacy
    in the work place is through mentoring
    • example: Mentoring programs, where one individual is paired with someone on a similar career path who will be successful at raising the individual’s self-efficacy beliefs. This is even further strengthened if both have a similar skill set, so a person can see first-hand what they may achieve.
    Example of how the opposite can be true is in a smoking
    • Decrease in self-efficacy example: Smoking cessation program, where, if individuals witness several people fail to quit, they may worry about their own chances of success, leading to low self-efficacy for quitting, or a weight-loss program where others do not achieve the results you are hoping for.
  • Verbal Persuasion: According to Redmond (2010), self-efficacy is also influenced by encouragement and discouragement pertaining to an individual’s performance or ability to perform, such as a .
    • Positive example: A manager telling an employee: “You can do it. I have confidence in you.” Using verbal persuasion in a positive light generally leads individuals to put forth more effort; therefore, they have a greater chance at succeeding.
    However, if the verbal persuasion is negative, such as a
    • Negative example: A manager saying to
    • an employee, “This is unacceptable! I thought you could handle this project” can lead to doubts about oneself resulting in lower chances of success. 

    Also, the level of credibility directly influences the effectiveness of verbal persuasion; where there is more credibility, there will be a greater influence. In the example above, a pep talk by a manager who has an established, respectable position would have a stronger influence than that of a newly hired manager. Although verbal persuasion is also likely to be a weaker source of self-efficacy beliefs than performance outcomes, it is widely used because of its ease and ready availability (Redmond, 2010).

  • Physiological Feedback(emotional arousal): People experience sensations from their body and how they perceive this emotional arousal influences their beliefs of efficacy (Bandura, 1977). Some examples of physiological feedback are: giving a speech in front of a large group of people, making a presentation to an important client, taking an exam, etc. All of these tasks can cause agitation, anxiety, sweaty palms, and/or a racing heart (Redmond, 2010). Although this source is the least influential of the four, it is important to note that if one is more at ease with the task at hand they will feel more capable and have higher beliefs of self-efficacy.