Self-efficacy theory

Self-Efficacy Theory

Development of the theory

Albert Bandura introduced the social learning theory in the 1970s in order to underscore the benefits of learning by observation, maintaining that most human behaviour is learnt by modelling. However, the scope of the theory expanded to include cognitive processes that influence human behaviour. Therefore, Bandura renamed it 'the social cognitive theory' (Miwa, 2005). Self-efficacy theory developed from the social cognitive theory (Resnick, 2009).

The self-efficacy theory states that "psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy" (Bandura, 1977, p. 191). The theory recognises the diverse forms of human capabilities and proposes that people's thoughts, beliefs and emotions influence their behaviour (Bandura, 1997; Resnick, 2009). Musser and Leone (1992) add that the theory places an emphasis on a person's key role in influencing what they think, feel and do.

The initial work in the development of the theory was undertaken to determine whether psychological procedures could influence a person's self-efficacy expectations and, ultimately, lead to a change in behaviour (Resnick, 2009). Adult snake phobias were assigned to either participant modelling (direct contact with a snake), modelling (observing others touch a snake) or no treatment groups for equivalent periods of time. It was identified that self-efficacy, assessed at different times of the treatment period, predicted behaviour change in 92% of the total assessment tasks, although different treatments produced different levels or strengths of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977; Resnick, 2009)

Major theoretical concepts

Human/Personal Agency

Human/personal agency refers to deliberate actions of an individual and is vital in the behaviour that is portrayed by people (Resnick, 2009). It evolves across one's entire life span, accounts for developmental changes in perceived self-efficacy and is influenced by "imposed", "selected" or "created" environment (Bandura, 1997, p.163).

Self-Efficacy Expectations

Self-efficacy refers as an individual's belief in their ability to perform specific tasks (Bandura, 1997). Efficacy beliefs are significant in the development of human competence because they regulate a person's thoughts, feelings, source of motivation and actions (Bandura, 1995). Bandura (1982) affirms that self-efficacy is, therefore, a major predictor of behaviour and whether that behaviour would persist in adverse times.

Four major sources influence self-efficacy expectations and these are:

  • Performance accomplishments/Enactive mastery experience - current or previous performance
  • Vicarious experiences - modelling by other similar people
  • Social/verbal persuasion - exhortation on an individual's capabilities from another source
  • Physiological/emotional states

Any one of the sources, at some time, may utilise one or more of the other sources of efficacy information. In addition, each of these sources may produce different strengths of self-efficacy. Nevertheless, performance accomplishments, generally, produce higher self efficacy expectations (Bandura, 1977, 1995, 1997; Resnick, 2009). Once efficacy beliefs are established, they regulate human functioning through four major processes and these are cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes (Bandura, 1995). Bandura (1997) terms these as mediating processes/efficacy-activated events and adds that they, mostly, interact with each other to regulate human functioning.

Analysis and Evaluation of the Theory

Theory analysis involves a methodological approach that examines all aspects of a theory as has been written by the theorist (Bredow, 2009). An underlying assumption that led to the development of the self-efficacy theory was that personal efficacy influences the initiation, persistence as well as the effort put in for a specific behavioural change (Bandura, 1977). Findings of several studies have supported this assumption (examples include Bandura, 1977; Tsay, 2003; Sarkar, Fisher and Schillinger, 2006). Barnum (1990 cited by Bredow, 2009) suggests that theory analysis should comprise of its internal and external criticisms. Therefore, the self-efficacy theory has been analysed by considering its internal and external criticisms.

Internal Criticisms

Clarity: Major concepts of the theory (human agency and self-efficacy) have been clearly stated and explained. Explanation of these components has been made in simple terms such that, although the theory was developed from the field of psychology, one does not necessarily need a sound knowledge in psychology to interpret and understand them.

Logical Development: The theory originated from the social cognitive theory (Resnick, 2009) and has been developed in a logical manner. Its major concepts have been developed and explained systematically to highlight the unique role that individuals play in changing their negative health behaviours (Bandura, 2004). The sources of self-efficacy as well as their unique degrees of influence have been well explained. Tools for measuring self-efficacy have also been developed with Bandura (1977) developing the first one. Conclusions have also been very logical. According to Bandura (1977), a person's efficacy expectations always influence them to put up behaviour that, in turn, yields an outcome.

Adequacy: The theory clearly states that individuals have unique roles in producing behavioural change and has concluded that self-efficacy plays a central role, both directly and via its influences on the other determinants, in predicting change in behaviour (Bandura, 2004). A meta-analysis by Lewis et al. (2007) to manipulate self-efficacy in protection motivation research identified that education and age may influence self-efficacy. However, they suggested that the findings may be speculative and recommended that further analysis should be done.

It has been stated earlier that the concept of human agency in the theory develops through the various stages of life and that the stage of its development may influence self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). It, therefore, appears that the findings of Lewis et al. (2007) do not suggest that the theory of self-efficacy is inadequate.

Consistency: Definitions of the major concepts are maintained throughout the explanation of the theory. It appears that outcome expectancy as a concept has been included and misapplied to the theory by other writers. Efficacy expectations and outcome expectations have been related in testing the self-efficacy theory (Resnick et al., 2007; Resnick, 2009). However, Bandura (1997) states that the two are different. Outcome expectancy and self-efficacy are both vital in the social cognitive theory but self-efficacy was developed into a theory to highlight its central role in the social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2004). Association of outcome expectations to efficacy in the self-efficacy theory is, therefore, a misapplication.

Level of theory: Self-efficacy theory is a middle range theory because it has fewer concepts and can be generalised across different backgrounds (McEwen and Wills, 2007).

External Criticisms

Complexity: Two major concepts - human agency and self-efficacy beliefs - have been used to explain the theory, making its description simple. Concept of self-efficacy has been further explained. Consequently, the theory can be understood without lengthy explanations once the concepts have been grasped.

Discrimination: McEwen and Wills (2007) identifies that cognitive behavioural theories, including the social cognitive theory, have been used more often in the nursing management of chronic diseases because of their effectiveness in changing target behaviours. Self-efficacy theory originated from the social cognitive theory and has been very vital in various aspects of nursing, predominantly in the management of chronic diseases, as has been stated above.

Reality convergence: It has been stated earlier that the underlying assumption of self-efficacy theory is that perceived personal efficacy influences the initiation, persistence as well as the effort to be put in to produce behaviour. Therefore, in the face of difficulties, individuals who doubt their capabilities (low self-efficacy) tend to give up on their attempts while those with a strong sense of self-efficacy would put in more effort until they are able to overcome those challenges and achieve their target (Bandura, 1982). These observations are true and may explain why a lot of successful people tell stories of difficult moments they might have overcome to attain their status. A study undertaken by Tsay (2003) confirms that self-efficacy theory is very applicable in achieving some nursing goals.

Pragmatism: A theory is of major importance to the health profession when it proves useful in changing conditions to improve patient outcomes (Nicoll, 1997). Application of the self-efficacy theory in real-life and clinical settings have been successful. Bandura (1977) used it to treat snake phobias while Sarkar et al (2006) have also used it to promote self-management of diabetes among limited health literates across different races.

Significance: After Bandura developed efficacy measurement tool in 1977, several others have been developed for efficacies for different tasks. This is because different studies, mostly, require different measurement tools (Resnick, 2009). Consequently, nurses caring for different patients with different diagnosis may have to adopt different appropriate efficacy measures in order to effectively apply the theory in practice. In addition, the theory emphasises on the individuality of patients by positing that different people have different levels of efficacy for different tasks (Bandura, 1977). Therefore, nurses using the theory provide individualistic care based on their unique efficacy. Hence, the theory is significant in nursing.

Utility: Nurses in different care settings have used the theory both in research and practice and have found it practicable (Buchmann, 1997; Tsay, 2003; Sarkar et al, 2006). Gortner and Jenkins (1990) used the theory to test the role of self-efficacy in rehabilitation of patients following cardiac surgery. These and other studies imply that the theory of self-efficacy generates hypotheses that are researchable by nurses.

Scope: The focus of the self-efficacy theory is narrow, making it more applicable in nursing practice.

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