What is the impact of self-efficacy on human functioning and behavior?

Self-efficacy, a term coined by psychologist Albert Bandura, refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a particular task or achieve a desired outcome. This belief not only affects the individual’s motivation and effort towards achieving their goals, but also has a significant impact on their overall functioning and behavior. Understanding the role of self-efficacy in human development and behavior has been a subject of interest in psychology and has important implications in various aspects of life such as education, work, and personal relationships. In this essay, we will delve into the concept of self-efficacy and explore its impact on human functioning and behavior.

Choices regarding behavior

People will be more inclined to take on a task if they believe they can succeed. People generally avoid tasks where their self-efficacy is low, but will engage in tasks where their self-efficacy is high. People with a self-efficacy significantly beyond their actual ability often overestimate their ability to complete tasks, which can lead to difficulties. On the other hand, people with a self-efficacy significantly lower than their ability are unlikely to grow and expand their skills. Research shows that the ‘optimum’ level of self-efficacy is a little above ability, which encourages people to tackle challenging tasks and gain valuable experience.



People with high self-efficacy in a task are more likely to make more of an effort, and persist longer, than those with low efficacy. The stronger the self-efficacy or mastery expectations, the more active the efforts. On the other hand, low self-efficacy provides an incentive to learn more about the subject. As a result, someone with a high self-efficacy may not prepare sufficiently for a task.


Thought patterns & responses

Low self-efficacy can lead people to believe tasks are harder than they actually are. This often results in poor task planning, as well as increased stress. Observational evidence shows that people become erratic and unpredictable when engaging in a task in which they have low self-efficacy. On the other hand, people with high self-efficacy often take a wider overview of a task in order to take the best route of action. People with high self-efficacy are shown to be encouraged by obstacles to make a greater effort. Self-efficacy also affects how people respond to failure. A person with a high self-efficacy will attribute the failure to external factors, where a person with low self-efficacy will attribute failure to low ability. For example; a person with high self-efficacy in regards to mathematics may attribute a poor result to a harder than usual test, feeling sick, lack of effort or insufficient preparation. A person with a low self-efficacy will attribute the result to poor ability in mathematics.


Health Behaviors

Health behaviors such as non-smoking, physical exercise, dieting, condom use, dental hygiene, seat belt use, or breast self-examination are, among others, dependent on one’s level of perceived self-efficacy (Conner & Norman, 2005). Self-efficacy beliefs are cognitions that determine whether health behavior change will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and failures. Self-efficacy influences the effort one puts forth to change risk behavior and the persistence to continue striving despite barriers and setbacks that may undermine motivation. Self-efficacy is directly related to health behavior, but it also affects health behaviors indirectly through its impact on goals. Self-efficacy influences the challenges that people take on as well as how high they set their goals (e.g., “I intend to reduce my smoking,” or “I intend to quit smoking altogether”). A number of studies on the adoption of health practices have measured self-efficacy to assess its potential influences in initiating behavior change (Luszczynska, & Schwarzer, 2005). Often single-item measures or very brief scales (e.g., 4 items) have been used. It is actually not necessary to use larger scales if a specific behavior is to be predicted. More important is rigorous theory-based item wording. A rule of thumb is to use the following semantic structure: “I am certain that I can do xx, even if yy (barrier)” (Schwarzer, 2008). If the target behavior is less specific, one can either use more items that jointly cover the area of interest, or develop a few specific sub-scales. Whereas general self-efficacy measures refer to the ability to deal with a variety of stressful situations, measures of self-efficacy for health behaviors refer to beliefs about the ability to perform certain health behaviors. These behaviors may be defined broadly (i.e., healthy food consumption) or in a narrow way (i.e., consumption of high-fibre food).


Academic Productivity

Research done by Sharon Andrew and Wilma Vialle also show the connection between personalized self-efficacy and productivity. They studied the academic achievements of students involved in science classes in Australia and found that students with high levels of self-efficacy show a boost in academic performance compared to those who reported low self-efficacy. The researchers found that confident individuals typically took control over their own learning experience and were more likely to participate in class and preferred hands-on learning experiences. Those individuals reporting low self-efficacy typically shied away from academic interactions and isolated themselves in their studies.


The Destiny Idea

Bandura showed that people of differing self-efficacy perceive the world in fundamentally different ways. People with a high self-efficacy are generally of the opinion that they are in control of their own lives; that their own actions and decisions shape their lives. On the other hand, people with low self-efficacy may see their lives as somewhat out of their hands.

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