What Influences Self-Efficacy?

BOY READINGPeople acquire their self-efficacy beliefs from the following four sources:

  • past performance
  • vicarious experiences (observing others perform)
  • verbal persuasion
  • physiological cues.

PENCIL1Past Performance
Past performance is the single greatest contributor to students’ confidence. If students have been successful at a particular skill in the past, they will probably believe that they will be successful at the skill in the future. The old adage, “Nothing breeds success like success” certainly is true when it comes to developing self-efficacy.

Students bring a wide variety of past experiences with them when they enter your classroom. Some of those experiences have been positive, others have not. How students interpret their past successes and failures can have a dramatic impact on their self-efficacy. If students believe their success in a particular area is the result of the skills they developed (their ability), they are much more likely to be confident about future success in that area. On the other hand, if students attribute their success solely to hard work, they may not necessarily expect future success, since they may not choose or even want to work equally hard on future assignments. Or they may believe they do not have the necessary skills to succeed in the future regardless of how hard they work. Although we, as teachers, know how much effort one puts into a task has a direct effect on the quality of the completed task, students often do not see the relationship. As late as eighth grade, students report that the amount of effort they put into a subject is less important than their ability. Our highest achieving students may also believe that if they must work hard at something, they may not have high ability or be skillful in that area.

A pattern often exists for students who do not do well. Students who explain their poor performance as a lack of effort demonstrate higher self-efficacy than those who explain it as low ability. Students who have not done well, but believe that all they must do to succeed is work harder may still be very confident about their skills.

A Note About Gender Differences and Performance:
Some evidence also exists that boys and girls view their success and failure experiences in school differently. Boys tend to attribute their successes to skills, whereas girls often attribute their successes to effort.  The reverse is true when viewing poor performance. Girls often attribute their poor performance to low ability, while boys blame theirs on low effort.

Males and females react differently to average and low grades. Females often drop a class when they are receiving a C, while males may not. Barbara Kerr (1997) found that young women and men majoring in engineering receive similar grades in their introductory college calculus class. Unfortunately, young women often change career majors after receiving Bs and Cs, while young men with similar grades tend to continue in their engineering program.

IDEA1Vicarious Experiences
When a student sees another student accomplish a task, the vicarious experience of observing a model can also have a strong influence on self-efficacy. By observing others like themselves perform tasks, individuals make judgments about their own capabilities. If a student sees a friend publish a poem, he might believe he can also have one published. A third grader observing other third graders learn multiplication tables is likely to believe that he can also learn them. The more students relate to the model being observed, the more likely the model’s performance will have an impact on them. Unlike the self-efficacy beliefs derived from past experience, self efficacy information gleaned through observation is less stable. Once strong self-efficacy is developed from one’s own personal successes, an occasional failure may not have negative effects; however, self-efficacy based on observing others succeed will diminish rapidly if observers subsequently have unsuccessful experiences of their own.

Self-modeling, where students observe themselves succeed, is also a powerful influence. Watching video tapes of successful performances or viewing photographs of past accomplishments can increase student confidence.

BOOKBELTVerbal Persuasion
Telling your students, “You can do this,” can also increase their confidence to do a task. Although verbal persuasion such as this can be important, it does not contribute as much as an individual’s own experiences or vicarious experiences. The short-term effects of persuasion need to be coupled with actual successes.

The teacher’s credibility is also an important factor with verbal persuasion. Students experience higher self-efficacy when they are told they are capable by someone they believe is trustworthy. Students will also tend to discredit a teacher if they believe the teacher does not fully understand the demands of the task being faced. The old phrase, “Get real,” applies here.

THUMBTACPhysiological Cues
The final source upon which self-efficacy beliefs are based are physiological cues. Sweaty hands or a dry mouth are often interpreted as signs of nervousness. Students may feel that such signs indicate they are not capable of succeeding at a particular task. Conversely, students may be aware of feeling relaxed before confronting a new situation and develop a higher sense of efficacy toward the task they face. Physiological cues are the weakest influence of the four presented here.

Check Your Understanding:

  • Past performance is the single best predictor of confidence for future performances.
    True   False
  • Viewing others succeed or fail has little impact on the viewers’ confidence.
    True   False

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