Motivation and Self-Efficacy

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Course Notes Motivation and Self-Efficacy

On this page, you’ll read about some additional concepts that you should note to succeed in this course.

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Now that we’ve gotten an overview of how psychologists view achievement motivation, this Course Notes page will provide a closer look at four related psychological concepts: self-efficacy, mindset, self-regulation, and grit. These concepts will help you better understand what motivates us, which will be important for the final course assignment and the investigation in Chapter 10.

Classic theories of motivation describe how our decisions and behaviors are driven by instinct, drives, incentives, and other needs. Today’s research on motivation is less concerned with instincts and drives and more focused on how attitudes and beliefs about oneself affect motivations. In studying the concepts of self-efficacy, mindset, self- regulation, and grit, we’ll find that the beliefs we hold about our abilities (and their origins) influence the decisions we make and how we organize and direct our behaviors.

Both people who are highly motivated and people who are successful problem solvers have highly developed metacognition (Mayer, 1988). Metacognition literally means “thinking about thinking,” but it involves much more—having deep knowledge about yourself and how you think and learn. There are three skills associated with metacognition:

knowledge about yourself, including your skills, weaknesses, and problem-solving ability knowledge about how to implement strategies for learning and problem solving ability to regulate thinking and behavior during learning or problem solving

So how does this relate to motivation? These skills influence our ability to plan, monitor, and evaluate our progress on goals. In the next section (and on the following page), we’ll see how the way we think about our abilities and skills influences our motivation and persistence. Then we’ll discuss how our skills and our ability to regulate our behaviors can help us sustain motivation.



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In Chapter 3, you read about the social-cognitive theory, proposed by Albert Bandura, which states that behaviors are influenced by personal and situational factors. One of the personal factors that Bandura identified was self-efficacy, which is our belief about how well we will be able to deal with a specific task. Our prediction of whether we will succeed or fail at a certain task affects our amount of motivation and persistence and our choice of strategy. If we have high expectations for success, or high self-efficacy, we will feel more motivated, be more likely to persist when things get hard, and choose more effective strategies to help us complete the task. On the other hand, when we start out with low self-efficacy, we will be less motivated, more likely to give up when things get hard, and more likely to choose strategies that will not prove helpful.

Bandura has also studied how our self-efficacy affects our ability to decide to self-direct crucial life events, to design intentional courses of action, and to motivate and regulate ourselves to live out these plans. Metacognition helps us make these decisions by empowering us to know ourselves, to implement strategies, and to self-regulate. Self- efficacy is the confidence that gets us started and keeps us going as we work to reach our goals.

Sources of Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is task specific, meaning that you have a high degree of self-efficacy in some areas of your life and a lower degree in others. At school you may feel more confident in your ability to master certain subjects or classes, but you feel less confident about others. Or you may face certain tasks at work that make you anxious about your abilities and other tasks for which you’re considered an expert. Self-efficacy is not about whether you believe you are smart but whether you think you can accomplish a specific task. According to Bandura (1997), our expectations for success on tasks are influenced by four sources: previous experience with mastery, physiological arousal, vicarious experiences, and social persuasion.

Mastery experiences

One of the most powerful influences on our self-efficacy for a task is our past success or failure on similar tasks. If we have been successful, our self-efficacy will be higher because of that experience with mastery. Even if the task is new—as long as it is similar enough to something we have done well in the past—we will feel more confident, set higher goals, and make better decisions. But when we have failed or struggled with similar tasks in the past, we are likely to respond with self-defeating thoughts or failure- avoiding strategies.



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Level of arousal

Earlier in this chapter, you read about how optimum levels of arousal affect motivation. We need a certain amount of “push” to motivate us, but too much arousal can shut down our effort. Our interpretation of that arousal is just as important—feeling excited increases self-efficacy, whereas feeling anxious decreases it.

Vicarious experiences

Bandura noted that our personal mastery experiences are the most important contribution to self-efficacy, but in some cases, watching someone else master a skill increases our own confidence. Through these vicarious experiences, we can gain knowledge of skills and strategies to use when we encounter similar tasks; thus, we feel more prepared. Self-efficacy is especially enhanced when the model is someone to whom we can relate, such as a peer or favorite celebrity.

Social persuasion

When coaches give the team a pep talk before a big game or when teachers encourage a student struggling on a difficult problem, they are using social persuasion to raise self- efficacy. This type of social persuasion is only temporary, however. To have a lasting effect on self-efficacy, feedback should be specific enough to guide future behavior so that the person recognizes what strategies worked and what strategies to try next time.

Multiple-Choice Question

Which of the following BEST explains the concept of self-efficacy?

It is the ability to self-regulate on a task. It is a measure of overall achievement motivation. It is a belief about how metacognitive we are. It is our belief about our ability to succeed on a task.

Correct. Self-efficacy is a person’s belief about how well he or she will be able to deal with a specific task.

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Ashanti feels confident in her ability to locate good sources when researching for her class paper, but she puts off the writing because she struggles with correct grammar and citations. Which of the following BEST describes her self-efficacy?

Ashanti has high self-efficacy for the situational factors and low self-efficacy for the personal factors. Ashanti has low overall self-efficacy for writing this class paper. Ashanti has high overall self-efficacy for writing this class paper. Ashanti has high self-efficacy for the research portion but low self-efficacy for the writing portion of the paper.

Correct. Self-efficacy is task specific, so it is possible to have different expectations for success on various aspects of a project (like this paper) that requires multiple tasks.

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Developing Self-efficacy

So how can we work to develop self-efficacy on tasks we’ve struggled with in the past? The key is to focus on progress, not perfection. We can recognize how we have improved, even in small ways, from earlier work. We can also return to tasks we completed in the past and apply what we have learned since then. As we “revise” these tasks, we will demonstrate our new mastery and confirm what we believe—that success comes from putting forth effort and implementing strategies. By acknowledging yesterday’s weaknesses, we can strengthen self-efficacy today.

Cognitive reappraisal of the arousal we feel before a task is also helpful. Many performers or public speakers talk about “psyching themselves up” before going on stage, choosing to interpret their shaky knees and increased heart rate as a sign that they are “excited” instead of “nervous.” This can take practice, but remember that the body is preparing us to either run away and avoid the situation at all costs (which will lead to failure and low self-efficacy) or to stay and “fight” through to success.

Good teachers and managers recognize the importance of specific, high-quality feedback. When it is not offered, we should ask for it. However, we may not always have someone we trust who can provide social persuasion that is specific enough to increase our self-efficacy. Personal reflection can be a good substitute for social persuasion, as long as we do so with a mind toward improvement instead of self-punishment. As



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mentioned above, reviewing previous work can help us recognize how we have improved, but it also provides an opportunity to identify for ourselves which skills we need to develop or what strategies we may want to use next time.

Multiple-Choice Question

Diane is not confident in her ability to meet her sales goals for this month. Considering the sources of self-efficacy, how could her manager increase her self-efficacy for achieving this goal?

The manager could stop by Diane’s desk and give her a general pep talk, such as “Go get ’em, Diane!” The manager could really put the pressure on Diane to achieve this sales goal and make sure she understands that her quarterly bonus—or even her job—is at stake. The manager could provide specific feedback on Diane’s sales strategies (those that are effective) and encourage her to shadow the top salesperson on the team to learn some new strategies. The manager could remind Diane of each of the few times that she has failed to meet her monthly sales goals in the past.

Correct. By providing specific feedback on strategies Diane already uses, the manager would be using social persuasion as a source of self-efficacy to increase Diane’s confidence. The manager would also be boosting Diane’s self-efficacy by letting her vicariously experience success as she shadows the top salesperson.

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