The American psychologist, Albert Bandura, was the first person in his field to advance the idea of self-efficacy. The term refers to an individualís belief that he or she has the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve a particular goal, or could acquire them in the future. The fact that self-efficacy is goal-specific means a student could, for example, feel efficacious about being able to pass the written part of their French exam but not feel efficacious about their ability to perform well in the speaking assignment.
Self-efficacy and optimism
On the basis of extensive psychological research, Bandura argues that self-efficacy, ‘human accomplishments and positive well-being’ are facilitated by feelings of optimism. Some psychologists argue that optimism can lead people to overestimate their abilities and get them into trouble. In this respect, high optimism can be seen as unrealistic (seeing the world through rose-coloured spectacles) and so a type of cognitive failing. Bandura accepts this can be a problem when the costs of failure are high. Certainly, the dangers of overemphasising one’s ability as a rock climber are self-evident. However, he still maintains that generally in life it can be ‘a benefit’ to overestimate capabilities as this helps individuals to persevere when they meet inevitable adversities – such as failure and rejection. Drawing on research presented by John White in his book Rejection, Bandura argues that ‘many of our literary classics brought their authors countless rejections’. For example, James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers. Building on this, Bandura argues that the Impressionist painters in France had to organise their own exhibitions because they were initially rejected by the art establishment and in more modern times, pop and rock groups such as the Beatles had to persevere in the face of rejection. Bandura also points out that most innovators in science and technology are, by definition, likely to experience rejection if not derision and only persevere because of what he calls their ‘optimistic sense of self-efficacy’.
This mixture of efficacy and optimism is also important for people interested in social transformation. Bandura maintains it is easy to dismiss most social reformers who are intent on changing the world, or improving the lot of those who are unfortunate, as idealistic or unrealistic. While it is true that they often do not fully realise their vision, many often achieve significant goals and without such people our world would be much the poorer.
So for these reasons, Bandura argues that a strong sense of self-efficacy and self-belief should not be viewed as cognitive inadequacy but as the attitude and approach needed for human accomplishment.
Self-efficacy and confidence
This mixture of self-efficacy and optimism is what underpins confidence. In other element of self-belief in goal fulfilment as well as a more generalised positive belief that the future is bright. This means that if teachers are going to deliver the new Curriculum for Excellence’s desire for more confident individuals they need to be able to cultivate students’ feelings of self-efficacy.