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Education Bookcast

Nov 14, 2022

This is the second episode concerning self-related beliefs taken from chapters of The Cambridge Handbook of Motivation and Learning. Here I talk about self-efficacy, which concerns how much you believe that you can do something specific, e.g. solve a particular kind of maths problem.

Self-esteem, self-concept, self-efficacy - it's easy to get confused with so many "self-words" flying around. There are even other words which aren't used by academics but are in common parlance, such as self-belief. I go into more detail and give more examples of the difference in the recording, but basically, whereas self-concept concerns your attitude to an entire domain (e.g. how good you think you are at sports), self-efficacy refers to how likely you think you would be to succeed in a specific class of activity (e.g. do you think you could run a marathon).

Like self-concept, self-efficacy has been found to be strongly correlated with a bunch of positive behaviours, such as perseverance, but also outcomes, such as academic interest and academic performance. Unfortunately causality doesn't seem to have been established (as far as I can tell from the article), which blunts my enthusiasm about it somewhat. Nevertheless, this is definitely something to keep an eye on.

The article also explains the sources of self-efficacy beliefs, which are four: mastery experiences (succeeding or failing); vicarious experiences (watching another person suceed or fail); social persuasion (including encouragement); and physiological state (e.g. anxiety). This list suggests interventions that can be used to increase self-efficacy, namely encouragement and the presentation of models (i.e. peers who can also succeed, possibly after some struggle).

One thing I forgot to mention in the recording: in Chinese culture, it is common to tell children stories of famous successful people both from China and from around the world who struggled through great difficulties to achieve their life goals. Marie Curie seems to figure particularly prominently in these biographies, being somebody who had to move to a foreign country (France) to study, breaking the mould as a woman in science, being famed for her extraordinary work ethic, and going on to be the first person to ever achieve a Nobel Prize in two different disciplines (Physics and Chemistry). While there are many ways to interpret the details of how such stories would affect people, it might in part have a self-efficacy effect, by showing young people that it is possible to succeed even in difficult circumstances.

Enjoy the episodes.



13. The Psychology of Self-Defense: Self-Affirmation Theory by David Sherman & Geoffrey Cohen

45. The problem with self-esteem

46. Self Compassion by Kristin Neff


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