Self-Efficacy and Self-Concept in Students


Educators are increasingly interested in the role of students’ judgments about their competencies and the self-play in the process of acquiring skills and knowledge. The introduction of two self-constructs has immensely enriched the field of educational psychology: self-concept and self-efficacy, which has allowed us to understand better human functioning in such domains as motivation, achievement, learning, and self-regulation among others (Dinther, Dochy, & Segers, 2011).

Self-concept and self-efficacy are models of self-related cognition that have received the bulk of attention from educational scholars interested in academic achievement and motivation (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1999). It has been noted that students with different self-beliefs are characterized by significant variances in their levels of cognitive engagement in school (Bartimote-Aufflick, Bridgeman, Walker, Sharma, & Smith, 2016).

This finding helps to explain why students with positive views of their competencies and selves are more likely to succeed in educational settings. In contrast, students with negative self-conceptions fail to reach high levels of performance. Therefore, Bong and Clark (1999) go as far as to say that self-efficacy and self-concept beliefs “are not mere reflections of one’s past performances but are active and agentic producers of human attainments” (p. 139). By measuring students’ self-constructs with instruments such as the Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale and Self Description Questionnaire (SDQ), it is possible to arrive at surprisingly precise estimates of their motivation and achievement.

This paper aims to outline an integrative review of two self-constructs: self-concept and self-efficacy. To this end, the paper will discuss the extant literature on the topics to determine whether academic performance can be enhanced by altering students’ beliefs about themselves and their capabilities.

Self-Concept

Self-concept is the self-construct that can be defined as “the totality of an individual’s thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object” (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003, p. 2). This composite view of self is formed through the interaction with the environment and is affected to a great degree by social reinforcements. Self-concept is an umbrella term that comprises self-knowledge, self-belief, and self-evaluating feelings. It can be defined as “a global perception of oneself and one’s self-esteem reactions to that self-perception” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 84).

According to Pajares and Schunk (2005), self-concept is primarily developed through “interpretations of appraisals of others” (p. 101); therefore, when describing the self, a metaphor of mirror is often used. General perceptions about the self constitute the global self-concept, which is comprised of discrete self-concepts about academic, emotional, and social areas of the self. As a person ages, their domain-specific perceptions about the self become more concrete.

Cognitive scientists recognize several groups of influence that play a role in the development of self-concept: frames of reference, causal attribution, reflected appraisals, mastery experiences, and psychological centrality (Pajares & Schunk, 2005). Frames of reference or standards to which individuals compare their achievements are particularly important in an academic environment. Causal attributions are factors used by people to attribute their accomplishments.

Reflected appraisals from family members and significant others are important sources of information that are essential in the development of self-concept beliefs. Previous successes self-schemas produce mastery experiences in particular domains of human endeavor. Psychological centrality is the perception of certain areas as the most important or central for an individual (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003).

The multiple self-aspects frameworks (MSF) are used to explain how a person’s behavior is driven by different contextual aspects of their life (McConnell, 2011). The framework proposes that self-concept activation, which is fueled by the confluence of contextual inputs, influences self-perceptions, thereby becoming a filter through which life events are perceived. From the perspective of self-concept, it is clear that goal-related selves, as well as goal-related behaviors, can be influenced by the same stimuli that form other self-aspects. Moreover, goal-related aspirations emerge to reduce self-discrepancies that are developed when a person’s view of their ideal self differs from the current perception of the self.

McConnell (2011) argues that the desire to equate the self with the ideal self “engages a promotion focus involving the eager pursuit of success” (p. 22). The desire to reduce discrepancies between the two selves is associated with engagement-related attributes such as confidence and energy.

Academic Self-Concept

When it comes to academic motivation and academic achievement, self-concept plays a central role in producing desirable educational outcomes. Academic self-concept can be defined as “an evaluative self-perception that is formed through the student’s experience and interpretation of the school environment” (Guay, Ratelle, Roy, & Litalien, 2010, p. 645). There is ample evidence suggesting that academic self-concept is developed by previous accomplishments in an academic environment (Marsh & Martin, 2011).

The application of the reciprocal effects model (REM) to measures of academic motivation has allowed discovering that achievement in academic performance domains and academic self-concept are mutually reinforcing (Marsh & Martin, 2011). The model has been developed based on previous research that has used the self-enhancement model and the skill development model to explain the reciprocal relation between academic achievement and prior academic successes.

Self-concept researchers recognize that there is a strong connection between academic achievement and self-concept measures (Bong & Clark, 1999). For example, a study conducted by Rogers, Smith, and Coleman in 1978 proved that there is a positive relationship between an individual’s self-concept attributes in the behavior, intellectual, and physical domains and their within-classroom standing (as cited in Bong & Clark, 1999). Another study by Guay et al. (2010) shows that the connection between self-concept and academic achievement is mediated by autonomous academic motivation or motivation that is formed by a pursuit of a certain activity for its own sake.

Research on self-concept and academic achievement has extended the understanding of the role of student-faculty interactions in the enhancement of their motivation and intellectual development. Frequency and quality of such interactions can be used to predict student motivation, which is associated with satisfaction and persistence in academic life. Komarraju, Musulkin, & Bhattacharya (2010) argue that learners who perceive their faculty members as approachable are more likely to have strong confidence in their academic skills.

A considerable number of studies have provided valuable insights into the relationship between an individual’s level of math anxiety and their self-concept. Math anxiety can be described as anxiety associated with the necessity to deal with numerical manipulations (Wondimu, Minnaert, Kuyper, & Werf, 2011). It has been noted that this type of anxiety often results in students avoiding math-related tasks and career avenues (Wondimu et al., 2011). More than 20 percent of students have reported suffering from this pervasive problem (Wondimu et al., 2011). Recent studies show that by enhancing levels of self-concept, it is possible to teach students to control math-related stressors effectively, thereby diminishing their math anxiety (Wondimu et al., 2011).

Self-Efficacy

Perceived self-efficacy refers to the context-specific beliefs of people about their ability to successfully produce required levels of performance (Klassen, 2007). Students who are confident in their ability to successfully do not tend to avoid challenging tasks but rather have an interest in challenging pursuits. People with high self-efficacy levels are known for exercising influence over demanding tasks and demonstrating the tendency for attributing failures to an insufficient commitment in the pursuit of a goal. Unsuccessful efficacy builders, on the other hand, are individuals who often show a low intensity of their efforts and quickly give up (Bandura, 1997). It has to do with the fact that their motivational process is guided by low expectations, which diminishes their desire to solve difficult problems.

Self-efficacy is associated with several closely related constructs that differ from it on both psychometric and conceptual levels: self-concept perceived control, and outcome expectations (Zimmerman, 2000). Bandura is the first scholar to study the distinctions between these constructs in his research on reading and writing capabilities (as cited in Zimmerman, 2000). The findings of this important research have shown that perceived self-efficacy is a more effective predictor of the acquisition of writing skills than outcome expectations (Zimmerman, 2000).

A study conducted by Caprara et al. (2008) shows that there is a strong connection between perceived self-efficacy levels and academic achievement. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the reduction of self-efficacy levels is also associated with students’ desire to continue their high school education (Caprara et al., 2008). It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the research for numerous dimensions of learners’ quality of life because the discontinuation of schooling often leads to unfavorable lifestyle trajectories (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).

Academic Self-Efficacy

During the past two decades, several researchers have dedicated their time and effort to unravel the role of self-efficacy in predicting academic performance. Many scholars concentrated on mediating mechanisms and “measurement of self-efficacy beliefs for different domains of functioning” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 82). Empirical evidence gathered by research on self-efficacy shows that self-construct is critical in determining people’s life choices (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).

It is important to distinguish beliefs about one’s efficacy from judgments about the consequences of certain behavior. Students who are confident in their capabilities expect positive results when it comes to both academic and social encounters; therefore, self-efficacy beliefs often function as self-fulfilling prophecies. The opposite is true for inappropriate interpretations of one’s capabilities. Learners who lack confidence in their knowledge or skills envision bad results before performing a certain task, which undermines their ability to perform at the necessary level of excellence.

A systematic literature review conducted by Richardson, Abraham, and Bond reveals that of 241 studies, the construct of self-efficacy has been discovered to be “the strongest correlate with university grade point average (GPA) from amongst 50 measures” (as cited in Bartimote-Aufflick, Bridgeman, Walker, Sharma, & Smith, 2015, p. 1920). Another study analyzes the development of 412 Italian students to establish a link between self-regulatory efficacy and academic achievement (Caprara et al., 2008).

The findings of the study point to a substantial reduction in self-efficacy as students move from junior high to high schools. The effects of this decline in self-efficacy are the most pronounced for males and are related to their academic achievement. However, the reduction of self-efficacy levels is only mediational linked to students’ continuation of their high school education (Caprara et al., 2008). The researchers note that it is especially important to prevent the erosion of students’ beliefs about their learning capabilities because psychosocial changes that are set in motion by such a decline might result in unfavorable lifestyle trajectories. The decline in an individual’s self-efficacy levels foreshadows low academic motivation and the discontinuation of schooling, which in turn might exclude numerous life opportunities (Caprara et al., 2008).

The extant body of literature on the impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic achievement would not be complete without a systematic review of the 12 years of research conducted by Honicke and Broadbent on the subject (2016). The review makes a great contribution to understanding the motivational variables that drive students’ academic performance because it analyzes the mediating and moderating factors that regulate academic behavior. The research is informed by social cognitive theory, which posits that the interplay of social and internal self-influence factors motivates and controls the behavior of learners (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). A meta-analysis of 59 recent studies reveals that there is a positive relationship between academic self-efficacy and academic achievement (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016).

In the review, the following mediating factors for academic self-efficacy have been identified: effort regulation, deep processing strategies, family involvement, and goal orientations (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). Students’ ability to overcome procrastination by regulating their efforts is correlated with their academic performance. Family involvement is another important moderating factor between academic achievement and self-efficacy. This connection has been supported by studies conducted by Mega et al. and Weiser and Riggio (as cited in Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). Furthermore, self-efficacy in an academic context is also positively moderated by factors such as time on task and outcome expectations.

Moreover, the positive moderating relationships of cognitive factors like emotional intelligence were discovered by Adeyemo in 2007 (as cited in Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). At the same time, however, negative emotions and mental states such as neuroticism are known to diminish the academic performance of students significantly. The results of the study also point to the fact that students who have high levels of perceived self-efficacy are more likely to pursue challenging tasks and be more persistent than their counterparts with lower self-efficacy levels. This suggests that “the motivational variable effort regulation” (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016, p. 80) that has been observed in the review functions as a bidirectional feedback loop, in which each element enhances the other’s effects.

Self-Efficacy and Self-Concept

There is no denying that self-efficacy and self-concept are highly analogous constructs. It is hard to recognize conceptual distinctions between these two constructs in the domain of academic functioning. It has to do with the fact that even though academic self-concept measures are associated with specific academic subjects, self-efficacy measures often refer to academic content areas (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003). However, both self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs are multidimensional and are organized hierarchically.

Another point of difference between the two constructs in the academic context is the nature of the self-evaluations. Academic self-concept evaluations are derived mainly from the analysis of “social comparative information and reflected appraisals from significant others” (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003, p. 9). In contrast, self-efficacy evaluations are drawn from the goal-referenced evaluation, which is not always anchored in feedback but rather gauged against a comparative assessment of one’s performance.

A study on predictors of academic achievement shows that unlike self-efficacy measures that correlate strongly with academic achievement, there is only a moderate correlation between self-concept and success in an academic environment (Stankov & Jihyun, 2014).

The Development of Self-Concept and Self-Efficacy

It is important to explore how an individual’s beliefs about his or her ability to perform a task and their view of the self can be strengthened (Dinther, Dochy, & Segers, 2011). The social cognitive theory posits that students derive their perceptions about self-efficacy from the following sources: “enactive mastery experiences, vicarious (observational) experiences, social persuasions, and physiological and psychological states” (Dinther et al., 2011, p. 97).

The most important source of information about one’s self-efficacy comes from enactive mastery experiences or success stories that provide individuals with first-hand evidence of their ability to overcome obstacles and complete tasks. Students who rely on this kind of self-efficacy information develop a strong sense of personal competence that motivates them and helps them persevere in the face of difficulty. However, it should also be noted that a series of failures can substantially lower students’ beliefs in their ability to succeed (Dinther et al., 2011).

Another source of learners’ self-efficacy beliefs is vicarious experience derived from observing social models. By gaining information about the capabilities of their peers, students can enhance their feelings of self-efficacy. Individuals with little mastery experience can benefit from this source of information, even though its effects are lower than those created by enactive mastery experiences (Dinther et al., 2011).

Social influences or persuasions are an important source of self-concept beliefs. Information that convinces students that they are capable of performing a certain task can reduce their doubts and increase their self-concept levels.

Implications

Implications of research on self-efficacy and self-concept for educational theory and practice are both important and far-reaching. Arguably the most important practical implication of scholarly findings on academic self-efficacy is that learners experience difficulties with the development of such skills as reading and writing not because they are incapable of performing simple tasks but rather because of their self-appraisals are inaccurate. It means that by understanding students’ judgments of self-worth, educators can help them to exercise their control over the world, thereby ensuring the development of a robust sense of confidence (Pajares & Schunk, 2005).

It is essential to regulate children’s self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs because they comprise the bulk of automatic self-regulation, which is a habitual way of thinking. Social cognitive theorists argue that by changing low-achieving students’ beliefs about their competence, it is possible to empower them with self-assurance, which is essential for successful performance in all spheres of human endeavor. A study by Pajares indicates that beliefs of personal efficacy are a domain-specific construct (as cited in Gaskill and Woolfolk-Hoy, 2002).

This finding is crucial for framing the cognitive aspects of writing in a manner that is most conducive to the attainment of the skill. The work of Zimmerman and associates shows that by directing attention to writing outcomes, it is possible to improve students’ skills as well as their self-efficacy judgments (as cited in Bruning, Dempsey, Kauffman, McKim, & Zumbrunn, 2013).

Another important implication to be drawn from the integrative review is that self-efficacy predicts academic success more effectively than does self-concept (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). This piece of information can be used by educators who want to use domain-specific reinforcements that are essential for the development of self-regulatory skills. Since a student’s level of ability is closely linked with their self-efficacy perceptions, it stands to reason that the implementation of effective interventions aimed at self-regulatory crises elimination will help learners to understand their potential to succeed, thereby promoting adaptive lifelong functioning (Usher & Pajares, 2006).

Therefore, educators should put more emphasis on developing reflective thinking and metacognitive skills of “planning, monitoring, and evaluation of one’s cognitive performance” (Stankov & Jihyun, 2014, p. 6). Not only will it help to change learners’ levels of confidence in specific cognitive acts, but it will also improve their confidence across different domains. It means that educational approaches to improving students’ motivation and achievement should not necessarily be based on the notion of domain-specificity.

Conclusion

The paper has outlined an integrative review of two self-constructs: self-concept and self-efficacy. The review of the extant literature on the topics has shown that academic performance can be enhanced by altering students’ beliefs about themselves and their capabilities. The paper mapped self-concept and self-efficacy beliefs onto the key motivational processes that determine successful performance in a multitude of pursuits both within and outside of an academic environment. The role of these self-concepts in academic achievement can hardly be overestimated because learners who are confident in their capabilities are more eager to engage in challenging pursuit than those who have unjustifiably low self-efficacy beliefs.

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