What is it?

The extent to which an individual believes they have the capacity to exert control over their actions, and the consequences of those actions, is the foundation of human motivation. Self-efficacy beliefs are defined as people's domain-specific perceptions of their ability to perform the actions necessary to achieve valued goals. The concept of self-efficacy was first proposed by Albert Bandura in 1977 in an attempt to provide a unified theory of behaviour change (Gallagher, 2012, p. 314-320).

Self-efficacy is not a perception of whether one will perform these actions or whether one will necessarily achieve the desired outcomes, but an evaluation of whether one can perform the necessary actions. General self-efficacy refers to our overall belief in our ability to succeed, but there are many more specific forms of self-efficacy as well (e.g., academic, parenting, sports). Its important to note that self-efficacy is distinct from self-esteem, self-regulation, and motivation.

Research shows that self-efficacy also strongly relates to our motivation, behavioural regulation and resilience. In other words, simply believing in yourself can make you more motivated and capable of completing a given task! What’s interesting is that just like our self-efficacy, we can also have a sense of collective efficacy about our social groups.

How could you apply this theory?

Behaviour change won't occur if the person/s does not have the self-efficacy to do the desired behaviour. Self-efficacy can be built. Ask yourself, does the person have the (1) knowledge to do the behaviour, (2) the resources to do the behaviour, and (3) the confidence to do the behaviour? 

Research has identified five mechanisms by which self-efficacy beliefs can be developed: mastery experiences, modelling/vicarious experiences, imagined experiences, social persuasion, and somatic/emotional cues. These five mechanisms vary in terms of their effectiveness, and individuals tend to use a combination of the various methods as they pursue their goals.

Example of theory applied

  • Self-efficacy can be enhanced through multiple ways. For example, when an individual sets an aspirational goal for achievement and successfully masters a goal they are able to experience an increase in perceived self-efficacy.

  • An extension officer goes onto a sugar cane farm and talks to a farmer about getting them to adopt a new farming technique. The extension officer wants to build the farmers self-efficacy, so they show the farmer how to do it, they explain the benefits to the new technique, and give them the opportunity to practice the technique.

Why is this theory important for behaviour change?

Self-efficacy is important when contemplating whether to adopt a new behaviour, an individual will generally be faced with competing priorities and dissuading complexities. Thus, unless an individual believes in their ability to produce effects by his actions, the individual will be very unlikely to act.

An important benefit of enhancing self-efficacy is that the more people report having control of their lives, the healthier, happier, and more productive they are (Knight & Haslam 2010). A behaviour change program that targets improving self-efficacy is likely to not only benefit the target outcome, but also the general health and well-being of the people involved.

An important part of any population-level behaviour change project is to ensure that target behaviours become self-sustaining after the intervention period ends. Enhancing the self-efficacy and collective-efficacy of the people you’re working with therefore builds up their capability and motivation, making the desired behaviours more likely to continue into the future.

Building up individuals’ self and collective-efficacy is a key part of our approach and ensures that once our behaviour change strategies are implemented into the broader system-level, they become self-sustaining. This differentiates our approach from the majority of other behavioural interventions, which struggle to maintain behaviour change after the intervention period as recently noted.


Gallagher, M. (2012). Self-Efficacy. In Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (pp. 314-320).

Haslam, SA, Reicher, SD & Reynolds, KJ 2012, ‘Identity, influence, and change: Rediscovering John Turner’s vision for social psychology’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 5, pp. 201-218.

Related theories

Locus of control



Social cognitive theory

Self-concept theory

Attribution theory