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Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control: Definition and Meaning

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  • 0:05 What Is Self-Efficacy?
  • 1:08 Self-Efficacy & Locus…
  • 3:51 Benefits of Self-Efficacy
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Self-efficacy is the belief that you can succeed in a specific area of your life, and locus of control is how much control you feel like you have over a situation. What do these two things have in common? In this lesson, we'll explore them both and how they relate to each other.

What Is Self-Efficacy?

Think about something that you're really good at. Maybe you're awesome at public speaking, or maybe art is more your style. Maybe you're a talented athlete, or all your friends turn to you when it's time to plan something.

Self-efficacy involves believing in your ability to go through the steps necessary to produce a desired outcome. For example, if you want to run a marathon, you'll have to run consistently, eat right, and follow through on stretching and strength to keep yourself injury-free. If you believe that you can do all of those things, then you have a high self-efficacy.

Many people equate self-efficacy with self-esteem, but it's slightly different. While self-esteem is a general sense of your strengths, self-efficacy is specific to a situation. In the example above, your high self-efficacy about training for a marathon is not the same as high self-esteem in life in general.

Self-Efficacy and Locus of Control

As you can imagine, people with high self-efficacy in an area are more likely to believe that they can control the outcome of a situation. For example, Sue and Bart are in the same math class. Sue has high self-efficacy for math, but Bart has low self-efficacy for math. They're getting ready for a math test. Because Sue has high self-efficacy in math, she is more likely to believe that she can control whether she does well on the test or not. In contrast, Bart's low self-efficacy in this subject means that he might believe that no matter how much studying he does, he won't be able to be successful on the upcoming test.

Whether or not you believe that you can control the outcome of a situation is called locus of control. People who believe that they have control over a situation have an internal locus of control, whereas people who believe that outside factors have more control over a situation than they do have an external locus of control.

Again, going back to the math test example, if Sue believes that she can control whether or not she does well - say, with extra studying - then she has an internal locus of control. If Bart thinks that whether or not he does well on the test is dependent on something else - say, how hard the test is - then he has an external locus of control.

Many studies have shown that people with high self-efficacy in a domain also tend to have an internal locus of control. There is an exception to this, though. When faced with failure, people with high self-efficacy tend to have an external locus of control for failure in that arena.

Going back to our example, if Sue has high self-efficacy for math, she will have an internal locus of control unless she fails a math test. If Sue has high self-efficacy for math and fails a math test, she's more likely to say that her failure is due to something outside of herself, such as a particularly hard test or illness that day. When it comes to failure in math, she then has an external locus of control.

The opposite is true, too. If Bart has a low self-efficacy for a task, he will have an external locus of control when it comes to success in that task and an internal locus of control for failure in that task. Again, let's look at the math test example. Bart, with a low self-efficacy for math, is most likely to say that his success on a math test is because the test was easy, while he will attribute his failure on the test to his own ineptitude.

Benefits of Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy has several important benefits associated with it. High self-efficacy can lower stress. After all, if you have a class presentation to do and you believe that you are talented at organizing and presenting information in public settings, then you won't be as stressed about your presentation than if you have low self-efficacy for public speaking. Some studies have shown that people with low self-efficacy for a task view that task as harder than it actually is.

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