Some Thoughts on Creative Self-Efficacy

In this post, I outline existing research on the role of self efficacy in creativity and propose future research to further explain the power of creative self-efficacy. To do this, I first discuss the concept of self-efficacy and its measurement, as described by Bandura (1977, 1997), as well as creativity, especially as discussed by (Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi 2002). I then clarify what is meant by creative self-efficacy, relying primarily on three studies: Tierney and Farmer’s (2002), Choi (2004), and Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne (2007). Lastly, I describe a study that might be done to explore it in the context of creativity, creative self-efficacy, and self-efficacy (Bandura, 2006).

In the first study, Tierney and Farmer (2002) examined how self-efficacy predicts creativity. Understanding creativity as the creation of the useful and the novel in a domain, Tierney and Farmer proposed that creativity in a domain should be predicted both by self-efficacy for that domain and self-efficacy for creativity. The authors proposed that job tenure, education level, job self-efficacy, supervisor support, job complexity, and job tenure would all positively predict creative self-efficacy. All of these hypotheses were confirmed in a study of 584 employees at large corporation except for the last: there was a negative correlation between creative self-efficacy and tenure, which is puzzling if creativity is the result of increased domain-specific learning. A follow up study of 191 workers at a research and development unit of a Midwest chemical company (Tierney & Farmer, 2004) found similar results, with creative self efficacy explaining 35% of employee creativity. In the second study, the correlation of creativity to task expertise was -.11, implying greater task expertise weakened creative performance.

The second study to be examined is Choi (2004). Choi proposed that a number of psychological mediators of creativity, including creative self-efficacy, creative intention, and creative personality, and to test this surveyed 430 students at a business school. Choi’s confirmatory analysis showed that creative self-efficacy explained 34% of the variance in creative performance, while creative intention explained 24%, and creative personality did not explain any additional variation, once other variables such as cautious personality were added to a longitudinal structural model.

The role of creative self-efficacy was further described by Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne (2007). Jaussi and colleagues conducted a treatment on 219 professional senior managers Creative self-efficacy was measured using the Tierney and Farmer (2002) scale, and creativity was measured through co-worker appraisal. Other variables, such as creative identity, stress at work, and gender were also gathered. The authors were primarily interested in the role of creative identity in predicting creativity, though also hypothesized that creative identity would interact with creative self-efficacy in predicting creativity. Hierarchical regression analysis continued to support the role of creative self-efficacy. Creative self-efficacy’s statistical significant impact was apparent after two steps of the analysis, while creative self-identity required another step to appear. However, the effect sizes were small, with all independent variables together only accounting for 14% of the variance in creativity.

Unfortunately, these studies suffer from methodological flaws which limit their generalizability. Consider how the studies treat creativity: Choi’s (2004) definition as “creativity as the generation of novel or original ideas that are useful or relevant” (p. 188), Tierney & Farmer’s (2002) definition as “the generation of domain-specific… novel, and useful outcomes” (p. 138), and Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne’s (2007) definition as “the production novel and useful ideas” (p. 247) are all close to each other, and to definitions of creativity used in other articles (Mayer, 1999). However, all of these paper use reports by instructors (Choi, 2004), a work supervisor (Tierner & Farmer, 2002, 2004), or co-workers (Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne, 2007). Thus, creativity is operationalized as the positive impression one makes on co-workers, rather than paying attention to a field, “all the individuals who act as gatekeepers to a domain,” that are the arbitrators of creativity (Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 37). Consider Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi’s example of the field in the domain of art: “the field consists of the art critics and art historians, the art dealers and art collectors, and the artists themselves.” Whether or not the field might also include the supervisors of the creative individual, it is clear a field would not be limited to them.

Methodological flaws also weaken the research on creative self-efficacy. Creative self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in his ability to perform a task in order to achieve a goal (Bandura, 1997, 2006). Efficacy varies in terms of the magnitude, generality, and strength of the expectation (Bandura 2006). Self-efficacy can come from an individual’s own accomplishments, observing a model, persuasion, or emotional arousal. The conceptual definitions are less clear, referring to “employees’ beliefs in their ability to be creative in their work” (Tierner & Farmer, 2002, p. 1141), “perceived behavioral control… in the context of creative performance. In other words… a person’s belief that he or she can successfully perform creative behavior in a particular setting” (Choi, 2004, p. 190), or “feelings about whether he or she is creative (feels confident that he or she can be creative in a given task)… the capacity to do a job creatively” (Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne, 2007, p. 249). Examples of the questions used to capture creative self-efficacy were “I have confidence in my ability to solve problems creatively” (Tierney & Farmer, 2002, p. 1141), a formulation also used in Tierney and Farmer (2004) and Jaussi, Randel, & Dionne (2007), as well as “I feel confident that I can introduce new ideas to the class in a convincing manner” and “I feel nervous when I present different views to classmates” (Choi, 2004, p. 139).

Self-efficacy should be defined and operationalized in a way keeping with the established method (Bandura, 2006). If the same construct if measured in different ways in different papers, the research on the topic will become confused. Indeed, as Bandura writes, “The construction of sound efficacy scales relies on a good conceptual analysis of the relevant domain of functioning” (p. 310). Without a good understanding of what it means to be creative, neither creativity nor creative self-efficacy can be measured!

Bandura begins his guide to operationalizaing self-efficacy with the following definition, originally from Bandura (1977): “Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people’s beliefs in their capabilities to produce given attainments” (p. 307). While no standard self-efficacy scale exists, a standard way of generating them does (Bandura, 2006). Self-efficacy scales should be domain-specific, target factors that help predict proper functioning in the domain, should vary in the difficulty of the rated task so that individual differences in self-efficacy can be examined, and where motivation is a factor should measure self-efficacy to sustain the action. The definition and operationalization of self-efficacy is straight-forward (Bandura, 2006). To measure self-efficacy, questions “should be phrased in terms of can do rather than will do” (p. 308), Self-efficacy questions should ask about the confidence of the individual to perform a specific task as of now. Scales should include 11 steps, beginning at 0 and ending at 100. A practice item should be included to help people understand the scale. After scale construction, the scale should be pre-tested and the Cronbach’s alpha score should be used to determine which items to keep.

Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi (2002) present a guide for measuring creativity when they describe it as an individual who operates in a domain to gain recognition by the field. Thus, creativity can be measured by the recognition of the field. Interesting, the ELO system that is used by researchers to measure expertise (Charness, Krampe, & Mayr, 1996) is thus a valid measure of creativity. In ELO, every game that a chess player plays against another chess player is recorded. The histories of the players are used to judge the relative difficulty of the game for each. Thus, if a player with a better record defeats a player with a worse record little will change: that is expected. However, if a player with a substantially worse record upsets a player with a better record, it will lead to the previously worse player rising and the previously better player falling. In ELO, therefore, recognition by a domain is objective measured through a player’s recorded interaction with the field.

I propose to expand my prior research in the light of creative self-efficacy. Previously, I conducted a correlational pilot study on 77 blog readers and writers. I was interested in exploring the role of attitudes on creativity, so I measured cognitive and affective attitudes from a standard scale (Crites, et al., 1994), some questions relating to behaviors typical of creative people, and so on. I found that I could explain 20% of variation in creativity using three of the behavioral questions among blog creators, and I could explain 18% of the variation in consumption of blogs among readers by their affective attitude toward blogs. At the time, I was puzzled that affective attitudes. However, I decided that they might do to the concept of flow (Abuhamdeh and Csikszentmihalyi 2002), in which people participate in creative actions in order to avoid shut out the outside world. That is, it might be that blogging is not affectively agreeable, but that not-blogging would be affectively disagreeable. My readings on self-efficacy and creative self-efficacy make me believe that I might be able to explain a large amount of variance in creativity through a combination of withdrawal affect, practice, self-efficacy, and creative self-efficacy. Creativity combines both domain-specific components, such as purposeful practice in a domain, and domain-general components, including many psychological processes (Plucker & Beghetto, 1996). My study would help explain creative performance in terms of both domain-general creative self-efficacy and domain-specific self-efficacy.


Abuhamdeh, S. & Csikszentmihalyi,M. (2002). The artistic personality: a systems perspective, in R.J. Sternberg, E.L. Grigorenco, & J.L. Singer (eds) Creativity: from potential to realization. Washington, D.C. American Psychological Association.

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Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, 5, pp. 307-337. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Charness, N., Krampe, R., & Mayr, U. (1996). The role of practice and coaching in entrepreneurial skill domains: An international comparison of life-span chess skill acquisition. In The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games, (K. A. Ericsson, Ed., pp 55-80), Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Choi, J.N. (2004). Individual and contextual predictors of creative performance: The mediating role of psychological processes. Creativity Research Journal, 16(2 & 3), 187-199.

Crites, S.L., Jr., Fabrigar, L.R., & Petty, R.E. (1994). Measuring the affective and cognitive properties of attitudes: Conceptual and methodological issues. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 619-634.

Jaussi, K.S., Randel, A.E., & Dionne, S.D. (2007). I am, I think I can, I do: The role of personal identity, self-efficacy, and cross-application of experiences in creativity at work. Creativity Research Journal, 19(2 & 3, 247-258).

Mayer, R.E. (1999). Fifty yeras of creativity research. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (pp. 449-460). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Plucker, J.A. & Beghetto, R.A. (1996). Why creativity is domain general, why it looks domain specific, and why the distinction does not matter. In The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games, (K. A. Ericsson, Ed., pp. 153-167), Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Tierney, P.A. & Farmer, S.M. (2002). Creative self-efficacy: its potential antecedents and relationship to creative performance. Academy of Management Journal, 45(6), 1137-1148.

Tierney, P.A. & Farmer, S.M. (2004). The Pygmalion process and employee creativity. Journal of Management, 30(3), 413-432.

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