Tag Archives: self-efficacy

The (Un)Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

My post yesterday got some interesting reaction, including a link to this video called “The surprising truth about what motivates us.” The video is by Dan Pink, a journalist (but not scientist) who seems to be trying the best he can to express scientific theories about motivation.

I don’t want to pick on Pink too much, so I’ll use an early howler in the video to discuss motivation a bit

We are not as endlessly manipulable and as predictable as you would think. There’s a whole set of unbelieably interesting studies — I want to give you two — that call into question this idea that if you reward something you get more of the behavior you want and if you punish something you get less of it.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and most of it I won’t bother to try. I don’t know who Pink came across who told him people are “endlessly manipulable,” but it was more likely to be a crazy person on the street than a scientist or economist. A “reward” is often defined as a stimulus that leads to an increase in the targeted behavior, so if the “reward” does not lead to more of a behavior, it’s not a reward.

But I’ll forgive Pink for these, as the first statement just leads up to the video, and the second may be the result of terminological confusion. But the idea that a “reward” does not always leads to an increase in a behavior is painfully well known. Even the great behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, would have said that idea is stupid.

In behaviorism, animals have “drives” caused by their species-nature which they attempt to satiate through the accusition of appropriate stimuli. For instance, most species have some drive for hydration. An ant, a dog, and a human will all attempt to inbibe water in some method. But when an animal is no longer thirsty, the “reward” of water is satiated, and the animal will continue on with other drives.

Likewise, “rational choice” economics teaches that humans are driven in the persuit of well-being, and that money, leisure, social status, and other stimuli serve to satiate that drive, based on an individual’s pre-existing “preference schedule.”

But I don’t want to spend time demonstrating that Pink is completely wrong from every seriously held perspective. It’s more interesting to try to find common ground with him, and illustrate how many is important even though it is not the primary motivation for most people.

Most people are motivated to do what they are good at. Specifically, most people have a variety of goals they would like to achieve. To be powerful, popular, and respected might be three of these goals, though there are many more. Likewise, an individual has some understanding of what is required to actually achieve those goals at the given instant. Motivation can be reliable predictable in a wide variety of domains by an indiviuals’ belief, really and right now, that he can actually achieve the specific set of goals required to meet a desired objective. (This concept is referred to as self-efficacy.)

Consider the case of a man who has two objectives: he wishes to stay healthy, and he wishes to be comfortable. But this man has diabetes, and whlie he loves to eat bread, he knows the effect of bread on his insulin levels is dangerous. I don’t believe that individuals are purely driven by the calculated net present value of eating bread v. not eating bread. Rather, without the self-efficacy to avoid unhealthy foods, the individuals’ more base desire to satiate himself on bread will win.

So how would we increase self-efficacy in this case? Clinically, we would conduct a task analysis to understand what is required to really & right now maintain healike

Goal: Stay Healthy
Required Step: Recognize situations in which will-power will be limitd
Required Step: Understand socially acceptable methods of extracting oneself from temptation
Required Step: Execute pro-active steps to satiation hunger drive using less unhealthy substities


An understanding of self-efficacy allows us to understand how economic incentives work on individuals who are not “motivated by money.”

Consider a kind-hearted individuals who has several goals, such as to look-after his family, to labor in a field which is helpful to others, and to make a difference to people he has never met. Even if subject is completely non-materialistic, all of these goals are made easier through higher income. Of course, other things also make these goals easier, and in creating a reward schedule one has to be careful not to impose costs higher than the benefits of an increase in income. No one is stupid enough to believe that an increase in income always by itself leads to an increase in targetted behavior. But it is equally wrong to say that ‘good’ people are not motivated by income, or that the fact that other things can also improve self-efficacy means that financial compensation is not a part of a reasonable reward schedule.

In America, to wrap this up, we do not have a professional teaching cohort. Way too many teachers either washed out of either majors for that to be the case. Rather, we have the remnants of a professional cohort intermixed with the labor force you get when you underpay and mistreat a once-admired (if still somewhat respected) profession.

If we are serious about having students educatd by teaching professionals, we need to treat them like professionals, which includes paying them like professionals.

If we are not serious about that, we need to make idiot-proof scripts that an even-teacher teaching cohort can read during classtime.

Two self-efficacy stories

1. Kids who are paid to study study more

Pretty obvious. Wise educators should align extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, at least when dealing with children who are not able to make the decision to learn by themselves.

Specifically, educators of children should pay them to study, while demonstrating to the students that their efforts will pay off (literally!)

2. Most blogs are abandoned

Creative bloggers need to not only master their craft and gain the attention of their peers: first, they need to keep trying, in spite of many failed attempts at meaningful attention.

Both of these stories are courtesy of Slashdot: News for Nerds.

Self-efficacy, not self-esteem

Chicago Boyz had an interesting thread comparing the self-esteem movement to China’s focus on engineering education.

It is worth while, but it’s important to note two things that I have observed teaching 400-level classes in educational psychology

1) no serious researcher takes self-esteem seriously
2) nearly every pre-service teacher takes self-esteem seriously

I suspect this is becasue of the influence of the regular education faculty, who have limited training in the theory and methods of psychology, but a lot of exposure to educational fads like emotional intelligence.

To complicated matters, there is a predctively valid concept caled “sellf-efficacy,” which unfortunately shares the same initials as self-efficayc.

Here are examples of self-esteem questions

  • I feel good about myself (True / False)
  • I am a good person (True / False)
  • I am happy with who I am (True False)
  • I am good at math (True False)

Here are examples of self efficacy questions

On a scale of 0 to 100, how confident are you that you can perform the following tasks?

  • Correctly add these two numbers: 5 and 3
  • Correctly add these two numbers: 5353 less 3349
  • Correctly subtract these two numbers: 5 less 3
  • Correctly subtractthese two numbers: 5353 and 3349
  • Correctly multiple these two numbers: 5 and 3
  • Correctly multiplethese two numbers: 5353 and 3349
  • Correctly divide these two numbers: 5 into 3
  • Correctly divide these two numbers: 5353 into 3349

No one takes self-esteem seriously. Criticizing it is like criticizing holocaust denial: an excersize in frustration.

Self-efficacy is one of the best motivational constructs we have.

Update: Using the terms ‘entitlement’ (think: ‘self esteem’) and ‘locus of control’ (think: ‘self efficacy’) the New York Times covers similar ground.

Self Efficacy, and the way forward

While I’ll always be a fan of the OODA loop, a great conceptual model of human cognition, it does not help me in predicting outcomes. That’s why I generalized Horn et al to create a domain-knowledge/general-ability/motivation/behavior model of performance. Writing about this will be its own challenge, however.

This comes at about the same time I have discovered self-efficacy, an incredibly powerful tool first developed by Albert Bandura. Self-efficacy blows away concepts such as self-esteem, self-concept, self-definition, identity, and so on, and also better explains findings described by Expectancy-Value Theory, Goal Theory, and so on.

Self-efficacy boils down to a set of simple questions, all of which have this form: How confident are you that you can perform a specific action in order to achieve a goal, as of now. Self-efficacy is obviously beyond behavioralism, because such self-reports were frowned on by the behavioralists that Skinner. However, it is much more action-centered than other ‘cognitive’ or ‘constructive’ theories. What you feel, how proud you are, what you really want, so on, and burned away. How confident are you, right now, that you can do A to get B?

For instance, from this online resource on self-efficacy, comes a standard practice question, drived from Bandura’s famous “Guide to Creating Self-Efficacy Scales” (PDF).

If you were asked to lift a 10 pound object right now, how certain are you that you can lift it?

Respondants are given 11 choices, from 0 to 100, with 0 meaning cannot lift at all, and 100 meaning can lift without any problem.

When I first encountered self-efficacy I thought it was just a proxy of domain knowledge or long-term memory, but many, many studies show it is a seperate construct that explains variation on its own. A popularization of the concept is available from the Wall Street Jounal.

So now, I am planning to use self-efficacy, along with the rest of my model, to look at creativity in blogging. This is a large task and I need an organizational structure. Fortunately, Siwatu (2005) provides an excellent model. While Siwatu examined a different concept, we share a methodological outlook as well as a focus on self-efficacy.

So, using Siwatu as a model, how I plan to attack the problem. Italicized headings are areas where I replaced Siwatu’s topics with analogous ones in my own research.

Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Purpose of the Study 4
Research Questions 7
Definition of Terms 7
Blogging 7
Blogging Self-Efficacy 8
Blogging Creativity 8

Chapter II Review of the Literature 9
Creation 11
The Novel 12
The Useful 14
The Field 16
The Domain 17
The Value of Creativity 17

What are self-efficacy beliefs? 19
Source of Information 20
Mastery Experience 20
Vicarious Experience 20
Verbal Persuasion 21
Physiological and emotional states 21
Assessment of Self-Efficacy 22
The development of the CES Scale 25
Concerns regarding CES 29
What are Job and Creativity Self Efficacy? 33
Cognitive, Motivational, and Strategies Variables 35

General Ability 35
Domain Knowledge 37
Motivation 38
Strategies 41

Summary and Predictions 42
Chapter 3 Methods 46
Introduction 36
Quantitative Phase 36
Population and Sample 47
Measures 47
Creative Blogging Self-Efficacy Scale 47
Job Blogging Self-Efficacy Scale 48
Blogging Domain Knowledge Scale 49
Attitude Scale 50
General Ability Scale 51

Data Analysis 52

This model is missing a replacement for Siwatu’s qualitative section. I imagine that will come from creating and revising the scales I need in this research.

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.

Amabile, T.M. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. In B.M. Staw & L.L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior, 10, 123-167. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

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.