Perceived self-efficacy, social comparison, affective reactions and academic performance

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<ul><li><p>British Journal of Educational Psychology (1994), 64,465-412 0 1994 The British Psychological Society </p><p>Printed in Great Britain </p><p>Perceived self-efficacy, social comparison, affective reactions and academic performance </p><p>A. Vrugt* Department of Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam </p><p>The present study is based on Banduras theory of perceived self-efficacy and on Wills theory of downward comparison. We expected that perceived self-efficacy and downward comparison, separately and in combination, would contribute to the positive feelings of university students regarding their skills and by way of these feelings to their study performance. The results largely support this expectation. Both perceived self-efficacy anddownward comparison contributed to the positive feelings of the students. These feelings also influenced their course grades. In contrast with the expectation the interaction between self-efficacy and direction of comparison did not contribute to feelings of students regarding their own skills. </p><p>Banduras theory (1986, 1989) of perceived self-efficacy describes the way in which peoples judgments of their capabilities affect their performance and the factors which might affect these judgments. The concept of perceived self-efficacy is described by Bandura (1989) as follows: ... peoples judgment of their capabilities to organise and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances (p. 395). It appears from this description that perceived self-efficacy relates to specific domains of activity. Thus, people may regard themselves as quite capable in one area, such as solving a mathematical problem, but much less capable in another, such as analysing a literary text. </p><p>Various studies support the view that perceived self-efficacy in a certain field influences peoples achievement. Wood &amp; Locke (1987) found that perceived self-efficacy influences students course grades. Taylor, Locke, Lee &amp; Gist (1984) showed that perceived self- efficacy has a determining influence on the performance of academic staff members. Hill, Smith &amp; Mann (1987) and Gist, Schwoerer &amp; Rosen (1989) found that perceived self- efficacy also influences peoples performance with computers and adequate use of compu- ter programmes. </p><p>The way in which perceived self-efficacy affects a persons performance can be de- scribed as follows. People whose perceived self-efficacy is positive will pursue a relatively high level of performance. They will not be put off easily, they will do their best, seek new </p><p>*Correspondence and requests far reprints should be addressed to Dr A. Vrugt, Department of Social Pschology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WE3 Amsterdam, The Netherlands. </p></li><li><p>466 A. Vrugt </p><p>solutions and also persevere in the case of difficult task assignments. Effort, strategy devel- opment and perseverance not only lead to good achievements but also to the development of peoples actual competence (Cervone &amp; Peake, 1986). On the other hand, if a persons perceived self-efficacy is negative, he or she will pursue a lower level of performance. Doubts and uncertainty during the performance of a task undermine a persons concentra- tion and in the case of a difficult task he or she will easily give up. These latter processes adversely affect the performance of people whose perceived self-efficacy is negative (Bandura. 1989). This line of thought implies that perceived self-efficacy affects peoples performance through feelings about their skills. </p><p>Bandura (1986) pointed out that comparing ones own competence and achievements with those of relevant others plays an important role in the development and maintenance of self-efficacy. He does not, however, pay attention to the role that the direction of social comparison might play; this comparison may be with a person who is worse (downward comparison) or with a person who is better (upward comparison). However, Bandura dis- cusses extensively how modelling, i.e., learning from another persons good example, can affect the development of a persons actual competence. In modelling people do not only compare themselves with a good example but also try to match it. In this respect, model- ling can be regarded as a special form of upward comparison, giving people an opportunity to observe the task performance of the comparison person. Research findings in the field of social comparison have provided evidence which confirms this line of thought. Taylor &amp; Lobe1 (1989) suggested that people who have to contend with fear and stress can be motivated and inspired by a good example. </p><p>In contrast to research in the field of perceived self-efficacy, research on the effects of social comparison has focused more on affective reactions than on achievement (see, for example, Suls &amp; Wills, 1991). The theory of downward comparison (Wills, 1991) claims that downward comparison is prompted by a persons need to strengthen his or her self- esteem. Downward comparison meets this need; it can enhance a persons well-being (see also Gibbons &amp; Gerard, 1991). But Wills (1991) also points out that downward comparison does not always have this effect. If a person thinks that he or she is likely to get into the same negative state as the comparison person, downward comparison can evoke negative feelings (see Buunk, Collins, Taylor, Van Yperen &amp; Dakof, 1990). According to Wheeler &amp; Miyake (1992), downward comparison only leads to negative feelings in people who are subject to fear and tension. People who do not feel threatened (or who hardly ever do so) tend, according to Wheeler &amp; Miyake, to think that there is little chance of having unpleas- ant experiences because of certain illusions which normally enhance a persons self-esteem. The results of Wheeler &amp; Miyake support the original phrasing of the theory of downward comparison. People in everyday situations who were not frightened felt better after down- ward and worse after upward comparison. </p><p>Wheeler &amp; Miyake (1992) also expected self-esteem to be related to the direction of social comparison. According to the theory of downward comparison, people with low self- esteem feel a greater need to enhance it and therefore react more positively to downward comparison than people with high self-esteem. An alternative hypothesis is based on the assumption that people with high self-esteem tend to be very much subject to illusions enhancing their self-esteem. The self-esteem of such people could be the result of frequent downward comparison (Crocker, Thompson, McGraw &amp; Ingerman, 1987). The results of Wheeler &amp; Miyake (1992) lend support to this hypotheses. There was a positive relation- </p></li><li><p>Perceived self-efSicacy 467 </p><p>ship between self-esteem a.nd frequency of downward comparison. Since perceived self- efficacy can be regarded as a domain specific form of self-esteem, these results can be applied to people who have a positive view of their competence in a specific area. </p><p>Three hypotheses can be: derived from the theories and findings described above. The first hypothesis is derived from the theory of perceived self-efficacy. ( I ) Perceived self- efficacy will, by way of a persons feelings about his or her competence, contribute to the level of performance. </p><p>The second hypothesis is based on the theory of downward comparison. Here, another important factor is that affective reactions often play a mediating role between cognitions and achievement (see, for example, Weiner, 1986). (2) Downward comparison will, by way of a persons feelings with regard to his or her skills, contribute to performance. </p><p>The third hypothesis is derived from the findings of Wheeler &amp; Miyake (1992), concern- ing people with high self-esteem. We deduced from these findings that favourable judg- ments of own competence will be accompanied by frequent downward comparisons. In view of the relationship between positive perceived self-efficacy and positive feelings and that between downward comparison and positive feelings, it can be expected that the combination of positive perceived self-efficacy and downward comparison will contribute to positive feelings about own competence. (3) Self-efficacy in combination with down- ward comparison will contribute to a persons feelings regarding his or her skills and through these feelings to his or her performance. </p><p>Method </p><p>Sample and procedure First-year psychology students (N=206) cooperated in this study, participating in a number of collective test sessions within the framework of study obligations. During one of the first sessions perceived self-efficacy was measured by means of a number of questions from the Academic-Self-Efficacy questionnaire (ASE), developed by Wood &amp; Locke (1987). This session took place several weeks after the beginning of the courses to which the ASE related and a number of weeks preceding exams. In a subsequent test session the partici- pants answered questions about the qualities of the fellow student with whom they mostly compared themselves, about their feelings regarding their own skills and about their judg- ment of the competence of the comparison person. Exams were taken a few weeks after these test sessions. </p><p>Measures Perceived self-efSicacy In the present study questions on Self-Efficacy-Magnitude (SEM) were taken from the ASE developed by Wood &amp; Locke (1987). Wood &amp; Locke distinguished seven task domains, namely comprehending the subject matter, distinguishing concepts, explaining concepts, retrieval, concentration during the lesson, making notes during the lesson and concentration during exams. For each task domain four items with the same intervals were used. For example: I can understand S O per cent (70, 90 or 100%) of the concepts as presented. The subjects were asked to indicate whether they were able to reach the level that was described (yes or no for each item). These questions were asked about three courses: Social Psychol- ogy, Theory of Personality, and Introduction to Psychology. Cronbachs alpha was calcu- </p></li><li><p>468 A. Vrugt </p><p>lated across the items for these three subjects. For this purpose the items for each task domain were regarded as five-point scales (see Vrugt, Langereis &amp; Hoogstraten, 1993). Cronbachs alpha is 0.85 (21 items). The sum of these items was calculated. </p><p>Social comparison and judgment of fellow students The participants were asked to think of a student with whom they usually compared them- selves with regard to study skills and achievement. They were asked to indicate on a seven- point scale how good they considered this student as compared to themselves. The extremes of this scale were much better (7) and much worse (1). Subsequently, seven questions were posed concerning the participants judgment of their fellow-students study skills. These questions related to the same task domains as the SEM questions from ASE. For example: How much (in percentages) of the subject matter of the exam can this student understand? Each question had four alternatives as an answer: 50, 70, 90 or 100 per cent. The participants were expected to mark the alternative that seemed the most applicable. These questions were not posed for each course subject but in general. The answers to these questions were recorded on four-point scales with a minimum score of 1 and a maximum score of 4. Cronbachs alpha is 0.72. The sum of the scores on the seven questions was calculated for the analyses. </p><p>Feelings Six questions were posed concerned the participants feelings about their study skills and results. Bipolar five-point scales were used with, for example, proud ( 5 ) and ashamed (1) as extremes. The questions concerning these feelings were answered after social com- parison had been measured. Cronbachs alpha is 0.88. The sum score was used for the analysis. </p><p>Study results We determined for each of the three courses whether students had passed (1) or failed (0) their exam by means of the exam scores. The sum of the scores was used as a measure of performance. </p><p>Intelligence In order to determine the effect of perceived self-efficacy as accurately as possible, Wood &amp; Locke (1987) controlled for actual capabilities by means of an ability test. Because no such test is, as far as we know, available in the Netherlands, we controlled for intelligence. The averaged scores on a number of intelligence tests taken each year by first-year psychol- ogy students were used. These tests were given during collective test sessions, different from the sessions in which the other questions were posed. </p><p>Results </p><p>Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses. The correlation coeffi- cients were calculated first; the matrix is shown in Table 1. The table shows that there are no significant correlation coefficients between intelligence, SEM, (direction of) compari- son, and participants judgment of fellow students. However, there are significant correla- tion coefficients between SEM, comparison, participants judgment of fellow students, and </p></li><li><p>Perceived self-efficacy 469 </p><p>positive feelings of participants concerning their skills. The correlation between feelings and comparison is negative. Thus, positive feelings go hand in hand with downward com- parison. Only the variable feelings correlates significantly with the course results of participants. </p><p>Table 1. Correlation matrix for the relevant variables </p><p>Intelligence SEM Comparison Judgment Feelings fellow student </p><p>Course scores .o 1 .13 -.I0 .02 .32** </p><p>Judgment Feelings -.11 .27** -.26** .18** </p><p>fellow student -.I3 .01 -.03 Comparison -.I0 -.09 SEM -.08 </p><p>**p</p></li><li><p>470 A. Vrugt </p><p>Table 3. Regression of course scores on predictor variables </p><p>Order of entry R Beta t </p><p>1. Intelligence .003 .06 .75 </p><p>4. Comparison .I3 .02 .27 5. SEM x Comparison .15 -.7 1 - 1.49 6. Judgment fellow student .I5 -.03 -.44 </p><p>Total R=. 15 F(6,156)=4.32 w.001 </p><p>**p</p></li><li><p>Perceived self-eficacy 47 1 </p><p>ward comparison would contribute to a persons positive feelings concerning his or her skills. There is no evidence in support of this view. </p><p>Bandura (1 986, 1989) devoted a lot of attention in his theory to the relationship between perceived self-efficacy and observable behaviour. This kind of research usually also investi- gates behavioural effects. In the theory of and research on social comparison observable behaviour plays a less central role. In this field the affective effects of comparison processes are often studied. The theory in question assumes that social comparison processes influence observable behaviour via affective reactions. Both these approaches are combined in the present study, which investigates the academic performance of students. We expected that positive feelings concerning peoples course grades would link perceived self-efficacy, the direction of comparison and course scores. The results of this study support this view. Positive feelings about students own skills clearly influenced the course scores that were obtained; these feelings in turn were influenced by perceived self-efficacy and di...</p></li></ul>

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