Clinical III. Session 1

Please read Bandura’s article and summarize your understanding of the human agency

Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory
Albert B a n d u r a Stanford University

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A B S T R A C T : The present article examines the nature and
function o f human agency within the conceptual model o f
triadic reciprocal causation. In analyzing the operation
o f human agency in this interactional causal structure,
social cognitive theory accords a central role to cognitive,
vicarious, self-reflective, and self-regulatory processes. The
issues addressed concern the psychological mechanisms
through which personal agency is exercised, the hierar-
chical structure o f self-regulatory systems, eschewal o f the
dichotomous construal o f self as agent and self as object,
and the properties o f a nondualistic but nonreductional
conception o f human agency. The relation o f agent cau-
sality to the fundamental issues o f freedom and deter-
minism is also analyzed.

T h e recent years have witnessed a resurgence o f interest
in the self-referent p h e n o m e n a . O n e can p o i n t to several
reasons why self processes have c o m e to pervade m a n y
d o m a i n s o f psychology. Self-generated activities lie at the
very heart o f causal processes. T h e y n o t only c o n t r i b u t e
to the m e a n i n g a n d valence o f most external influences,
b u t they also f u n c t i o n as i m p o r t a n t p r o x i m a l determi-
nants o f motivation and action. T h e capacity to exercise
control over one’s own t h o u g h t processes, motivation,
and action is a distinctively h u m a n characteristic. Because
j u d g m e n t s and actions are partly self-determined, people
can effect change in themselves and their situations
t h r o u g h their own efforts. In this article, I will e x a m i n e
the m e c h a n i s m s o f h u m a n agency t h r o u g h which such
changes are realized.

The Nature and Locus of Human Agency
T h e m a n n e r in which h u m a n agency operates has been
conceptualized in at least t h r e e different w a y s – – a s either
autonomous agency, mechanical agency, or emergent in-
teractive agency. T h e notion that h u m a n s serve as entirely
i n d e p e n d e n t agents o f their own actions has few, i f any,
serious advocates. However, e n v i r o n m e n t a l determinists
sometimes invoke the view o f a u t o n o m o u s agency in ar-
g u m e n t s designed to repudiate a n y role o f self-influence
in causal processes.

A second a p p r o a c h to the self system is to t reat it
in t e r m s o f mechanical agency. It is an internal instru-
mentality t h r o u g h which external influences operate
mechanistically o n action, b u t it does not itself have a n y
motivative, self-reflective, self-reactive, creative, or self-
directive properties. In this view, internal events are
mainly p r o d u c t s o f external ones devoid o f a n y causal
efficacy. Because the agency resides in e n v i r o n m e n t a l

forces, the self system is merely a rep o si t o ry an d c o n d u i t
for t h em . In this c o n c e p t i o n o f agency, self-referent pro-
cesses are e p i p h e n o m i n a l b y – p r o d u c t s o f co n d i t i o ned re-
sponses t h at d o n o t enter into the determination o f action.
For the material eliminativist, self-influences d o n ot exist.
People are n o t intentional cognizers with a capacity to
influence their o w n m o t i v at i o n a n d action; rather, they
are neurophysiological c o m p u t a t i o n a l machines. Such
views fail t o explain the d e m o n s t r a b l e e x p l a n a t o r y and
predictive power o f self-referent factors t h at supposedly
are devoid o f causal efficacy o r d o n o t even exist.

Social cognitive t h e o r y subscribes t o a m odel o f
emergent interactive agency (Bandura, 1986). Persons are
neither a u t o n o m o u s agents n o r simply mechanical con-
veyers o f an i m at i n g e n v i r o n m e n t a l influences. Rather,
t h ey m a k e causal c o n t r i b u t i o n t o t h ei r o w n motivation
and action within a system o f triadic reciprocal causation.
In this m o d e l o f reciprocal causation, action, cognitive,
affective, an d o t h e r personal factors, a n d e n v i r o n m e n t a l
events all operate as interacting determinants. A n y ac-
c o u n t o f the d e t e r m i n a n t s o f h u m a n action must, there-
fore, include self-generated influences as a co n t ributing
factor. Em p i ri cal tests o f the m o d e l o f triadic reciprocal
causation are p resen t ed elsewhere an d will n o t be re-
viewed here ( W o o d & Bandura, in press). T h e focus o f
this article is o n the m e c h a n i s m s t h r o u g h which personal
agency operates within the interactional causal structure.

Exercise of Agency Through
Self-Belief of Efficacy
A m o n g the m e c h a n i s m s o f personal agency, n o n e is m o r e
central o r pervasive t h a n people’s beliefs a b o u t their ca-
pabilities t o exercise co n t ro l over events t h at affect their
lives. Self-efficacy beliefs fu n ct i o n as a n i m p o r t a n t set o f
p r o x i m a l d e t e r m i n a n t s o f h u m a n motivation, affect, and
action. T h e y operate o n action t h r o u g h motivational,
cognitive, an d affective intervening processes. S ome o f
these processes, such as affective arousal an d thinking
patterns, are o f considerable interest in their o wn right
an d n o t j u st as intervening influencers o f action.

Cognitive Processes

Self-efficacy beliefs affect t h o u g h t patterns t h a t m a y be
self-aiding o r self-hindering. These cognitive effects take
various forms. M u c h h u m a n b eh av i o r is regulated by
forethought e m b o d y i n g cognized goals, and personal goal
setting is influenced b y self-appraisal o f capabilities. T h e
stronger their perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goals
people set for themselves an d the firmer their c o m m i t m e n t

S e p t e m b e r 1989 • A m e r i c a n Psychologist
Copyright 1989 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0003-066X/89/$00.75
Vol. 44, No. 9, 1175-1184


to them (Locke, Frederick, Lee, & Bobko, 1984; Taylor,
Locke, Lee, & Gist, 1984; Wood & Bandura, in press).
As I will show later, challenging goals raise the level of
motivation and performance attainments (Locke, Shaw,
Saari, & Latham, 1981; Mento, Steel, & Karren, 1987).

A major function of thought is to enable people to
predict the occurrence of events and to create the means
for exercising control over those that affect their daily
lives. Many activities involve inferential judgments about
conditional relations between events in probabilistic en-
vironments. Discernment of predictive rules requires
cognitive processing of multidimensional information
that contains many ambiguities and uncertainties. In fer-
reting out predictive rules, people must draw on their
state of knowledge to generate hypotheses about predictive
factors, to weight and integrate them into composite rules,
to test their judgments against outcome information, and
to remember which notions they had tested and how well
they had worked. It requires a strong sense of efficacy to
remain task oriented in the face of judgmental failures.
Indeed, people who believe strongly in their problem-
solving capabilities remain highly efficient in their analytic
thinking in complex decision-making situations, whereas
those who are plagued by self-doubts are erratic in their
analytic thinking (Bandura & Wood, 1989; Wood & Ban-
dura, 1989). Quality of analytic thinking, in turn, affects
performance accomplishments.

People’s perceptions of their efficacy influence the
types of anticipatory scenarios they construct and reit-
erate. Those who have a high sense of efficacy visualize
success scenarios that provide positive guides for perfor-
mance. Those who judge themselves as inefficacious are
more inclined to visualize failure scenarios that under-
mine performance by dwelling on how things will go
wrong. Cognitive simulations in which individuals visu-
alize themselves executing activities skillfully enhance
subsequent performance (Bandura, 1986; Corbin, 1972;
Feltz & Landers, 1983; Kazdin, 1978; Markus, Cross, &
Wurf, in press). Perceived self-efficacy and cognitive sim-
ulation affect each other bidirectionally. A high sense of
efficacy fosters cognitive constructions of effective actions,
and cognitive reiteration of efficacious courses of action
strengthens self-perceptions of efficacy (Bandura &
Adams, 1977; Kazdin, 1979),

Self-efficacy beliefs usually affect cognitive func-
tioning through the joint influence of motivational and
information-processing operations. This dual influence
is illustrated in studies of different sources of variation
in memory performance. The stronger people’s beliefs in
their memory capacities, the more effort they devote to
cognitive processing of memory tasks, which, in turn,
enhances their memory performances (Berry, 1987).

Preparation of this article was facilitated by Public Health Research
Grant No. MH-5162-25 from the National Institute for Mental Health.
This article was presented as an invited address at the XXIV International
Congress of Psychology, Sydney, Australia, August 1988.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Al-
bert Bandura, Building 420, Jordan Hall, Stanford University, Stanford,
CA 94305.

Motivational Processes

People’s self-efficacy beliefs determine their level of mo-
tivation, as reflected in how much effort they will exert
in an endeavor and how long they will persevere in the
face of obstacles. The stronger the belief in their capa-
bilities, the greater and more persistent are their efforts
(Bandura, 1988a). When faced with difficulties, people
who are beset by self-doubts about their capabilities
slacken their efforts or abort their attempts prematurely
and quickly settle for mediocre solutions, whereas those
who have a strong belief in their capabilities exert greater
effort to master the challenge (Bandura & Cervone, 1983,
1986; Cervone & Peake, 1986; Jacobs, Prentice-Dunn,
& Rogers, 1984; Weinberg, Gould, & Jackson, 1979).
Strong perseverance usually pays off in performance ac-

There is a growing body of evidence that human
attainments and positive well-being require an optimistic
sense of personal efficacy (Bandura, 1986). This is because
ordinary social realities are strewn with difficulties. They
are full of impediments, failures, adversities, setbacks,
frustrations, and inequities. People must have a robust
sense of personal efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort
needed to succeed. Self-doubts can set in quickly after
some failures or reverses. The important matter is not
that difficulties arouse self-doubt, which is a natural im-
mediate reaction, but the speed of recovery of perceived
self-efficacy from difficulties. Some people quickly recover
their self-assurance; others lose faith in their capabilities.
Because the acquisition of knowledge and competencies
usually requires sustained effort in the face of difficulties
and setbacks, it is resiliency of self-belief that counts.

In his revealing book, titled Rejection, John White
(1982) provides vivid testimony that the striking char-
acteristic of people who have achieved eminence in their
fields is an inextinguishable sense of efficacy and a firm
belief in the worth of what they are doing. This resilient
self-belief system enabled them to override repeated early
rejections of their work. A robust sense of personal efficacy
provides the needed staying power.

Many of our literary classics brought their authors
repeated rejections. The novelist, Saroyan, accumulated
several thousand rejections before he had his first literary
piece published. Gertrude Stein continued to submit
poems to editors for about 20 years before one was finally
accepted. Now that is invincible self-efficacy. Such ex-
traordinary persistence in the face of massive uninter-
rupted rejection defies explanation in terms of either re-
inforcement theory or utility theory. James Joyce’s book,
the Dubliners, was rejected by 22 publishers. Over a dozen
publishers rejected a manuscript by e. e. cummings. When
his mother finally published it, the dedication, printed in
upper case, read: “With no thanks t o . . . ” followed by
the long list of publishers who had rejected his offering.

Early rejection is the rule, rather than the exception,
in other creative endeavors. The Impressionists had to
arrange their own art exhibitions because their works were
routinely rejected by the Paris Salon. Van Gogh sold only
one painting during his lifetime. Rodin was repeatedly

1176 September 1989 • American Psychologist

rejected by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The musical works
of most renowned composers were initially greeted with
derision. Stravinsky was run out of Paris by an enraged
audience and critics when he first served them the Rite
of Spring. Many other composers suffered the same fate,
especially in the early phases of their career. The brilliant
architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was one of the more widely
rejected architects during much of his career.

To turn to more contemporary examples, Hollywood
initially rejected the incomparable Fred Astaire for being
only “a balding, skinny actor who can dance a little.”
Decca Records turned down a recording contract with
the Beatles with the nonprophetic evaluation, “We don’t
like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.”
Whoever issued that rejective pronouncement must cringe
at each sight of a guitar.

It is not uncommon for authors of scientific classics
to experience repeated initial rejection of their work, often
with hostile embellishments if it is too discrepant from
the theories in vogue at the time. For example, John Gar-
cia, who eventually won well-deserved recognition for his
fundamental psychological discoveries, was once told by
a reviewer of his oft-rejected manuscripts that one is no
more likely to find the phenomenon he discovered than
bird droppings in a cuckoo clock. Verbal droppings of
this type demand tenacious self-belief to continue the tor-
tuous search for new Muses. Scientists often reject theories
and technologies that are ahead of their time. Because of
the cold reception given to most innovations, the time
between discovery and technical realization typically
spans several decades.

It is widely believed that misjudgment produces
dysfunction. Certainly, gross miscalculation can create
problems. However, optimistic self-appraisals of capability
that are not unduly disparate from what is possible can
be advantageous, whereas veridical judgments can be self-
limiting. When people err in their self-appraisals, they
tend to overestimate their capabilities. This is a benefit
rather than a cognitive failing to be eradicated. If self-
efficacy beliefs always reflected only what people could
do routinely, they would rarely fail but they would not
mount the extra effort needed to surpass their ordinary

Evidence suggests that it is often the so-called nor-
mals who are distorters of reality, but they exhibit self-
enhancing biases that distort appraisals in the positive
direction. The successful, the innovative, the sociable, the
nonanxious, the nondespondent, and the social reformers
take an optimistic view of their personal efficacy to ex-
ercise influence over events that affect their lives (Bandura,
1986; Taylor & Brown, 1988). If not unrealistically ex-
aggerated, such self-beliefs foster the perseverant effort
needed for personal and social accomplishments. The
findings of laboratory studies are in accord with the rec-
ords of human triumphs regarding the centrality of the
motivational effects of self-beliefs of efficacy in human
attainments. It takes a resilient sense of efficacy to override
the numerous dissuading impediments to significant ac-

Affective Processes
People’s beliefs in their capabilities affect how much stress
and depression they experience in threatening or taxing
situations, as well as their level of motivation. Such emo-
tional reactions can affect action both directly and indi-
rectly by altering the nature and course of thinking.
Threat is not a fixed property of situational events, nor
does appraisal of the likelihood of aversive happenings
rely solely on reading external signs of danger or safety.
Rather, threat is a relational property concerning the
match between perceived coping capabilities and poten-
tially aversive aspects of the environment.

People who believe they can exercise control over
potential threats do not conjure up apprehensive cogni-
tions and, therefore, are not perturbed by them. But those
who believe they cannot manage potential threats expe-
rience high levels of stress and anxiety arousal. They tend
to dwell on their coping deficiencies and view many as-
pects of their environment as fraught with danger.
Through such inefficacious thought they distress them-
selves and constrain and impair their level of functioning
(Bandura, 1988b, 1988c; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984;
Meichenbaum, 1977; Sarason, 1975).

That perceived coping efficacy operates as a cognitive
mediator of anxiety has been tested by creating different
levels of perceived coping efficacy and relating them at a
microlevel to different manifestations of anxiety. Perceived
coping inefficacy is accompanied by high levels of sub-
jective distress, autonomic arousal, and plasma cate-
cholamine secretion (Bandura, Reese, & Adams, 1982;
Bandura, Taylor, Williams, Mefford, & Barchas, 1985).
The combined results from the different psychobiological
manifestations of emotional arousal are consistent in
showing that anxiety and stress reactions are low when
people cope with tasks in their perceived self-efficacy
range. Self-doubts in coping efficacy produce substantial
increases in subjective distress and physiological arousal.
After perceived coping efficacy is strengthened to the
maximal level, coping with the previously intimidating
tasks no longer elicits differential psychobiological reac-

Anxiety arousal in situations involving some risks
is affected not only by perceived coping efficacy but also
by perceived self-efficacy to control intrusive perturbing
cognitions. The exercise of control over one’s own con-
sciousness is summed up well in the proverb: “You cannot
prevent the birds of worry and care from flying over your
head. But you can stop them from building a nest in your
head.” Perceived self-efficacy in thought control is a key
factor in the regulation of cognitively generated arousal.
It is not the sheer frequency of aversive cognitions but
the perceived inefficacy to turn them offthat is the major
source of distress (Kent, 1987; Salkovskis & Harrison,
1984). Thus, the incidence of aversive cognitions is un-
related to anxiety level when variations in perceived
thought control efficacy are controlled for, whereas per-
ceived thought control efficacy is strongly related to anx-
iety level when the extent of aversive cognitions is con-
trolled (Kent & Gibbons, 1987).

September 1989 • American Psychologist 1177

The role of perceived self-efficacy and anxiety arousal
in the causal structure ofavoidant behavior has also been
examined extensively. The results show that people base
their actions on self-perceptions of coping efficacy in sit-
uations they regard as risky. The stronger the perceived
coping efficacy, the more venturesome the behavior, re-
gardless of whether self-perceptions of efficacy are en-
hanced through mastery experiences, modeling influ-
ences, or cognitive simulations (Bandura, 1988b). Per-
ceived self-efficacy accounts for a substantial amount of
variance in phobic behavior when anticipated anxiety is
partialed out, whereas the relationship between antici-
pated anxiety and phobic behavior essentially disappears
when perceived self-efficacy is partialed out (Williams,
Dooseman, & Kleifield, 1984; Williams, Kinney, & Falbo,
in press; Williams, Turner, & Peer, 1985). In short, people
avoid potentially threatening situations and activities, not
because they are beset with anxiety, but because they be-
lieve they will be unable to cope with situations they re-
gard as risky. They take self-protective action regardless
of whether they happen to be anxious at the moment.
The dual control of anxiety arousal and avoidant behavior
by perceived coping efficacy and thought control efficacy
is revealed in analyses of the mechanisms governing per-
sonal empowerment over pervasive social threats (Ozer
& Bandura, 1989). One path of influence is mediated
through the effects of perceived coping self-efficacy on
perceived vulnerability and risk discernment, and the
other through the impact of perceived cognitive control
self-efficacy on intrusive aversive thoughts.

Perceived self-inefficacy to fulfill desired goals that
affect evaluation of one’s self-worth and to secure things
that bring satisfaction to one’s life can give rise to bouts
of depression (Bandura, 1988a; Cutrona & Troutman,
1986; Holahan & Holahan, 1987a, 1987b; Kanfer & Zeiss,
1983). When the perceived self-inefficacy involves social
relationships, it can induce depression both directly and
indirectly by curtailing the cultivation of interpersonal
relationships that can provide satisfactions and buffer the
effects of chronic daily stressors (Holahan & Holahan,
1987a). Depressive rumination not only impairs ability
to initiate and sustain adaptive activities, but it further
diminishes perceptions of personal efficacy (Kavanagh &
Bower, 1985). Much human depression is also cognitively
generated by dejecting ruminative thoughts (Nolen-
Hoeksema, 1987). Therefore, perceived self-inefficacy to
exercise control over ruminative thought figures promi-
nently in the occurrence, duration, and recurrence of de-
pressive episodes (Kavanagh & Wilson, 1988).

Other efficacy-activated processes in the affective
domain concern the impact of perceived coping efficacy
on basic biological systems that mediate health function-
ing (Bandura, in press-a). Stress has been implicated as
an important contributing factor to many physical dys-
functions. Controllability appears to be a key organizing
principle regarding the nature of these stress effects. Ex-
posure to physical stressors with a concomitant ability to
control them has no adverse physiological effects, whereas
exposure to the same stressors without the ability to con-

trol them impairs cellular components of the immune
system (Coe & Levine, in press; Maier, Laudenslager, &
Ryan, 1985). Biological systems are highly interdepen-
dent. The types of biochemical reactions that have been
shown to accompany perceived coping inefficacy are in-
volved in the regulation of immune systems. For example,
perceived self-inefficacy in exercising control over cog-
nitive stressors activates endogenous opioid systems
(Bandura, Cioffi, Taylor, & Brouillard, 1988). There is
evidence that some of the immunosuppressive effects of
inefficacy in controlling stressors are mediated by release
of endogenous opioids. When opioid mechanisms are
blocked by opiate antagonists, the stress of coping inef-
ficacy loses its immunosuppressive power (Shavit & Mar-
tin, 1987).

In the laboratory research demonstrating immu-
nosuppression through stress mediation, controllability
is studied as a fixed dichotomous property in which an-
imals either exercise complete control over physical
stressors, or they have no control whatsoever. In contrast,
most human stress is activated in the course of learning
how to exercise control over recurring cognitive and social
stressors. It would not be evolutionarily advantageous if
acute stressors invariably impaired immune function,
because of their prevalence in everyday life. Indeed, in a
recently completed project, my colleagues and I found
(Wiedenfeld et al., 1989) that stress aroused in the process
of gaining coping efficacy over stressors enhances immune
function. The rate of efficacy acquisition is a good pre-
dictor of whether exposure to acute stressors enhances or
suppresses immune function.

Selection Processes

People can exert some influence over their life course by
their selection of environments and construction of en-
vironments. So far, the discussion has centered on efficacy-
activated processes that enable people to create beneficial
environments and to exercise control over them. Judg-
ments of personal efficacy also affect selection of envi-
ronments. People tend to avoid activities and situations
they believe exceed their coping capabilities, but they
readily undertake challenging activities and select social
environments they judge themselves capable of handling.
Any factor that influences choice behavior can profoundly
affect the direction of personal development because the
social influences operating in the environments that are
selected continue to promote certain competencies, val-
ues, and interests long after the decisional determinant
has rendered its inaugurating effect. Thus, seemingly in-
consequential determinants can initiate selective associ-
ations that produce major and enduring personal changes
(Bandura, 1986; Snyder, 1986).

The power of self-efficacy beliefs to affect the course
of life paths through selection processes is clearly revealed
in studies of career decision-making and career devel-
opment (Betz & Hackett, 1986; Lent & Hackett, 1987).
The more efficacious people judge themselves to be, the
wider the range of career options they consider appropriate
and the better they prepare themselves educationally for

1178 September 1989 • American Psychologist

different occupational pursuits. Self-limitation of career
development arises more from perceived self-inefficacy
than from actual inability. By constricting choice behavior
that can cultivate interests and competencies, self-disbe-
liefs create their own validation.

It should be noted that the sociocognitive benefits
of a sense of personal efficacy do not arise simply from
the incantation of capability. Saying something should
not be confused with believing it to be so. Simply saying
that one is capable is not necessarily self-convincing, es-
pecially when it contradicts preexisting firm beliefs. No
amount of reiteration that I can fly will persuade me that
I have the efficacy to get myself airborne and to propel
myself through the air. Action tendencies vary with the
strength of self-beliefs of efficacy (Bandura, 1977). Efficacy
beliefs exhibit a gradient of strength as a function of tem-
poral and physical proximity to the relevant activity. One
must consider the height and slope of the efficacy gradient
and the threshold strength for acting on one’s self-belief.
These characteristics of a self-belief system are affected
by the authenticity of the efficacy information on which
they are based. Self-efficacy beliefs that are firmly estab-
lished are likely to remain strong regardless of whether
one is far removed from the taxing or threatening activities
or is about to perform them. Such beliefs are resilient to
adversity. In contrast, weakly held self-beliefs are highly
vulnerable to change: Self-doubts mount the nearer one
gets to the taxing activities (Kent, 1987; Kent & Gibbons,
1987), and negative experiences readily reinstate self-
disbelief in one’s capabilities.

Efficacy beliefs are the product of a complex process
of self-persuasion that relies on cognitive processing of
diverse sources of efficacy information. These include
performance mastery experiences, vicarious experiences
for judging capabilities in comparison with performances
of others, verbal persuasion and allied types of social in-
fluences indicating that one possesses certain capabilities;
and physiological states from which one may partly judge
one’s capabilities, strength, and vulnerability. Information
that is relevant for judging personal capabilities is not
inherently enlightening. Rather, in the self-appraisal of
efficacy these different sources of efficacy information
must be cognitively processed, weighed, and integrated
through self-reflective thought. Acting on one’s self-effi-
cacy judgment produces confirming or disconfirming ex-
periences that prompt further reappraisals of personal

Development of resilient self-efficacy requires some
experience in mastering difficulties through perseverant
effort. If people experience only easy successes, they come
to expect quick results and their sense of efficacy is easily
undermined by failure. Some setbacks and difficulties in
human pursuits serve a useful purpose in teaching that
success usually requires sustained effort. After people be-
come convinced they have what it takes to succeed, they
persevere in the face of adversity and quickly rebound
from setbacks. By sticking it out through tough times,
they emerge from adversity with a stronger sense of effi-

Exercise of Agency Through Goal
Another distinctive human characteristic through which
personal agency is exercised is the capacity of forethought.
People do not simply react to immediate environmental
influences like weathervanes, nor are they mechanically
steered by implants from their past. Most human behav-
ior, being purposive, is regulated by forethought. The fu-
ture time perspective manifests itself in many different
ways. People anticipate the likely consequences of their
prospective actions, they set goals for themselves, and
they plan courses of action likely to produce desired out-
comes. Through the exercise of forethought and self-reg-
ulative standards, they motivate themselves and guide
their actions anticipatorily. Theories that seek to explain
human behavior solely as the product of external influ-
ences or the remnants of past stimulus inputs present a
truncated image of human nature. This is because people
possess self-directive capabilities that enable them to ex-
ercise some control over their thoughts, feelings, and ac-
tions by the consequences they produce for themselves.
Psychosocial functioning is, therefore, regulated by an
interplay of self-produced and external sources of influ-

The capability for intentional and purposive action
is rooted in symbolic activity. Future events cannot be
causes of current motivation and action because that
would entail backward causation in which the effect pre-
cedes the cause. However, by being represented cognitively
in the present, conceived future events are converted into
current motivators and regulators of behavior. Action is
motivated and directed by cognized goals rather than
drawn by remote aims. Forethought is translated into
incentives and guides for action through the aid of self-
regulatory mechanisms.

Many theories of self-regulation are founded on a
negative feedback control model. This type of system
functions as a motivator and regulator of action through
a discrepancy reduction mechanism. Perceived discrep-
ancy between performance and an internal standard trig-
gets action to reduce the incongruity. In negative feedback
control, if performance matches the internal standard the
person does nothing. A regulatory process in which
matching a standard begets inertness does not character-
ize human self-motivation. Such a feedback control sys-
tem would produce circular action that leads nowhere.
Nor could people be stirred to action until they receive
feedback of a shortcoming. Although comparative feed-
back is essential in the ongoing regulation of motivation,
people can initially raise their level of motivation by
adopting goals before they receive any feedback regarding
their beginning effort (Bandura & Cervone, 1983). Neg-
ative feedback may help to keep them going on a preset
course, but from time to time they must transcend the
feedback loop to initiate new challenging courses for
themselves. Different self-regulatory systems operate in
the initiation and continued regulation of motivation.

Human self-motivation relies on discrepancy pro-

September 1989 • American Psychologist 1179

duction as well as on discrepancy reduction. It requires
both proactive control and reactive or feedback control.
People initially motivate themselves through proactive
control by setting themselves valued challenging standards
that create a state of disequilibrium and then mobilizing
their effort on the basis of anticipatory estimation of what
it would take to accomplish them. Feedback control
comes into play in subsequent adjustments of effort to
achieve desired results. After people attain the standard
they have been pursuing, those who have a strong sense
o f efficacy generally set a higher standard for themselves.
The adoption of further challenges creates new motivating
discrepancies to be mastered. Similarly, surpassing a
standard is more likely to raise aspiration than to lower
subsequent performance to conform to the surpassed
standard. Self-motivation thus involves a hierarchical dual
control process of disequilibrating discrepancy production
followed by equilibrating discrepancy reduction. An
evaluative executive control system with a proactive
c o m p o n e n t must therefore be superimposed on a negative
feedback operation that keeps changing aspirational
standards with progressive performance attainments. To
capture the complexity of human self-regulation, such
an executive control system must be invested with the
evaluative agentive properties shown to play an important
role in self-directedness. These properties are discussed

Goals operate largely through self-referent processes,
rather than regulating motivation and action directly.
These processes provide the links between goals and ac-
tion. Cognitive motivation based on goal systems is me-
diated by three types of self-reactive influences: (a) affec-
tive self-evaluation, (b) perceived self-efficacy for goal at-
tainment, and (c) ongoing readjustment of internal
standards. Goals create motivating involvement in activ-
ities by specifying the conditional requirements for pos-
itive self-evaluation. People seek self-satisfactions from
fulfilling valued goals and are prompted to intensify their
efforts by discontent with substandard performances.

Perceived self-efficacy is another self-referent factor
that plays an influential role in the self-regulation of mo-
tivation through goal systems. As previously noted, it is
partly on the basis of self-beliefs of efficacy that people
c h o o s e what challenges to undertake, how much effort to
expend in the endeavor, and how long to persevere in the
face of difficulties (Bandura, 1986, 1988a). In the face of
negative discrepancies between personal standards and
attainments, those who are assured of their capabilities
heighten their level of effort and perseverance, whereas
those who are beset by self-doubts about their capabilities
are easily dissuaded by failure. The goals people set for
themselves at the outset of an endeavor are subject to
change, depending on the pattern and level of progress
they are making (Campion & Lord, 1982). They may
maintain their original goal, lower their sights, or adopt
an even more challenging goal. Thus, the third constituent
of self-influence in the ongoing regulation of motivation
concerns the readjustment of internal standards in light
of one’s attainments. These self-referent influences op-

erating in concert account for the major share of variation
in motivation through goal systems (Bandura & Cervone,

In brief, the agentive properties of a self-motivational
control system must include (a) predictive anticipatory
control of effort, (b) affective self-evaluative reactions to
one’s performances rooted in a value system, (c) self-
appraisal of personal efficacy for goal attainment, and (d)
self-reflective metacognitive activity concerning the ade-
quacy of one’s efficacy appraisals and the suitability of
one’s standard setting. Evaluation of perceived self-effi-
cacy relative to task demands indicates whether the stan-
dards being pursued are within attainable bounds or are
unrealistically beyond one’s reach.

Exercise of Agency Through Anticipated
The ability to envision the likely outcomes of prospective
actions is another way in which anticipatory mechanisms
regulate human motivation and action. People strive to
gain anticipated beneficial outcomes and to forestall
aversive ones. However, the effects of outcome expectan-
cies on performance motivation are partly governed by
self-beliefs of efficacy. There are many activities that, if
performed well, guarantee valued outcomes, but they are
not pursued if people doubt they can do what it takes to
succeed (Beck & L u n d , 1981; Betz & Hackett, 1986;
Wheeler, 1983). Self-perceived inefficacy can thus nullify
the motivating potential of alluring outcome expectations.

The degree to which outcome expectations contrib-
ute to performance motivation independently of self-ef-
ficacy beliefs is partly determined by the structural re-
lation between actions and outcomes in a particular do-
main of functioning. In activities in which the level of
competence dictates the outcomes, the types of outcomes
people anticipate depend largely on their beliefs of how
well they will be able to perform in given situations. In
most social, intellectual, and physical pursuits, those w h o
judge themselves highly efficacious will expect favorable
outcomes, whereas those who expect poor performances
of themselves will conjure up negative outcomes. When
variations in perceived self-efficacy are partialed out, the
outcomes expected for given performances do not have
much of an independent effect on behavior (Barling &
Abel, 1983; Barling & Beattie, 1983; Godding & Glasgow,
1985; Lee, 1984a, 1984b; Williams & Watson, 1985). Ex-
pected outcomes contribute to motivation independently
of self-efficacy beliefs when outcomes are not completely
controlled by quality of performance. This occurs when
extraneous factors also affect outcomes, or outcomes are
socially tied to a minimum level of performance so that
some variations in quality of performance above and be-
low the standard do not produce differential outcomes.

Hierarchical Dual Control Mechanisms in the
Construction and Regulation of Action
As already noted, motivation is self-regulated through
the joint influence ofproactive and feedback mechanisms.
The same dual control operates in the construction and

1180 September 1989 • American Psychologist

regulation of complex patterns of behavior (Bandura,
1986, in press-b). Foresightful conceptions of actions
guide the production of appropriate behavior and provide
the internal standards for corrective adjustments in the
development of behavioral proficiency (Carroll & Ban-
dura, in press). These conceptions are formed on the basis
of knowledge gained through observational learning, in-
ferences from exploratory experiences, information con-
veyed by verbal instruction, and innovative cognitive
syntheses of preexisting knowledge. The mechanism for
transforming cognition into action operates through a
conception-matching process. This involves both trans-
formational and generative operations. Execution of a skill
must be constantly varied to suit changing circumstances.
Adaptive performance, therefore, requires a generative
conception rather than a one-to-one mapping between
representation and action. By applying an abstract spec-
ification of the activity, people can produce many vari-
ations on the skill.

Conceptions are rarely transformed into masterful
performance on the first attempt. Monitored enactments
serve as the vehicle for transforming knowledge into
skilled action. Performances are perfected by corrective
adjustments during behavior production until a close
match is eventually achieved between conception and ac-
tion (Carroll & Bandura, 1985, 1987). Because errors can
produce costly and injurious consequences, the prospects
of healthy survival would be bleak if people had to rely
solely on negative feedback to develop competencies.
Negative feedback operates as a complementary but sub-
ordinate mechanism in the process of action construction.

Dual control is similarly involved in the regulation
of preestablished modes of action. Forethought guides
the selection of actions, and the results produced by those
actions verify the adequacy of the chosen course. A system
of self-regulation combining proactive guidance with re-
active adjustments is best suited for adaptive functioning,
especially under changing circumstances. Psychological
theories that rely exclusively on a negative feedback model
provide only a fractional view of human self-regulation.

Human action is, of course, regulated by multilevel
systems of control. Cognitive guidance is critical during
the acquisition of competences (Carroll & Bandura, in
press). But after skills have been perfected, they no longer
require cognitive control. Their execution is largely reg-
ulated by lower level sensorimotor systems (Carroll &
Bandura, 1987). Partial disengagement of thought from
proficient action frees cognitive resources for other pur-
poses. If routinized behavior fails to produce expected
results, the cognitive control system again comes into play.
New courses of action are constructed and tested. Control
reverts to the lower control system after an adequate
means is found and becomes the habitual way of doing

The Power of Forethought to Override
Feedback Control
Human adaptation and survival depend increasingly on
the power of forethought to override immediate feedback

control of action. We now possess the capacity to create
technologies that can have pervasive effects n o t only on
current life but also on that of future generations. Many
technical innovations that provide current benefits also
entail hazards and cumulative harmful effects that can
eventually take a heavy future toll on human beings and
the environment.

The capacity to extrapolate future consequences
from known facts enables people to take corrective actions
to avert disastrous futures. It is the expanded time per-
spective and symbolization of futures afforded by cog-
nition that increase the prospects of human survival.
Had humans been ruled solely by immediate conse-
quences, they would have long ago destroyed most of the
ecological supports of life. Forethought often saves us from
the perils of a foreshortened perspective. However, the
power of anticipative control must be enhanced by de-
veloping better methods for forecasting distal conse-
quences and stronger social mechanisms for bringing
projected consequences to bear on current behavior to
keep us off self-destructive courses.

Distinction Between Self as Agent and
as Object
Social cognitive theory rejects the dichotomous concep-
tion of self as agent and self as object. Acting on the en-
vironment and acting on oneself entail shifting the per-
spective of the same agent rather than reifying different
selves regulating each other or transforming the self from
agent to object. In acting as agents over their environ-
ments, people draw on their knowledge and cognitive and
behavioral skills to produce desired results. In acting as
agents over themselves, people monitor their actions and
enlist cognitive guides and self-incentives to produce de-
sired personal changes. They are just as much agents in-
fluencing themselves as they are influencing their envi-

The same is true for metacognitive activity. In their
everyday transactions, people act on their thoughts and
later analyze how well their thoughts have served them
in managing events. However, the same person is doing
the operative thinking and later evaluating the adequacy
of his or her knowledge, thinking skills, and action strat-
egies. The shift in perspective does not transform an in-
dividual from an agent to an object. One is just as much
an agent reflecting on one’s experiences as in generating
and executing the original courses of action. The same
self performing multiple functions does not require cre-
ating multiple selves endowed with different roles.

Human Agency and Psychoneural Processes
Human agency does not imply psychophysical dualism.
Thoughts are higher brain processes rather than psychic
entities that exist separately from brain activities. Ide-
ational and neural terminology are simply different ways
o f representing the same cerebral processes. The view
that cognitive events are neural occurrences does not
mean that psychological laws regarding psychosocial
functioning are derivable from neurophysiological ones.

September 1989 • American Psychologist 1181

One must distinguish between biological laws governing
the mechanics o f cerebral systems and psychological laws
of how cerebral systems can be orchestrated to serve dif-
ferent purposes. Psychological knowledge of how best to
structure influences to create belief systems and personal
competencies is not derivable from knowledge of the
neurophysical mechanisms that subserve such changes.
Thus, understanding the brain circuits involved in learn-
ing does not tell one much about how best to present and
organize instructional contents, how to code them for
memory representation, and how to motivate learners to
attend to, cognitively process, and rehearse what they are
learning. Nor does understanding of how the brain works
furnish rules on how to create social conditions that cul-
tivate the skills needed to become a successful parent,
teacher, or executive. The optimal conditions must be
specified by psychological principles.

The influences needed to produce the neural oc-
currences underlying complex human behavior include
events external to the organism acting together with self-
generated ones. The laws of psychology specify how to
structure environmental influences and to enlist cognitive
activities to achieve given purposes. Although psycholog-
ical laws cannot violate what is known about the physi-
ological system that subserves them, they need to be pur-
sued in their own right. Were one to embark on the road
to reductionism, psychology would be reduced to biology,
biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics, with the
final stop in atomic particles. Neither atomic particles,
chemistry, nor biology will provide the psychological laws
of human behavior.

The construal of cognitions as cerebral processes
raises the intriguing question of how people come to be
producers of thoughts that may be novel, inventive, vi-
sionary, or that take complete leave of reality as in flights
of fancy. One can originate fanciful but coherent thoughts
as, for example, visualizing a hippopotamus gracefully
riding the waves on a surfboard. Similarly, one can get
oneself to cognize several novel acts and choose to execute
one of them. Cognitive production, with its initiating and
creative properties, defies explanation in terms of external
cueing of preexisting cognitive products. Neither situa-
tional cues, knowledge structures, conditioned responses,
nor prior brainwaves are likely to be highly predictive of
the specific forms fanciful thoughts will take. Emergent
cognitive events draw on existing cognitive structures but
go beyond them.

If thought processes are conceived of as cerebral
processes, the relevant question is not how mind and body
act on each other, but how people can bring into being
cognitive or cerebral productions. The issues of interest
concern the brain dynamics of cognitive generation. The
novel scenario of the surfing hippopotamus was produced
by the intentional exercise of personal agency. Intention-
ality and agency raise the fundamental question of how
people activate the cerebral processes that characterize
the exercise o f agency and lead to the realization of par-
ticular intentions. In addition to asking how people orig-
inate thoughts and actions, one may also ask the intriguing

question of how people occasion self-perceiving and self-
reflecting cognitive activities.

Human Agency, Freedom, and Determinism
The notion of human agency also raises the fundamental
issue of its relation to determinism. The term determinism
is used here to mean the production of effects by events,
rather than in the doctrinal sense that actions are com-
pletely determined by a prior sequence of causes inde-
pendent of the individual. When viewed from the per-
spective of social cognitive theory, there is no incompat-
ibility between human agency and determinism (Bandura,
1986). Freedom is not conceived negatively as the absence
of external coercion or constraints. Rather, it is defined
positively in terms of the exercise of self-influence. I have
already examined how the exercise of personal agency is
achieved through reflective and regulative thought, the
skills at one’s command, and other tools of self-influence
that affect choice and support selected courses of action.
Self-generated influences operate deterministically on
behavior the same way as external sources of influence
do. Given the same environmental conditions, persons
who have developed skills for accomplishing many options
and are adept at regulating their own motivation and be-
havior are more successful in their pursuits than those
who have limited means of personal agency. It is because
self-influence operates deterministically on action that
some measure of self-directedness and freedom is possible.

Those who argue that people do not exercise any
control over their motivation and action usually invoke
a selective regression of causes in the analysis of self-reg-
ulation. They emphasize that external events influence
judgments and actions, but neglect the portion of cau-
sation showing that the environmental events, themselves,
are partly shaped by people’s actions. Environments have
causes as do behaviors. In the model of reciprocal cau-
sation, people partly determine the nature of their envi-
ronment and are influenced by it. Self-regulatory func-
tions are personally constructed from varied experiences
not simply environmentally implanted. Although people’s
standards and conceptions have some basis in reality, they
are not just ingrafts of it. Through their capacity to ma-
nipulate symbols and to engage in reflective thought,
people can generate novel ideas and innovative actions
that transcend their past experiences. They bring influ-
ence to bear on their motivation and action in efforts to
realize valued futures. They may be taught the tools of
self-regulation, but this in no way detracts from the fact
that by the exercise of that capability they help to deter-
mine the nature of their situations and what they become.
The self is thus partly fashioned through the continued
exercise of self-influence.


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Discussion Board


1. 1. Based your PICO post from session #1, post a logic model (in an attached file) that you have created in relation to your field placement. The Logic Model should at least include Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes. Also include information on your quantitative method of measurement of your outcomes.

2. Provide specific feedback for at least two other students and cite your reading/source for providing the specific feedback


Directions: If you were to implement your logic model within your field placement, outline the steps you would take to implement the Logic Model. Who would you connect with first? How would you receive feedback? What mechanisms would you use to monitor its application? If you’ve already utilized a logic model within your field placement, describe the strengths and weaknesses of its implementation.

Sample Logic Models

Original Family Connections Program

NYC Family Connections Collaborative

Logic Model – Family Connections
Criteria and
Trained &
Intermediate Outputs
Emergency Assistance
Comprehensive Family
SMART Case Plan
Change Focused
Counseling & Advocacy
Case Plan Evaluation

Number of
who complete
Short-Term/ Intermediate Outcomes
Increase Protective Factors
Parenting Attitudes
Parenting Competence
Social Support

Decrease Risk Factors
Life Stress
Parenting Stress
Parental Depressive

Long-Term Outcomes
Increase child
Increase child
Increase child


Family Connections with Intergenerational Families

NYC – FCC Logic Model
Criteria and
Staff &
Intermediate Outputs
Emergency Assistance
(initial & ongoing)
Comprehensive Family
Assessment (4-6 weeks)
Outcome Driven Service Plans
(SMART goals) (6-8 weeks)
Minimum 1 hour per week
change focused intervention
Short-Term/ Intermediate Outcomes
Increase Protective Factors
Parenting Attitudes
Family Strengths/Functioning
Social Support
Family Resources
Home Safety & Stability

Decrease Risk Factors
Parental Stress
Caregiver Risks/Needs (FASP)
Child Risks/Needs (FASP)
Family Risks/Needs (FASP)

Long-Term Outcomes
Increase child

Evaluation of Change/
Case Closure(90 days post Plan)

Family Connections with Intergenerational Families
Besa or Diane


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