I have previously talked about using mastery experiences as the primary means to bolster self-efficacy. As I described in the article, there are areas (i.e. personal records), where one might not technically experience mastery, although the experience of effort does contribute to a desensitization effect. This is precisely why we can combine other elements of Social Construct Theory to reinforce self-efficacy. Vicarious experience is another important concept worth visiting.
In accordance with Bandura’s Social Construct theory, vicarious experience is crucial to boosting self-efficacy.
Vicarious experience follows along the concept of “modeling”. Essentially, when we see someone else do something, it convinces us that the feat is possible and gives us increased self-efficacy to realize that we too, can achieve.
A classic example of this can be seen in the quest to break the 4-minute mark in the mile. In track and field, this feat was elusive enough that it was largely considered to be impossible – both physically and psychologically.
English runner Roger Bannister, a junior doctor at Oxford, sought to achieve this goal. Having finished a disappointing 4th in the 1500 meters at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Bannister made it a goal to become the best miler and the first person to run the event in under 4-minutes.
On May 6, 1954, Bannister did just that, running the distance in 3:59.4.
He was the first person to do this, yet Austrailian runner John Land beat his time a mere 46 days later. Within a year, a group of men had broken the 4-minute barrier.
Vicarious experience. By actually seeing Bannister break through the 4-minute barrier, this made it easy for other runners to believe that this goal was achievable.
Over the next few years, more and more people broke through the four-minute mark once they realized that yes, it was possible. Now, at the elite level, sub 4-minute miles are no big deal: Steve Scott has done it 136 times, and Hicham El Guerrouj’s World Record of 3:43.13 still stands (circa 1999).
But what about Bannister? If he had no one to model after, being the pioneer, then how did he get the self-efficacy to perform this feat?
Visualization can also act as vicarious experience.
Bannister might not have had a living person to model himself after, but he has documented in his autobiographies that he used visualization techniques relentlessly. He would picture components of the race in his mind, as well as the entire race, and he created vivid images of himself continuously succeeding in the event.