Albert Bandura is perhaps best known for his social learning theory, the concept of self-efficacy, and his famous Bobo doll experiments. Today, Bandura is often identified as the greatest living psychologist as well as one of the most influential psychologists of all time. Steve Haggbloom[1] (2002) listed Bandura as the 3rd most cited psychologist in Introduction to Psychology textbooks and the 5th most cited in psychology professional literature behind Freud, Piaget, Eysenck, and Winer. In 2014, President Obama awarded Bandura the National Medal of Science; he is Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, CA, where he began his career after earning his PhD at the University of Iowa.

Kendra Cherry[2] (2020) quoted Bandura: “The students had to take charge of their own education … the tools of self-directedness serve one well over time,” explaining how Bandura started his education in a small school house in Edmonton, Canada, with only one textbook and a couple of on-and-off high school teachers. With that humble start, Bandura’s interest in psychology was accidental, for while waiting to enroll in medical classes, he filled in his waiting time with available psychology courses and fell in love with that discipline (Cherry).

Bandura’s fascination with the Bobo doll surfaced his belief that observational learning comprised the elements of attention, retention, reciprocation, and motivation due to social influences as well as personal control. Cherry again quoted Bandura: “People with high assurance of their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.” This is the basis of his self-efficacy, defined by Bandura as “belief in one’s ability to succeed” – and this will grow. For Bandura, there was always reciprocal causation in his social cognitive theory in the reciprocal determinism of behavior, cognition, biological, and personal factors, all acting bidirectionally influencing one another (lesson 16 of Theories of Communication – ZeePedia.com).

This reciprocal determinism is exemplified in Bandura’s connection of self-efficacy and empathy. In a 2012 study by Jakob Eklund[3] “et al,”… authors found that “empathic self-efficacy had a positive association with prosocial behavior; empathic self-efficacy appears to be an important, largely overlooked antecedent to prosocial behavior.” This way of conceptualizing emotional self-efficacy is new. “A number of empirical studies have shown that empathy evokes prosocial motivation” (Eklund). … “Bandura et al. (1996) found that children who had a high sense of academic self-efficacy behaved more prosocially and were more popular than children with a low sense of academic self-efficacy. Emotional self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to understand and use emotional information.”

Eklund continues to explain that Bandura held that one’s “strong belief in his own capability to adequately respond to others’ feelings and needs, as well as to cope with interpersonal relationships, is critical for promoting successful adaption and well-being. High emotional self-efficacy makes it easier to engage oneself with empathy in others’ emotional experiences and resist social pressure to engage in antisocial activities.”

Bandura was well ahead of Daniel Goleman’s theory of emotional intelligence in which a person is able to identify the differences of his own and others’ emotions, so that empathy does not fall into the confusion of emotional ownership when dealing with understanding another’s situation. Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy teaches that the person with well-developed self-efficacy is more able to assist another person through compassion without losing one’s own identity in the process. This is clarified in Eklund’s note:

“Bandura et al. (2003) found that perceived self-efficacy for affect regulation (emotional self-efficacy) fundamentally mediated prosocial behavior by having an impact on both perceived academic self-efficacy and empathic self-efficacy. A strong sense of efficacy to manage one´s positive and negative emotional life contributed to perceived self-efficacy to take charge in one’s academic activities and to engage oneself with empathy in others’ emotional experiences. Perceived self-efficacy for affect regulation essentially operated mediationally through the later behavioral forms of self-efficacy rather than directly on prosocial behavior (Bandura et al., 2003).”

Bandura believed that the essence of humanness was a person’s “capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life.” This is human agency that Bandura calls “self-efficacy.” For him, to be an agent is to “intentionally make things happen by one’s actions.” “People do not live their lives in isolation. … Human functioning is rooted in social systems. … Indeed, a strong sense of personal efficacy to manage one’s life circumstances and to have a hand in effecting societal changes contributes substantially to perceived collective efficacy.”

Take away: The more we become more genuinely human, the more we lift those around us in authentic humanity. We effectively enhance one another’s lives as we enhance our own genuine humanness. We become agents of empathy.


[1] Haggbloom, Steve, (2002); The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century, Review of General Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 2, 139–152 – http://creativity.ipras.ru/texts/top100.pdf
[2] Cherry, Kendra, (2020), Albert Bandura’s Influence in the Field of Psychology, https://www.verywellmind.com/albert-bandura-biography-1925-2795537
[3] Eklund, Jakob, et al. (2012); WHO CARES ABOUT OTHERS?: EMPATHIC SELF-EFFICACY AS AN ANTECEDENT TO PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR Mälardalen University. (August 24, 2012) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4624/3cbc996ac0634cb353428074d691af9d5fce.pdf

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