• Question: I have twins (boy and girl) in year 8. They have the same family life but very different personalities. They are doing exams, the boy has done little revision but knows the topics and has done well, the girl has spent hours revising and not doing so well. Effort does not breed results. I believe (although not scientific) that they are both equality intelligent. I believe it might be to do with confidence. Is there any research on the effect of confidence on learning? Mark Cavendish a famous cyclist said that he rode better when his confidence was high and people have told him how good he is. Do students work better when they feel they are going to do well? What about middle of the range students how do you improve their confidence? (if relevant). Any research in how to improve confidence in an unconfident person to help learning?

    Asked by sarah2 to Yvonne, Yana, Shirley, Richard, Naomi, modsu, modkathryn, Mike, Lucía, Linda, Kinga, Gaia, Efrat, David, Anna on 25 May 2018.
    • Photo: Su Morris

      Su Morris answered on 25 May 2018:


      Thanks for the really interesting question.
      I would agree that anecdotally performance does appear to be enhanced when confidence is high – the England cricket team could be a great example! But it’s important to have a clear understanding of what factors are actually having an impact, particularly in learning which is such a complex activity.

      There are a few different terms that have similar, but quite distinct, meanings:
      Self-esteem refers to general feelings about yourself.
      Self-efficacy refers to your own belief in your ability to successfully undertake a particular task.
      Self-confidence is a combination of both self-esteem and self-efficacy.

      From looking at the research, it appears that these might have slightly different relationships with learning. This blog sets out some of the research in this area, and suggests that boosting self-esteem may not have the desired positive effects on learning, however self-efficacy does have a positive impact – https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/self-efficacy-and-learning/

      Here is a study (from the field of medical education) which summarises research over the past 3 decades on this issue – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3540350/pdf/40037_2012_Article_12.pdf
      I think this quote from the article sums up the importance of self-efficacy rather well – “It is not enough for individuals to possess the requisite knowledge and skills to perform a task; they also must have the conviction that they can successfully perform the required behavior(s) under typical and, importantly, under challenging circumstances.”

      It may be that poor self-efficacy in particular fields (eg maths) may eventually lead to subject-specific anxiety. There are several studies looking at the impact of maths anxiety, such as this one – https://hpl.uchicago.edu/sites/hpl.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Ramirez%20et%20al%2C%202013.pdf These researchers went on to look at ways of supporting those who felt anxious, and found that those students who classed themselves as anxious and spent 10 minutes writing about these anxieties, performed better than anxious students who wrote about something unrelated. “It was suggested that writing about their anxieties, and therefore acknowledging them, helped to control the associated emotions.” (from Richard Churches, Eleanor Dommett, and Ian Devonshire’s book, ‘Neuroscience for Teachers’ p.19).

      In terms of how we can use this relationship between self-efficacy and learning, to improve learning and performance – this article has some suggestions in the summary section on p2 – https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ767452.pdf. And this article has some further suggestions – http://psychlearningcurve.org/self-efficacy-in-the-classroom/
      And if students find that feeling nervous or stressed about exams has a negative impact on performance, it might be that ‘writing it out’ beforehand (as in the example above relating to maths anxiety) can have a positive impact.

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