This week I have been reading more about Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy for one of my classes. Self-efficacy – our beliefs about our capabilities to do something – can support how well we approach tasks. Believing we possess necessary capabilities can help provide a sense of control, which can influence whether or not we chose to go ahead with something, the amount of effort we expend, and how long we persevere. If we believe we don’t have the capabilities to succeed at something, then we may perceive things to be ‘out of our control.’

Bandura (my “celebrity”) writes: “control is central to human lives…people’s level of motivation, affective states, and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true” (p. 2).

In one course last semester, we discussed primary vs secondary control. Bandura also examined primary control – efforts to change your existing environment – and secondary control – accommodating to your environment. For example: people may first try to change their circumstances, and when that fails, they resign themselves to fitting in/ dealing with it (p. 29).

His theory goes beyond “effort, ability, luck, and the influence of powerful others or unknown factors” and views our effective exercise of control as requiring the orchestration of knowledge, skills, and resources to manage changing situations. (p. 27). But this depends on how well we use our resources and if our resources are useful and appropriate.

Yesterday, my professor used an SNL skit as an exaggerated example of people with high self-efficacy – people who believe they have the capabilities to succeed at something – but without the actual skill. Such a funny example – Click here to view the SNL skit via YouTube 🙂

I am a visual learner, so I also searched for interesting TED talks on control.

And found one by Bruce Schneier: The security mirage.

Interesting food for thought.

Here are some highlights (but I encourage you to watch the whole talk – it is only 20 minutes long).

people underestimate risks in situations they do control and overestimate them in situations they don’t control. So once you take up skydiving or smoking, you downplay the risks. If a risk is thrust upon you — terrorism was a good example — you’ll overplay it because you don’t feel like it’s in your control.

This is an interesting perspective – when looked at in relation to motivational theories. The idea of risk assessment and real control.

Control is what security is all about – or security is all about control? Our media does do a good job of bringing out our ‘need’ (?) to control, especially with regard to the unknown or “possible” threats – the un-controllable?

Bruce talks about feelings versus reality, but in a modern and complex world, you need models to understand a lot of the risks we face. There’s no feeling about germs.we couldn’t have a germ theory of disease before we invented the microscope to see them.

  • Funny story…For our in-flight movie while recently travelling to Mexico, we decided to challenge our (self-diagnosed) germ-a-phobic tendencies by choosing to watch Contagion. It was our own attempt at exposure therapy 🙂

A medical perspective on “Contagion” actually concluded that it was “an excellent movie willing to allow science to prevail over drama”… yikes…and I was hoping it was all Hollywood fiction…!

So… the spread of diseases is also something we want to control – and some make it their life’s work. Some of us (ah-hem…) try – believing they have the ability to control whether or not they get sick by using hand sanitizer…whereas others, see little use in trying because it is just something we can’t control.

Anyways, back to Bruce…(who also talks about health scares):

Models can come from the media, from our elected officials. Think of models of terrorism, child kidnapping, airline safety, car safety. Models can come from industry.. quite a lot of our computer security models come from there. A lot of models come from science. Health models are a great example. Think of cancer, of bird flu, swine flu, SARS. All of our feelings of security about those diseases come from models given to us, really, by science filtered through the media. So models can change. Models are not static. As we become more comfortable in our environments, our model can move closer to our feelings.

So I guess once we begin to feel secure in the idea that ‘it’ is controllable by others, we just adapt (secondary control). Or perhaps others don’t become comfortable, and so they seek social change (primary control). In these situations, ones that involve risks, health or security scares, I think it is important to have both…to avoid chaos or constant panic.

Here’s more from Bruce:

…“as your model is close to reality, and it converges with feelings, you often don’t know it’s there. So a nice example of this: when swine flu first appeared, the initial news caused a lot of overreaction. Now it had a name, which made it scarier than the regular flu, even though it was more deadly. And people thought doctors should be able to deal with it. So there was that feeling of lack of control. And those two things made the risk more than it was. As the novelty wore off, the months went by, there was some amount of tolerance, people got used to it. There was no new data, but there was less fear”

Fear…that can be a motivating force as well.

“if you go back 100 years ago when electricity was first becoming common, there were a lot of fears about it…people who were afraid to push doorbells…our model of security around electricity is something we were born into. It hasn’t changed as we were growing up. And we’re good at it. Or think of the risks on the Internet across generations — how your parents approach Internet security, versus how you do, versus how [your] kids will. Models eventually fade into the background. Intuitive is just another word for familiar.”

That’s one reason why I chose to post on this topic….electronic security…the idea of being able to control who and how your personal information is used…

While still in Mexico (enjoying the much-appreciated Gift), this email was sent to me from UVic:

“During a break-in at the Administrative Services Building over the weekend of January 7th and 8th, a safe, electronic devices and personal information were stolen.  This incident is being investigated by Campus Security and the Saanich police.  As a result of the break-in, another party may have acquired some of your personal information.

The stolen personal information consisted of the name of employee, social insurance number, employee number, bank account information for employee direct deposit (name of bank, account number and bank transit number), and latest payroll information.  This information is collected and used for payroll purposes.  

There has been no indication at this time that this personal information has been accessed or misused.  However, the university is treating this incident very seriously.  We encourage you to do so as well”…


So… I – along with 11,000+ others in the UVic payroll system within the past 2 years – have had to contact organizations about protecting personal bank and social insurance information. I never knew such organizations (e.g., Equifax) existed… and after several phone calls, I still haven’t convinced them that I exist…that “I am who I say I am.” There are two more steps I have to do – involving ‘old’ means of communication: fax and snail mail – but at least there is now a red alert on my ‘identity.’

But – in my “glass is half-full” style – I guess it is a good thing (?) that it is hard to prove ‘who I am,’ because I can assume (hope) that someone attempting to misuse my identity will have an even more difficult time?

So, since then, issues relating to control, security, and identity have been swirling around in my head (…along with matrix algebra for statistics…and a sinus cold – proof that I really can’t ‘control’ my exposure to germs…).

When vacationing out of the country, I was conscious of my identity as a Canadian, and also took security measures to protect my ID (i.e., keeping my passport in the hotel room safe).

As we all know, travelling to and from Canada also involves participation in several security checks. This last trip involved another first for me – my hands were swabbed and the cotton material was scanned – for explosives. I was the only one in the line randomly chosen. I wonder if my DNA from that swab will be kept on file – another way to track my identity perhaps? (…maybe I have seen too many CSI episodes…). Within Canada, I experienced an interesting security check at the CN Tower with Jane – we each went through a chamber that blew ‘puffs of air’ on us (apparently also looking for powder from explosives).

On our way home from Mexico (a much-appreciated Gift), I also experienced another first: having my eyes scanned! My identity was confirmed (in ‘Mission Impossible’ fashion) so I could proceed through a shorter customs line.

So here I am. Writing an electronic post with a link to a TV skit, quotes linked to a TED talk online, sharing my thoughts on the Internet in response to a security breach where my personal information (stored electronically) was stolen…

We can only ‘control’ so much. But our beliefs in our capabilities can provide some control over whether or not we chose to do something – and consequently the resources we use to achieve a goal.

Or if we want to, we can worry about everything that is beyond our control. I could choose (..after watching Contagion…) to stay in my home, communicate only online; never to shake hands with another person or to fly in an airplane again.

But I choose to trust – cautiously – while being armed with as much reliable information as possible.

So, with some final words from Bruce:

information seems like our best hope” in dealing with the changing realities in our technological (…and sometimes dysfunctional) world

And from Bandura: our self-efficacy beliefs are constructed from four principle sources of information (p. 79) but I’ll save my thoughts on these 4 sources for another post.


PS. Although, identity theft is NOT funny… I do recall some humorous TV commercials a few years ago that drew attention to this matter. For fun: search YouTube for ‘Citibank identity theft commercials’ to see a few 🙂

*And for one more perspective, specifically on controlling your ‘identity’ – Government of Canada: Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (2011-08-16):

…“There is no reason to be paranoid; there’s just reason to be careful.  If someone wants desperately to target you, they can probably get a lot of information about you — so you just need to minimize the criminal’s opportunities to get that information.  You can make yourself a harder target and that is the best defense.  If you are a victim, do not panic, in most cases you will not be out any money.  When you’ve been careful about disclosing your personal information the losses will likely be attributed to the banks and or companies associated with the fraud.

Minimize The Risk While you probably can’t prevent identity theft entirely, you can minimize your risk.  Identity theft is on the rise and it can happen to anyone.  It can happen to you. By managing your personal information wisely, cautiously and with an awareness of the issue, you can help guard against identity theft.”

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