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Self-efficacy, gamification and Leadership

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare
that they are difficult.

Self-efficacy is another contribution studied from the Psychology which is interesting when we design gamification and especially when this is applied to the enterprise.

The concept of self-efficacy, suggested by Albert Bandura, is well known by psychologists and has generated plenty of research. However, it seems that it has not yet been well understood by those who should understand its practical impact, primarily by families, teachers and those responsible for managing people.

The idea of Self-efficacy self-efficacyis referred to the perception of the capabilities that one can have. It is based in the belief that having abilities and capabilities we can have success. Bandura (1986) made the hypothesis that the self-efficacy affects the choice of activities, the effort required to perform them, and the persistence of the person for its implementation.

In a simple way, we can say that according to our level of self-efficacy we decide if starting or not ac activity. Moreover, if I undertake an activity I will make the effort to do it with greater intensity than if I don’t feel myself like accomplishing it. Finally, if my beliefs about my own abilities to succeed are high, I will insist and will be more motivated to try it despite some initial failures.

According to Bandura, the way people interpret the results of their acts brings information about themselves and also about their personal beliefs and their interaction with the environment and at a time provide information about their performance later on. That is to say, high levels of self-efficacy can predict a better performance in the future.

But, the beliefs about our self-efficacy, ¿Where do they come from? Bandura affirms that they are a product from the interaction of four main sources:

  1. Previous experiences, the capital ones, mainly our successes or failures in situations or similar activities they will give us information on our own effectiveness on next occasions. If I’ve failed previously, my level of self-efficacy in that context and that activity will be low, therefore there will be little chance to perform this activity by self-initiative, given the case make I will make the required effort and finally I will persist in the event of a failure. On the contrary, I will succeed if my previous experiences are successful. One of the diverse learnings of the videogames is that they are designed so that the chances of success are high at the beginning, and that is why, in addition of a low difficulty, the first levels tend to give many clues on how to overcome the challenge in a correct way.
  1. The experiences through observation. In addition to our own experience, information that comes from seeing the success or failure in our reference models also influences our level of self-efficacy. If I see someone who has success or failure in some activity, it affects my own sense of self-efficacy. Given that the person who I see perceives it as comparable with me. This information is not as powerful as our own experience, but when it is scarce or not so relevant, can be an important source of information about the personal capabilities. For example, if I have never ridden a bike, but I see that a similar group to mine can learn easily, I will be more likely to learn how to do it.
  1. Verbal persuasion, the fact that the persons we trust are reliable and can inform us about our capabilities is an important source of self-efficacy, when we don’t have other references or when we need to contrast them. To improve the level of self-efficacy is a good idea that your teacher, your father or your boss says: “you can do it”, “you are able to do it”. However, is not a steady source, because if we fail, our level of self-efficacy will decrease and we will be frustrated afterwards. For this reason, the people who lead and teach must be careful to encourage and provide information about the capabilities at the same time exposing the person to tasks that truly have chances of success. In Gamification we would be talking about the levels of “input” (“onboarding”).
  2. Physiological states.A third source of information about the self-efficacy are our own physiological reactions when it comes to face the execution of certain tasks. States such as anxiety, stress, fatigue, etc., influence what we think, our feelings of suffocation, increased heartbeat, sweating, among others, and are associated with a poor performance, or a perception of incompetence or possible failure. On the other hand, the feeling of euphoria can positively alter this information about self-efficacy. In this case video games use emotional resources to induce changes in our physiological reactions: music, scenarios, messages… mostly because these games are often perceived as safe and comfortable environments, which reduces the possibility of unsolicited physiological changes.

If we take care of this sources for the self-efficacy we will have more probabilities of starting the avtivities with more energy, more motivation and persistence. These characteristics: initiative, energy and motivation, are the ones desirable for their sons and collaborators from the point of view of the parents, techars and managers, but are they really worried themselves for influencing the sources? What do they do to increase the self-efficacy level in those people?

What offers us the gamification is that we learn from video games and we can design input activities so that the players practice, learn and at the same time gain self-confidence. Thus it will easy to practice on the first levels and reach the following levels with a high sense of self-efficacy, from my own experience. But they will also have the success of people’s reference information as it happens in the classifications. In addition, they support successes from the beginning with positive information and verbal persuasion. And all in a comfortable and controlled environment, avoiding unnecessary stress and anxiety.

With all this, we manage to increase the levels of self-efficacy on the players. In other words, they will be encouraged, motivated and with confidence and resistance to frustration.

However, in reality, initially when we see the people who could most affect our levels of self-efficacy, it is normal to find scenes so professional like this:

“Hey you, see what you can do with this and see if this time you pay more attention and you have to be careful of not to ruin it. Don’t do the same of your colleague Andrés, who almost ruined us and narrowly killed himself.”

Thus, courage! Do you think that we are still learning from reality or from games?

Gamification, Psychology, and Suitcases on Wheels


In his book Gamification by Design Gabe Zichermann writes that gamification is 75% psychology and only 25% technology. We can understand technology to refer to programming and design, but what exactly can psychology bring to gamification? If we look at the most experimental psychology carried out in the 20th century we can see that it actually is highly and widely relevant to gamification.

The first attempts to turn psychology into an objective experimental science aimed which would allow it do get away from its more traditionally more speculative nature led psychologists to focus on observing behavior. And to do this they had to start off with something simple: a reflex – stimulus and response. From this angle the mind becomes a dark realm, a mysterious and impenetrable box, but it is possible to unravel it by looking at the effects of external elements (the stimulus) on it and observing how these are reflected in the person’s behavior (the response). The first experiments were carried out on animals, Paulov’s now famous dogs and his Classical Conditioning. And from here disciplines like Behaviourism and the psychology of learning started growing and getting more and more complex.

It was also observed that behaviours could be associated with reinforcements and if the latter were well designed and implemented you could end up with a powerful system for behavioural change. Thousands upon thousands of experiments in the world’s most prestigious psychology faculties continuously refined and expanded ideas concerning this behavioural psychology.

But the evolution of these ideas went further still, and the black box model was criticised. So psychologists started appearing who thought it necessary to look into this black box without straying to far from Behaviourism. They said thinking was a behaviour in itself and continued with the experimental model that included what’s called cognitive psychology. Thanks to this trend of thought we can learn, for example, how our expectations influence our decision to take part in a game, to accept a challenge or to interact with somebody. We start seeing concepts like self-efficacy, modelling and self-esteem, aspects that are essential to bear in mind to understand why people play and more generally why they behave the way they do; and therefore, in order to design any application that has the intention of influencing people’s behaviour to train them or motivate them.

But psychology was following a number of courses and humanist psychologists also appeared on the scene studying motivation and what moves people to action, why they act. Studies in these areas include those by Maslow and Herzberg, which are already seen almost as classic cultural heritage. And these scholars have also left behind them disciples who are continuing to delve into the minutiae of human motivation.

More recently studies have been published on the psychology of positive emotions, which explore the roots of what makes us feel good: why are people happy? What makes people feel good? Someone can work for one reason, but beyond this there is something that makes one person feel better than the other even if they are both in the same circumstances.

Alongside these studies are those by Seligman which deal with the concept of optimism, and the investigations and conclusions of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that led to his Flow Theory, a theory about happiness that curiously draws a connection between perfection and the experience of playing a game, whatever the game or culture. The “optimal experience”, he said, corresponds astonishingly with the experiences of people who play video games. And the great thing here is that we can design almost any human activity in such a way that we can achieve it just as we would in a game.

The various conclusions drawn from the field of psychology give us a huge number of concepts, experiments, data and statistics that we can use to understand what makes gamification work and even how to make it work better. But the most exciting thing of this union between psychology and games is the simplicity it suggests. We can get closer to real motivation and genuine personal improvement if we look at the most comprehensive model of game mechanics and dynamics: here we’re talking points, badges, levels and challenges instead of reflexes, motives, reinforcement, feedback, complexity, competences and expectations. This makes it easier to spread awareness of gamified design and make it more understandable. Of course, we could just as well call it “psychologicized” design, but few would disagree that to use the word “game” is inherently more appealing.

On the other hand, the most exciting thing is also that gamification per se is an experimental design. That is to say, a controlled environment in which we can analyse variables concerning its subjects objectively. This allows us to investigate and compare and contrast theories continually, which will most likely itself lead to many new theories. With gamification we are bringing the idea of a laboratory into the wider world. And the repercussions of this will hopefully be broadening of knowledge and benefits for humankind.

Making a connection between psychological theory and games is in itself innovative, and at the same time something simple, a bit like inventing a suitcase on wheels. Both the suitcase and the wheel already exists, but the revolutionary idea was to combine both concepts.

After all, who would ever think now of actually carrying their suitcase?

 Read the spanish versión

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