People see self-confidence as a key to success in many aspects of life. However, there is no exact answer to what could be described as self-confidence and how it could be utilized. This article describes self-confidence as it relates to a variety of groups, situations, environments, and skills and discusses how either a lack or, alternatively, an excess of self-confidence in a particular setting could hinder one’s success and why building up just the right amount of self-confidence is important.


A study about self-efficacy states that “People fear and tend to avoid threatening situations they believe exceeding their coping skills, whereas  they get involved in activities and behave assuredly when they judge themselves capable of handling situations that would otherwise be intimidating.” (Bandura, 1977). Self-confidence could be defined as awareness and concern for self–efficacy, making both terms related closely (Owens, 1993). Therefore, Bandura’s statement about self-efficacy could be expanded to self-confidence as well, and it is this fear or judging of capability that defines success or failure for many people in various contexts, academic or social.

People have different levels of self-confidence for different occasions. One can feel very confident on subjects he feels he is good at, but may have a complete lack of it on other subjects. A particle physicist may feel very comfortable in a physics conference, but he may feel stressed and incapable if he is forced to play basketball against a professional basketball player, whereas that basketball player may feel intimidated to go to a bar at night and randomly meet new people. A student at that bar, who has cheered the crowd the entire night may feel reluctant to answer a question from his particle physics professor the next day because of a fear of not knowing the correct answer. On a different setting, the same professor may want to leave a conference immediately and not come back due to a colleague’s discovery of a flaw in his paper, the same basketball player may wish not to play in a game against the best team in the NBA, and the same student may be very eager to answer a question in class after extensively reviewing the material the night before. This implies that self-confidence is not a linear, predictable trait.

Some factors affect one’s self-confidence at a given circumstance in addition to one’s judgment of their own abilities. Among these factors a person’s mental and emotional state, concerns about the environment and the interaction with society play a big role.

Mental and Emotional State

The time when one feels extremely tired after a long work-out session or is emotionally challenged due to a failing grade from a recent exam, or a recent break-up from a loved one, or another completely different reason is not a great time to start a class project which is perfectly within the limits of a person’s abilities. The soreness of the muscles and the brain’s desire to sleep and recover, or the emotional distress and the sorrow would make the person feel incapable of comprehending the reading material, solving questions, understanding the concepts and producing a meaningful result. Further in the project, the negative feedback coming from the lack of progress would ultimately force the person to abandon the project.

On the other hand being well rested, or a recent increase in happiness due to a gift from a loved person, an acceptance to the job or graduate school of dreams, or a simple good morning from a random person on the street may cause a person to find the courage to undertake a project that will introduce a reasonable stretch his ability and experience levels and may significantly increase his chance of getting a successful outcome.

Concerns about the Environment and Interaction with Society

Concerns about the environmental reaction, or anticipation of a positive or negative reaction from the environment directly affects a person’s self-confidence. A person who recently joins an established group would have a hard time finding the level of confidence to speak up on an issue that he feels comfortable, and would otherwise would have explained and defended his opinions on the issue. Moreover, a person could still have varying levels of self-confidence to speak up on an issue even he is a member of a group for a long time. If a student is ridiculed by his classmates about a question he asks in class, he would probably not build enough confidence to ask another question later on and prefer not understanding the subject completely. However, if the same student gets an agreement from class or an approval from a professor for his questions, he would feel encouraged and would be able to ask further questions that he would not have planned before.

In a society, some predefined roles for people of certain age, gender, and background have effects on self-confidence as well. Such an example is women in science and technical disciplines such as engineering. In fields of science and technical jobs many women lose their self-esteem and feel that they are less capable than others and give up looking for jobs. One of the reasons for that is the role that they learned from their parents that girls should be quiet and should not be bragging about their achievements. (Teague, 1992) Similar gender, age or background issues keep people less self-confident than they should be for certain areas of workforce.

Examples and Implementation

Self-confidence in College Students

A study conducted among 107 college first year students from various backgrounds in City University of New York found that self-efficacy has positive effect on first-semester academic success and is the most successful predictor GPA. (Zajacova, 2005) The study further notes that the relevant self-confidence levels of students depend on background of the students, and is inversely related to their stress levels throughout the course. The more stressful tasks they undertake the less self-confident they feel. But there is no doubt that raising the self-confidence of college students would help their academic success (this example requires more description to make an impact, or a set of examples to really strengthen the point you are making).

Self-confidence in Social Life and Professional Life

Self-confidence in a person’s social life and academic life may not be at similar levels, but a boost of confidence in one of them would positively affect self-confidence in the other.

Self-confidence and Gender

One of the most important factors that effect self-confidence is the gender. Although, it is not clear the reasons for different self-confidence levels for genders are cultural or evolutionary, studies document the presence of the difference. A study investigated the behaviors that define self-confidence in competitive situations with regard to the actual ability of the opponent, the person’s perception of the ability of the opponent, and the gender of the person and the opponent.  The competitive action was chosen to be a TV ping-pong game, where both genders had no specific advantage against each other. The study has found that females shown the same self-confidence as males after a game against whom they thought had a poor ability, but lost more of their  self-confidence after a game against whom they perceived to have a superior ability than the males. (Corbin, 1981). This showed that a specific gender may be more inclined to lose self-confidence based on individual events, where another gender may be able to retain their self-confidence for a longer period of what they perceive as failures.

Case Study

Self-efficacy and Risk Taking

Perhaps the most important result of self-confidence is risk taking behavior. Risk taking, when applied properly, is a key factor on improving oneself and pushing one’s limits for a bigger success.

If a person avoids to take certain risks and always wants to work at a safe level, where the challenge is only up to a certain portion of that person’s abilities, he will never not be able to have a success that his abilities and skills could entitle him to. M oreover since he is not pushing himself outside of his comfort zone , he will not have an opportunity to expand his skillset and experience to take on a bigger challenge next time. Maybe he will very rarely experience failure, but his progression of success will advance minimally.

I believe that a healthy level of risk-taking will introduce new opportunities to improve the abilities and skill set of a person by pushing him right above his limits and encourage him to improve. The journey may sometimes be frustrating and some failure could be experienced, but the level of these would be recoverable. Unhealthy risk taking, on the contrary would result in a huge amount of stress and perhaps an unrecoverable failure conditions, which will damage a person’s self-confidence even further.

Krueger’s study on 153 students in business-major about self-efficacy and risk taking ties self-confidence and self-efficacy to risk taking. It is conducted by giving the subjects eight dilemma and gamble (choosing a risky option versus a non-risky option for each question) type questions, giving them feedback from a ‘manager’ that would either positively or negatively feedback subjects’ dilemma and gamble decisions to boost or lessen their self-efficacy and making the subjects take the similar questions for a second round to measure how their risk taking behavior changes. As can be seen from Table 1, the risk taking behavior of the subjects increase after positive feedback and decrease after negative feedback, parallel to their recently changed levels of self-confidence on subject. For simplicity, we have only used the means and difference of means for gamble type of questions from the original results and chosen dilemma feedback to be positive for both cases (Krueger, 1994). Positive feedback on gamble scores results in a positive risk taking score for second round, whereas negative feedback causes a negative score.

Table 1

Change in mean risk taking behavior of subjects according to feedback. Source: Krueger (page xx, 1994).

Gamble Feedback Dilemma Feedback Mean Risk taking scores of gambles Mean Difference Scores Between Rounds
Round 1 Round 2
Positive Positive 3.1 3.5 + 0.4
Negative Positive 3.7 3.1> - 0.6

Application to Senior Project

The Scarlet Team‘s project, Delay Tolerant Networks for Autonomous Robots and Electrical Vehicles project, focuses on establishing a reliable connection for information exchange between vehicles, robots, and various stationary points such as charging stations and includes planning routes to such places whenever a need is raised. If the car that the person is driving is low in energy it would suggest the nearest or most suitable place and autonomously guide the vehicle there. In this case, the operator’s trust to the system should be more than his self-confidence. If the operator feels like he can find a better charging station with a shorter route with less traffic, he would not use the system and override, as drivers sometimes ignore the instructions from their handheld GPS devices if they believe that they are confident to navigate in the area that is familiar. However if the system is working satisfactorily, he may just want to relax and sit-back while the vehicle is taking care of the necessity even in an area that he may feel fully self-confident if he needs to navigate manually. A further study of comparison of trust of automation to self-confidence is suggested as a recommended reading.

Another aspect of self-confidence is about the process of completing the project. Our project is essentially a complex test system that integrates several sub-projects in different areas of the technical field, such as Java and Android development, image processing, embedded systems programming, mechanical ability, circuit design, and system design. Team members may tend to concentrate less on and underestimate the difficulties with the aspects of the projects that they have worked on and they feel proficient with due to their elevated levels of self-confidence in the area. This over self-confidence may lead the team to appoint less time, effort, and a less structured approach towards those areas of the project and problems that arise at the integration and testing phase because of these areas may be difficult to fix and affect the entire success of the project.

Cited References

  • Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215. DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191
  • Corbin, C. B. (1981). Sex of subject, sex of opponent, and opponent ability as factors affecting self-confidence in a competitive situation. Journal of Sport Psychology, 3(4), 265-270. Retrieved from http://journals.humankinetics.com/jsep-back-issues/JSEPVolume3Issue4December
  • Krueger, N.,Jr, & Dickson, P. R. (1994). How believing in ourselves increases risk taking: Perceived self-efficacy and opportunity recognition. Decision Sciences, 25(3), 385. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5915.1994.tb00810.x
  • Owens, T. (1993). Accentuate the Positive-and the Negative: Rethinking the Use of Self-Esteem, Self-Deprecation, and Self-Confidence. Social Psychology Quarterly, 56(4), 288 – 299. JSTOR Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2786665
  • Joy Teague. 1992. Raising the self-confidence and self-esteem of final year female students prior to job interviews. SIGCSE Bull. 24, 1 (March 1992), 67-71. DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/135250.134525
  • Anna Zajacova, Scott M. Lynch and Thomas J. Espenshade (Sep., 2005). Self-Efficacy, Stress, and Academic Success in College. Research in Higher Education, 46(6), 677-706 JSTOR Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40197441

Additional Sources / Recommended Reading

  • Peter de Vries, Cees Midden, Don Bouwhuis. The effects of errors on system trust, self-confidence, and the allocation of control in route planning, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Volume 58, Issue 6, June 2003, Pages 719-735, ISSN 1071-5819. DOI: 10.1016/S1071-5819(03)00039-9
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