Early applications of social cognitive theoretical principles of self-regulation involved investigating the operation of three processes: self-observation (or self-monitoring), self-judgment, and self-reaction (Bandura, 1986 ; Table 10.2 ). Notice the similarity of these to the three processes espoused by behavior theory: self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.
Students enter learning activities with such goals as acquiring knowledge and problem-solving strategies, finishing assignments, and performing experiments. With these goals in mind, students observe, judge, and react to their perceived progress. These processes are not mutually exclusive, but rather interact with one another.
Self-observation involves judging observed aspects of one’s behavior against standards and reacting positively or negatively. People’s evaluations and reactions set the stage for additional observations of the same behavioral aspects or others. These processes also do not operate independently of the environment (Zimmerman, 1989 , 1990 , 2000 ). Students who judge their learning progress as inadequate may react by asking for teacher assistance, which alters their environment. In turn, teachers may instruct students in a more efficient strategy, which students then use to promote their learning. That environmental influences (e.g., teachers) can assist the development of self-regulation is important, because educators advocate that students be taught self-regulatory skills (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994 , 1998 , 2008 ).
Self-observation is conceptually similar to self-monitoring and is commonly taught as part of self-regulatory instruction (Lan, 1998 ; Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 1996 ); however, by itself self-observation usually is insufficient to self-regulate behavior over time. Standards of goal attainment and criteria in assessing goal progress are necessary.
Self-judgment refers to comparing present performance level with one’s goal. Self-judgments depend on the type of self-evaluative standards employed, properties of the goal, importance of goal attainment, and attributions.
Self-evaluative standards may be absolute or normative. Absolute standards are fixed; normative standards are based on performances of others. Students whose goal is to read six pages in 30 minutes gauge their progress against this absolute standard. Grading systems often reflect absolute standards (e.g., A = 90–100, B = 80–89).
Normative standards frequently are acquired by observing models (Bandura, 1986 ). Socially comparing one’s performances with those of others is an important way to determine the appropriateness of behaviors and self-evaluate performances. Social comparison becomes more probable when absolute standards are nonexistent or ambiguous (Festinger, 1954 ). Students have numerous opportunities to compare their work with that of their peers. Absolute and normative standards often are employed in concert, as when students have 30 minutes to read six pages and compare their progress with peers to gauge who will be the first to finish.
Standards inform and motivate. Comparing performance with standards indicates goal progress. Students who read three pages in 10 minutes realize they have finished half of the reading in less than half of the time. The belief that they are making progress enhances their self-efficacy, which sustains their motivation to complete the task. Similar others, rather than those much higher or lower in ability, offer the best basis for comparison (Schunk, 1987 ).
Schunk ( 1983b ) compared the effects of social comparative information with those of goal setting during a division training program. Half of the children were given performance goals during each instructional session; the other half were advised to work productively. Within each goal condition, half of the students were told the number of problems other similar children had completed (which matched the session goal) to convey that goals were attainable; the other half were not given comparative information. Goals enhanced self-efficacy; comparative information promoted motivation. Children who received both goals and comparative information demonstrated the highest skill acquisition.
Davidson and Smith ( 1982 ) had children observe a superior adult, equal peer, or inferior younger child set stringent or lenient task standards. Children who observed a lenient model rewarded themselves more often for lower scores than those who observed a stringent model. Children’s self-reward standards were lower than those of the adult, equal to those of the peer, and higher than those of the younger child. Model–observer similarity in age might have led children to believe that what was appropriate for the peer was appropriate for them.
Observation of models affects self-efficacy and achievement behaviors ( Chapter 4 ). Zimmerman and Ringle ( 1981 ) exposed children to an adult model who unsuccessfully attempted to solve a wire puzzle for a long or short period and who verbalized statements of confidence or pessimism. Children who observed a pessimistic model persist for a long time lowered their efficacy judgments. Perceived similarity to models is especially influential when observers experience difficulties and possess self-doubts about performing well (Schunk & Hanson, 1985 ; Schunk, Hanson, & Cox, 1987 ).