Citekey: @zimmerman1999social

Zimmerman, B. J. (1999). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, M. Zeidner, & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation. Elsevier Science. Retrieved from


Key take-aways:

  • Triad: “A social cognitive perspective is distinctive in viewing self-regulation as an interaction of personal, behavioral, and environmental triadic processes”
  • Cyclical phases: “From a social cognitive perspective, self-regulatory processes and accompanying beliefs fall into three cyclical phases: forethought, performance or volitional control, and self-reflection processes”
  • Developmental Levels of Regulatory Skill: Observation, Emulation, Self-control, Self-regulation


This chapter will define self-regulation and will discuss the structure of self-regulatory systems, social and physical environmental context influences on self-regulation, dysfunctions in selfregulation, and self-regulatory development. (p. 1)


A social cognitive perspective is distinctive in viewing self-regulation as an interaction of personal, behavioral, and environmental triadic processes (Bandura, 1986). (p. 1)

Selfregulation refers to self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals. (p. 2)

This personal agency formulation also differs from metacognitivc views of self-regulation that emphasize only knowledge states and deductive reasoning when, for example, choosing cognitive strategies. Although metacognition plays an important role, self-regulation also depends on self-beliefs and affective reactions, such as doubts and fears, about specific performance contexts (Zimmerman, 1995b). (p. 2)

Contextually related selfprocesses, such as perceived efficacy, have been shown to be well suited to explaining variations in personal motivation to self-regulate one’s performance (Bandura, 1997; Pajares & Miller, 1994; Zimmerman, 1995a). (p. 2)

Self-regulation is described as cyclical because the feedback from prior performance is used to make adjustments during current efforts. Such adjustments arc necessary because personal, behavioral, and environmental factors are constantly changing during the course of learning and performance, and must be observed or monitored using three self-oriented feedback loops (see Figure 1). (p. 2)

Behavioral self-regulation involves selfobserving and strategically adjusting performance processes, such as one’s method of learning, whereas environmental self-regulation refers to observing and adjusting environmental conditions or outcomes. Covert selfregulation involves monitoring and adjusting cognitive and affective states, such as imagery for remembering or relaxing. (p. 2)

Thus, self-regulation involves triadic processes that are proactively as well as rcactively adapted for the attainment of personal goals. (p. 3)


It has been argued that every person attempts to self-regulate his or her functioning in some way to gain goals in life and that it is inaccurate to speak about un-self-regulated persons or even the absence of self-regulation (Winne, 1997). (p. 3)

From a social cognitive perspective, self-regulatory processes and accompanying beliefs fall into three cyclical phases: forethought, performance or volitional control, and self-reflection processes (see Figure 2). Forethought refers to influential processes that precede efforts to act and set the stage for it. Performance or volitional control involves processes that occur during motoric efforts and affect attention and action. Selfreflection involves processes that occur after performance efforts and influence a person’s response to that experience. These self-reflections, in turn, influence forethought regarding subsequent motoric efforts—thus completing a selfregulatory cycle. (p. 4)


There are two distinctive but closely linked categories of forethought: (1) task analysis and (2) self-motivational beliefs (see Table 1). (p. 4)

A key form of task analysis involves the setting of goals. (p. 4)

The goal systems of highly self-regulated individuals are organized hierarchically, such that process goals operate as proximal regulators of more distal outcome goals. (p. 5)

A second form of task analysis is strategic planning (Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). (p. 5)

Thus, as a result of diverse and changing intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual conditions, self-regulated individuals must continuously adjust their goals and choice of strategies. (p. 5)

Underlying forethought processes of goal setting and strategic planning are a number of key self-motivational beliefs: self-efficacy, outcome expectations, intrinsic interest or valuing, and goal orientation. As was noted earlier, self-efficacy refers to personal beliefs about having the means to learn or perform effectively, whereas outcome expectations refer to beliefs about the ultimate ends of performance (Bandura, 1997). (p. 5)

self-regulatory efficacy beliefs causally influence use of such regulatory processes as academic learning strategies (Schunk & Schwartz, 1993; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992), academic time management (Britton & Tcssor, 1991), resisting adverse peer pressures (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara & Pastorelli, 1996b), selfmonitoring (Bouffard-Bouchard, Parent, & Larivee, 1991), self-evaluation, and goal setting (Zimmerman & Bandura, 1994). (p. 6)

Self-regulated learners feel self-efficacious in part because they have adopted hierarchical process goals for themselves whose progressive mastery provides them with immediate satisfaction rather than requiring them to suspend any sense of success until a final outcome goal is attained. There is evidence that process goal attainment can become intrinsically motivating in its own right and can even outweigh attainment of superordinatc outcome goals (Schunk & Schwartz, 1993; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). (p. 6)


Two major types of performance or volitional control processes have been studied to date: self-control and self-observation. Self-control processes, such as self-instruction, imagery, attention focusing, and task strategies, help learners and performers to focus on the task and optimize their effort. (p. 6)

A third form of self-control, attention focusing, is designed to improve one’s concentration and screen out other covert processes or external events. (p. 7)

The second type of volition or performance control process involves selfobservation. This refers to a person’s tracking of specific aspects of their own performance, the conditions that surround it, and the effects that it produces (Zimmerman & Paulsen, 1995). Although this skill may seem elemental, it is not, because the amount of information involved in complex performances can easily inundate naive self-observers and typically can lead to disorganized or cursory self-monitoring. (p. 7)

Self-observation can lead to cycles of self-experimentation (Bandura, 1991). When self-observation of natural variations in behavior docs not provide decisive diagnostic information, people can engage in personal experimentation by systematically varying the aspects of their functioning that are in question. (p. 9)


Bandura (1986) has identified two self-reflective processes that are closely associated with self-observation: self-judgment and self-reactions. Selfjudgment involves self-evaluating one’s performance and attributing causal significance to the results. Self-evaluation refers to comparing selfmonitored information with a standard or goal, such as a sprinter judging practice runs according to his or her best previous effort. (p. 9)

Judgments vs. evaluation
Interesting distinction highlighted here. (p. 9)

There are four distinctive types of criteria that people use to evaluate themselves: mastery, previous performance, normative, and collaborative. (p. 9)

normative criteria involve social comparisons with the performance of others, such as classmates or a national population that was tested. (p. 10)

Finally, a collaborative criterion is used primarily in team endeavors (Bandura, 1991). Under these common but more complex circumstances, success is defined in terms of fulfilling a particular role, such as the point guard on a basketball team. The criteria of success for a point guard are different than those used for the other team positions, and how well a point guard can work cooperatively with his or her teammates becomes the ultimate criterion of success. (p. 10)

A potentially fruitful analogy for assessing knowledge building (p. 10)

Self-evaluative judgments are linked to causal attributions about the results, such as whether poor performance is due to one’s limited ability or to insufficient effort. These attributional judgments are pivotal to selfreflection, because attributions of errors to a fixed ability prompt learners to react negatively and discourage efforts to improve (Weiner, 1979). (p. 10)

When self-satisfaction is made conditional on reaching adopted goals, people give direction to their actions and create selfincentives to persist in their efforts. Thus, a person’s motivation does not stem from the goals themselves, but rather from self-evaluative reactions to behavioral outcomes. (p. 11)

Adaptive or defensive inferences are conclusions about how one needs to alter his or her self-regulatory approach during subsequent efforts to learn or perform. Adaptive inferences are important because they direct people to new and potentially better forms of performance self-regulation, such as by shifting the goals hierarchically or choosing a more effective strategy (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1992). In contrast, defensive inferences serve primarily to protect the person from future dissatisfaction and aversive affect, but unfortunately they also undermine successful adaptation. (p. 11)

Garcia and Pintrich (1994) have referred to such defensive reactions as self-handicapping strategies, because, despite their intended protectiveness, they ultimately limit personal growth. (p. 11)


Selfinitiated processes alter one’s social and physical environment, and are in turn affected by those changes, such as when a mother puts a note on the refrigerator (an environmental cue) to remind herself or other family members (a social resource) to buy milk. (p. 12)

Even with the seemingly solitary and highly personal craft of writing, there is abundant evidence (Zimmerman & Riscmberg, 1997) of the value of social and physical environmental regulation techniques, such as emulating the styles of exemplary models, soliciting assistance from teachers or confidants, and restructuring the writing setting. (p. 12)

Thus, the social and physical environment is viewed by social cognitive researchers as a resource for self-enhancing forethought, performance or volitional control, and self-reflection. Modeling and instruction serve as a primary vehicle through which parents, teachers, and communities socially convey self-regulatory skills, such as persistence, self-praise, and adaptive (p. 13)

self-reactions to children. Conversely, when social models demonstrate impulsiveness, self-criticism, or defensive self-reactions, or when social groups reward or accept such actions, a wide array of personal dysfunctions often ensue. (p. 14)


Low self-regulatory skill is associated with a wide range of personal problems. For example, there is evidence that students who have trouble self-regulating their academic studying achieve more poorly in school (Zimmerman and MartinezPons, 1986, 1988) and present more deportment problems for their teachers (Brody, Stoneman, & Flor, 1996). (p. 14)

A lack of social learning experiences is the first important source of self-regulatory dysfunctions. Many forms of self-regulation are difficult to learn by individuals who grow up in homes or communities where they are not taught, modeled, or rewarded. (p. 15)

A second personal limitation that leads to dysfunctions in self-regulation is motivational; namely, the presence of apathy or disinterest. (p. 15)

Mood disorders, such as mania or depression, are a third personal limitation that can cause major dysfunctions in self-regulation. (p. 16)

A fourth common dysfunction in self-regulation is associated with the presence of learning disabilities, such as cognitive problems in concentration, recall, reading, and writing. (p. 16)


Although it is possible to develop self-regulatory competence by personal discovery, this path is often tedious, frustrating, and limited in its effectiveness. (p. 16)

Fortunately, self-regulatory processes can be acquired from and are sustained by social as well as self sources of influence. (p. 17)

According to a social cognitive perspective (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997; Zimmerman & Bonner, in press), the acquisition of a wide range of task competencies, from personal care skills to academic learning strategies, emerge in a series of regulatory skill levels. (p. 17)

In addition to strategic skill, models convey associated self-regulatory processes, such as performance standards, motivational orientations, and values that observers can use personally during subsequent developmental phases. (p. 17)

An observational level of proficiency can be assessed through strategy descriptions or vicarious performance predictions (Zimmerman & Blom, 1983). (p. 17)

An emulation level of self-regulatory skill is attained when a learner’s behavioral performance approximates the general strategic form of the model. (p. 18)

Attainment of a third, self-controlled level of self-regulatory skill occurs when learners master the use of a skill in structured settings outside the presence of models, such as when a pianist can play scales fluidly in the major and minor keys. (p. 18)

A self-regulated level of task skill is achieved when learners can systematically adapt their performance to changing personal and contextual conditions. (p. 18)

Because selfregulatory skill is context dependent, new performance problems can uncover limitations in existing strategies and require additional social learning experiences. Unlike developmental stage models, this formulation does not assume learners must advance through the four levels in an invariant sequence or that once the highest level is attained, it will be used universally. Instead, like learning hierarchy models, it assumes that students who master each skill level in sequence will learn more easily and effectively. (p. 19)

Although level 4 learners have the competence to perform sclf-rcgulatively, they may not choose to do so because of the motivational or contextual factors that were discussed at the outset of this chapter. Intentional forethought, proactive performance effort, and self-reflection arc mentally and physically demanding activities, and a person may decide to forego their use if he or she feels tired, disinterested, or uncommitted. (p. 19)


First, research on the effects of goal shifting during self-controlled learning (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997) needs to be extended to new tasks to determine whether these goal effects are a general or a task-specific phenomenon. (p. 20)

Second, research also is needed to extend the distinction between the observational and emulation levels to determine if these vicarious learning effects arc general or limited in scope (Kitsantas et al., 1999). (p. 21)

Third, the distinction between the second (emulation) level and the third (self-control) level should be tested in future research. (p. 21)

If these efforts to extend this social cognitive model are successful, they will indicate specifically how human self-regulatory development can be facilitated using social models. (p. 21)

A key pedagogical issue regarding socially initiated selfregulatory training is when to withdraw the various forms of modeling support. Although social models are advantageous in conveying high quality methods of task skill, they may inhibit learners from assuming self-direction unless these models are phased out as soon as possible. (p. 21)


A social cognitive perspective differs markedly from theoretical traditions that seek to define self-regulation as a singular internal state, trait, or stage that is genetically endowed or personally discovered. Instead it is defined in terms of contextspecific processes that are used cyclically to achieve personal goals. These processes entail more than metacognitive knowledge and skill; they also include affective and behavioral processes, and a resilient sense of selfefficacy to control them. The cyclical interdependence of these processes, reactions, and beliefs was described in terms of three sequential phases: forethought, performance or volitional control, and self-reflection. (p. 22)

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