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Elliot and Dweck (2005) concluded that competency self-perceptions were all-pervasive and powerful, “a basic psychological need that has a pervasive impact on daily life, cognition and behavior, across age and culture … an ideal cornerstone on which to rest the achievement motivation literature but also a foundational building block for any theory of personality, development and well-being” (p. 8). Perceived competencies a key construct in most theoretical models of achievement motivation, and has been widely studied since the beginning of psychological research. The popularity of research into competence self-perceptions and associated positive self-belief constructs stems from their universal importance and multidisciplinary appeal. The importance of these constructs is highlighted by the frequency with which their enhancement is identified as a major focus of concern in diverse settings, including education, child development, mental and physical health, social services, industry, and sport/exercise. For many developmental researchers and early childhood programs (e.g., Fantuzzo et al., 1996), self-concept and competence perceptions more generally have been a “cornerstone of both social and emotional development” (Kagen, Moore, & Bredekamp, 1995, p. 18; also see Davis-Kean & Sandler, 2001; Marsh, Ellis, & Craven, 2002). Similarly, the importance of a person’s sense of competence has been widely accepted as a critical psychological construct that leads to success in educational settings (Chen, Yeh, Hwang & Lin, 2013; Marsh & Craven, 2006; Marsh & Yeung, 1997a, b), social and emotional situations (Donahue, et al., 1993; Harter, 2012; Marsh, Parada, Craven, & Finger, 2004), and daily life more generally (Elliot & Dweck, 2005). However there is a plethora of ways to conceptualize competence self-perceptions, and in this chapter we discuss the different operationalizations of competence self-perceptions and the implications for advancing theory, research, and practice. Indeed, there is a revolution sweeping psychology (e.g., Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) that emphasizes a positive psychology, focusing on how healthy, normal, and exceptional individuals can get the most from life. Self-perceptions of competence and associated positive self-beliefs, as emphasized in this chapter, are at the heart of this revolution (Bandura, 2008a, b; Bruner, 1996; Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Marsh & Craven, 2006). More generally, the phenomena of perceived competence and associated self-beliefs are widely accepted as a universal aspect of being human and as central to understanding the quality of human existence (Bandura, 2008a, b; Bruner, 1996; Harter, 1986; 1998; Marsh & Craven, 2006; Schunk and Pajares (2005). Thus, an individual’s sense of competence has become central to the field of positive psychology (Marsh & Craven, 2006; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Furthermore, a person’s sense of competence in a specific domain not only leads to a range of positive outcomes in that domain, but may influence their competence perceptions in other domains and modify how that person acts, feels, and adjusts to a changing environment.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Open Access Book Chapter

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Open Access