Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

If you can imagine it, you can do it

Don’t underestimate the power of daydreaming. When you imagine a world where you accomplish your dreams, you are helping yourself to turn those dreams into reality.
In the 1970s Bandura described the theory of self-efficacy, according to which expectations of personal efficacy alter the level and strength of self-efficacy in reality (Banduras, 1977). If you have a positive state of mind and you believe that you will succeed, the actual chances of your success raise; on the other hand, if you don’t believe you will succeed, it is more probable that you won’t. Self-efficacy has been proven to be effective in areas such as sport (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach & Mack, 2000), or education: students who believe in their capabilities are more motivated to learn and perform better (Zimmerman, 1999), as it will be discussed later.

There are four major sources that inform expectations of self-efficacy: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion and physiological state. Performance accomplishments are based on personal mastery experiences, thus personal success increases mastery expectations and failures lower them. The influence of disappointment can be reduced by repeated accomplishments and it depends on the timing and pattern of positive and negative experiences. Vicarious experience provides a source of information for generating expectations of situations that have never been personally experienced, but have been witnessed. Seeing someone doing well increases your expectations of doing well and seeing someone failing, negatively affects your expectations. Verbal persuasion influences human behaviour by expressing possible expectations, which impinge on self-efficacy. Whether you tell yourself you can do it, or others convince you that you can, you will be ready to master difficult situations. Emotions contain an evaluative carriage, which can inform self-efficacy through physiological arousal. Having a good or a bad feeling towards something alters your motivations for action and, consequently, efficacy.

James Maddux recently suggested another source that can implement self-efficacy: the power of imagination (Maddux & Kleiman, 2009). The vividness of our imagined experiences can sometimes surprise us, its power and usefulness are underestimated. How many times do parents tell their children to stop dreaming and start focussing on reality? According to Maddux, imagination is just as influential to our perception of efficacy as the sources suggested by Bandura. Bandura’s sources depend on our worldly experiences; therefore, they are not as arbitrary as our thoughts and dreams can be. The way we imagine our future achievements doesn’t have to be tied to reality, it can go as far as our dreams can take us. Creating expectations of efficacy based on our daydreams can significantly influence our behaviour: picturing yourself doing something well, or doing something extraordinary, increases your chances of turning that dream into reality. Evidence supports the hypothesis that mental imagery changes behaviours and aids effective goal achievement (Conroy & Hagger, 2017; Hagger, 2018).

Self-efficacy theories can explain the influence of our mindset on our achievements. Carol Dweck (2014) applied the idea to education, exploring the power of believing you can improve. She discovered that having a growth mindset significantly improves learning, whereas a fixed mindset, even if supported by hard work, doesn’t acquire the same outcomes. Longitudinal studies show the effectiveness of mindset on academic achievements, for example believing in your intelligence has positive repercussions on your learning curve (Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck, 2007). Children in the experimental condition, who had been exposed to a teaching intervention improved significantly; whereas children in the control condition, who did not believe in the malleability of their intelligence, did not have a positive learning curve (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Blackwell et al. (2007)
If students can apply imagination to a growth mindset, their achievements will benefit significantly, as they will implement self-efficacy by informing their expectations through the power of imagining their success. Imagination allows you to explore an infinity of dreams, without the limits imposed by reality and coupling imagination with a positive attitude can make you believe that your dreams can become true. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” (A. Einstein)


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review84(2), 191-215.

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development78(1), 246-263.

Conroy, D., & Hagger, M. S. (2018). Mental Imagery Meta-analysis. Retrieved from

Dweck, C. (2014). The power of believing that you can Retrieved 18 March 2018, from

Hagger, M. S. (2018). Changing Behaviour Using Mental Imagery Manual. Retrieved from

Maddux, J., & Kleiman, E. (2009). Self-Efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can. In S. Lopez & C. Snyder, Self-Efficacy: The Power of Believing You Can (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moritz, S., Feltz, D., Fahrbach, K., & Mack, D. (2000). The Relation of Self-Efficacy Measures to Sport Performance: A Meta-Analytic Review. Research Quarterly For Exercise And Sport71(3), 280-294.

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