Is the season for joy, but also worries, we are commonly told.
Stress from too much shopping, overindulgence from too much
celebrating, and depression for those feeling left out of the
festivities are as typical this time of year as packages under the
But among those whose profession it is to help people cope with
these and other common ailments, there is a contrarian strain of
thinking that humankind actually does an amazingly good, and vastly
underappreciated, job of adapting and overcoming these and other
ills on its own.
Albert Bandura, author, Stanford University professor, and
acknowledged heavyweight in the field of psychology, is a prominent
voice for this more optimistic view of humanity. And while he may
still be swimming against the popular current, he says he is "pretty
optimistic" a more positive view of the human condition is emerging.
"At the conceptual level as well as the research level, this more
positive view has been accelerating in the fields of health,
education, child development, athletics, and even political
efficacy," says the Canadian-born psychologist.
Though jocular by nature, Dr. Bandura is not beyond giving a good
scolding, which he did to the American Psychological Association
last year. As a past president and chairman of the board of that
group, he had the stature to win applause despite a roundhouse swing
at the profession's general orientation.
In his words: "The field of psychology is plagued by a chronic
condition of negativity regarding human development and
Key ingredient: self-efficacy
A principal originator of the concept of "self-efficacy" and
author of two scholarly books on the subject, Bandura is a firm
believer that people can and regularly do overcome seemingly
insurmountable difficulties. The key ingredient is self-efficacy, or
the conviction that action will produce results.
"People have the power to influence what they do and to make
things happen," noted Bandura in his speech to the APA. Still, he
says, human behavior continues to be commonly explained - not only
by psychologists but also sociologists, educators, and doctors - as
the result of uncontrollable factors, whether genes or the
Of course, most experts in these fields regard human behavior and
health as a combination of factors, some within a person's control
and some not. But Bandura has spent much of his career attempting to
nudge the balance back toward greater appreciation for people's
ability to overcome problems.
It's not just a point of emphasis that concerns Bandura but,
ultimately, the models by which doctors, educators, social
scientists, and therapists of all stripes address prevalent social
and individual ills.
For instance, he says, while researchers have in recent years
pointed to physiological links between stress and a degradation of
the immune system, there is also a body of research showing that
stress coupled with a conviction that a problem can be overcome
actually strengthens the immune system. …