The Neuroscience of Self-Efficacy: Vertically Integrated Leisure Theory and Its Implications for Theory-Based Programming




vertical integration, theory, theory-based programming, neuroscience, leisure research


The purpose of this paper is to explain and establish a link between social-psychological and biological explanations of self-efficacy theory. Specifically, the paper uses a hypothetical rock climbing program to illustrate how a practitioner could enhance the four sources of self-efficacious beliefs (enactive attainment, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological state), in a way that would increase the likelihood of releasing four risk/reward brain chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphin) while decreasing the likelihood of releasing the stress hormone cortisol. By understanding and applying self-efficacy theory at the social-psychological and biological levels—a process called vertical integration—practitioners could improve program implementation and evaluation, thereby enhancing the overall outcomes of their programs. Furthermore, adoption of a vertically integrated self-efficacy theory could help bridge the research–practice gap.

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Author Biography

Garrett Anderson Stone, Clemson University

Garrett is a PhD student in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Managment at Clemson University with a Bachelors of Science in Recreation Therapy and a Master's of Science in Youth and Family Recreation, both earned at Brigham Young University. He has experience developing activities and interventions in youth treatment settings and has worked as a therapeutic guide. Currently, his research is focused on critical pedagogy, experiential education, and educational travel.


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