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.Subscribe to JOREL

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.


Baldwin, C. K. (2000). Theory, program, and outcomes: Assessing the challenges of evaluating at-risk youth recreation programs. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 18(1), 19-33.

Baldwin, C. K., Hutchinson, S. L., & Magnuson, D. R. (2004). Program theory: A framework for theory-driven programming and evaluation. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 38(1), 16-31.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2012). On the functional properties of perceived self-efficacy revisited. Journal of Management, 38(1), 9-44.

Barkow, J. H. (Ed.). (2006a). Missing the revolution: Darwinism for social scientists. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Barkow, J. H. (2006b). Vertical/compatible integration versus analogizing with biology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(4), 348-349.

Berg, K. (2010). Justifying physical education based on neuroscience evidence. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 81(3), 24-46.

Biglan, A. (1987). A behavior-analytic critique of Bandura’s self-efficacy theory. The Behavior Analyst, 10(1), 1-15.

Bobilya, A. J., & Poff, R. A. (2013). Advancing theory and improving practice: Editors' notes. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 5(3), 177-178.

Breuning, L. G. (2012). Meet your happy chemicals. Lexington, KY: System Integrity Press.

Browne, L., Hough, M., & Schwab, K. (2009). Scaffolding: A promising approach to fostering critical thinking. Schole: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education, 24, 114-119.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1(2), 309-344.

Duerden, M. D., Taniguchi, S., & Widmer, M. (2012). Antecedents of identity development in a structured recreation setting a qualitative inquiry. Journal of Adolescent Research, 27(2), 183-202.

Edwards, D. H., & Kravitz, E. A. (1997). Serotonin, social status and aggression. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 7(6), 812-819.

Ewert, A., Davidson, C., & Chang, Y. (2016). The body doesn’t lie: Measuring stress in adventure recreation activities. Journal of Leisure Research, 48(4), 327-337.

Hemingway, J. L., & Parr, M. G. W. (2000). Leisure Research and Leisure Practice: Three Perspectives on Constructing the Research? Practice Relation. Leisure Sciences, 22(3), 139-162.

Henderson, K. A. (1994). Theory application and development in recreation, parks, and leisure research. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 12(1), 51-64.

Henderson, K. A., Presley, J., & Bialeschki, M. D. (2004). Theory in recreation and leisure research: Reflections from the editors. Leisure Sciences, 26(4), 411-425.

Hurd, A. R., Barcelona, R. J., & Meldrum, J. T. (2008). Leisure services management. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Johnson, L. (2014). Cross curricular connections in elementary physical education. Missouri Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 24, 14-21.

Krueger, F., Parasuraman, R., Iyengar, V., Thornburg, M., Weel, J., Lin, M., & Lipsky, R. H. (2012). Oxytocin receptor genetic variation promotes human trust behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(4), 1-9.

Lewin, K. (1945). The research center for group dynamics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sociometry, 8, 126-136.

Madrigal, R. (1999). Comment on the impact of leisure research. Journal of Leisure Research, 31, 195-198.

Mayo Clinic (2017). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. Retrieved from:

More, T. A., & Averill, J. R. (2003). The structure of recreation behavior. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(4), 372-395.

Ogden, J. (2003). Some problems with social cognition models: A pragmatic and conceptual analysis. Health Psychology, 22(4), 424-428.

O’Reilly, R. C., Hazy, T. E., Mollick, J., Mackie, P., & Herd, S. (2014). Goal-driven cognition in the brain: A computational framework. [In-press] 1-63.

Parr, M. G. (1996). The relationship between leisure theory and recreation practice. Leisure Sciences, 18(4), 315-332.

Pessiglione, M., Seymour, B., Flandin, G., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2006). Dopamine-dependent prediction errors underpin reward-seeking behavior in humans. Nature, 442(7106), 1042-1045.

Sharma, A., Sood, A., Dhiman, N., & Pradesh, U. (2014). Endorphin: Natural pain killer. World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 3(3), 341-350.

Steyn, F., & Louw, D. (2012). Recreation intervention with adolescent offenders: Prospects and challenges in the South African context. African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance, 18(2), 423-433.

Sutton, R. I. (2002). Weird ideas that work: 11½ practices for promoting, managing, and sustaining innovation. New York, NY: Free Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (1989). Nothing is quite so practical as a good theory. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 486-489.

Van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (2012). A sniff of trust: Meta-analysis of the effects of intranasal oxytocin administration on face recognition, trust to in-group, and trust to out-group. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(3), 438-443.

Walsh, A. (1997). Methodological individualism and vertical integration in the social sciences. Behavior and Philosophy, 25(2), 121-136.

Wells, S. M., Widmer, M. A., & McCoy, J. K. (2004). Grubs and grasshoppers: Challenge‐based recreation and the collective efficacy of families with at‐risk youth. Family Relations, 53(3), 326-333.

Weisfeld, G. E. (2002). Neural and functional aspects of pride and shame. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing. 10.1111/j.0197-6664.2003.0009.x

Widmer, M. A., Duerden, M. D., & Taniguchi, S. T. (2014). Increasing and generalizing self-efficacy: The effects of adventure recreation on the academic efficacy of early adolescents. Journal of Leisure Research, 46(2), 165-183.

Williams, D. M. (2010). Outcome expectancy and self-efficacy: Theoretical implications of an unresolved contradiction. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 14(4), 417-425.

Wilson, E. O. (1999). Consilience: The unity of knowledge (Vol. 31). London, UK: Vintage Books.





Research Note