In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Collective Efficacy

  • Introduction
  • The Evolution of Collective Efficacy Research
  • Current Theoretical and Measurement Debates

Sociology Collective Efficacy
Lucy Richardson, Rebecca Wickes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0244


Collective efficacy is an important concept in the study of collective behaviors and outcomes. Emerging from psychology, collective efficacy has been studied in diverse applications. The following sections outline key resources relating to the evolution of collective efficacy research (from psychology to the broader social sciences); current theoretical and methodological debates (discriminant validity and measurement); neighborhood- and community-level application areas (criminology, health, mental health, disaster recovery, activism and policy engagement); group and team level applications (family, sport, education and employment contexts). The section concludes with a focus on collective efficacy scholarship in non-Western contexts.

The Evolution of Collective Efficacy Research

Collective efficacy was proposed in Bandura 1986 within Bandura’s social cognitive theory of psychology. Building upon his self-efficacy research, Bandura proposed collective efficacy as a group level artifact rather than simply an aggregation of individuals’ perceptions of a group’s efficacy. This shift from individual to group psychology firmly rooted the concept of collective efficacy in the realms of social psychology and sociology, and opened the path for these two disciplines to apply their different philosophies to evolve somewhat parallel, yet interwoven, streams of research. While social psychologists typically investigate the role of individual perceptions of collective efficacy in small group processes, pivotal research conducted in Sampson, et al. 1997 firmly established the importance of collective efficacy for larger group processes with a particular focus on neighborhoods. Social scientists have since expanded community-level collective efficacy research to include, for example, health, disaster recovery, and activism. While social psychology and social science more broadly defined differ in focus—inward to the individual psyche or outward to society—together these two streams of research offer complementary insights into the mechanisms and outcomes of collective efficacy for both individuals and groups. Bandura 2000 summarizes the overall trends indicated by these dual streams of research as “the higher the perceived collective efficacy, the higher the groups’ motivational investment in their undertakings, the stronger their staying power in the face of impediments and setbacks, and the greater their performance accomplishments” (p. 78). This section comprises fundamental core texts on collective efficacy.

  • Bandura, A. 1986. Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    This book detail’s Bandura’s early theoretical explanation of the role and processes of collective efficacy in the context of his broader social cognitive theory of psychology. It focuses on the context of social activism. Bandura raises an important point of difference from his earlier concept of self-efficacy by highlighting that perceived collective efficacy is more than the sum of perceived individual efficacies but rather also reflects perceptions of interactive group processes.

  • Bandura, A. 2000. Exercise of human agency through collective efficacy. Current Directions in Psychological Science 9.3:75–78.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00064

    This article includes discussion of the trends found, through research across multiple fields, on the impact of perceived collective efficacy on group functioning. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Sampson, R. J., S. W.. Raudenbush, and F. Earls. 1997. Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277.5328:918–924.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5328.918

    This research focused on neighborhood collective efficacy regarding specific forms of community-led informal social controls toward crime prevention. It was innovative in its departure from the field’s previous focus on neighborhood social composition characteristics as key predictors of violent crime, and identified a strong, partially mediating role for collective efficacy on the influence of these characteristics.Available online by subscription or purchase.

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