Yes I Can: Self-efficacy Beliefs in Students with and without Visual Impairment

By Martin Pinquart & Jens P. Pfeiffer

The authors are members of the Department of Psychology, Philipps University, Marburg, Germany. The following study was supported by a grant from the German Research Council (Grant No. Pi291/9-1).

 

Abstract

The present study analyzed associations of general self-efficacy beliefs with psychological adjustment, academic achievement, and attainment of developmental tasks in 133 German adolescents with visual impairment and 446 peers without visual impairment who took part in a one-year longitudinal study. Between-group differences in levels of self-efficacy beliefs were small. On average, higher self-efficacy beliefs predicted positive change in psychological adjustment (life-satisfaction and emotional symptoms) and academic achievement as well as greater progress in the attainment of developmental tasks of adolescence. However, for emotional symptoms and the discrepancy between desired and present attainment of developmental tasks we found such an effect only for students without visual impairment. We conclude that students with visual impairment may benefit from measures that both promote supportive external conditions for goal attainment and increase the self-management skills needed to translate self-efficacy beliefs into accomplishment of goals and related positive feelings.

Keywords

self-efficacy, visual impairment, adolescence, psychosocial development

 

Perceived Self-efficacy

The term “perceived self-efficacy” refers to people’s beliefs about their capability to influence events that affect their lives and to accomplish personal goals. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce diverse effects through four major processes: cognitive, motivational, affective, and selection processes (Bandura, 1982, 1997). Bandura argues that repeated experiences with success in challenging tasks are prerequisites to a strong sense of self-efficacy. His theoretical framework reflects that in order to be successful one requires some sense of self-efficacy, a perception of oneself as being able to perform effectively. For example, self-efficacy beliefs affect the selection of goals, the investment of efforts, and the persistence with these efforts (Bandura, 1997). Thus, low self-efficacy beliefs may lead to low aspirations and lack of persistence, as well as low levels of academic achievement and goal attainment in general.

It has been suggested that self-efficacy is a primary factor in adjustment to visual impairment (Dodds, 1989). Acquiring realistic expectations about one’s competencies is one of the most important aspects of adjustment to visual impairment. Because origins of self-efficacy lie in the appraisal of past performances (Bandura, 1982, 1997), past self-efficacy beliefs may no longer be realistic when visual abilities decline. The development of realistic expectations about one’s competencies is also necessary in the case of congenital visual impairment because young people have to learn whether they could attain the goals that are typical for their age group (e.g., getting a driving license). The analysis of predictors and effects of self-efficacy beliefs of young people with visual impairment is important for blindness education and rehabilitation because the development of positive self-efficacy beliefs could be one way of promoting skilled behavior and success in the academic context and other fields of life.

Whereas some studies have assessed self-efficacy beliefs in older adults with visual impairment (Brown & Barrett, 2011; Ormel, Kempen, Penninx, Brilman, Beekman, & VanSonderen, 1997; Talbert-Kipasa, 2008), there is a surprising lack of research on this topic in children and adolescents with visual impairment. Thus, the goal of the present study was to analyze self-efficacy beliefs in adolescents with visual impairment.

In the first research question, we ask whether levels of self-efficacy differ between adolescents with and without visual impairment. In the second research question, we analyze whether higher levels of self-efficacy would be associated with better psychological adjustment, academic achievement, and attainment of developmental tasks. We also ask whether adolescents with and without visual impairment benefit to a similar extent from high self-efficacy beliefs with regard to these outcome variables. Age is used as the control variable in these analyses because the average attainment of developmental tasks increases with age. We focus on general self-efficacy beliefs rather than on domain-specific beliefs (e.g., regarding academic success) because the former are expected to be associated with a broader range of outcome variables, although the size of the associations may be lower than between domain-specific beliefs and the related domain-specific outcomes (Bandura, 1997).

Self-efficacy in Individuals with and without Visual Impairment

The origins of self-efficacy lie in appraisals of past performances (Bandura, 1982, 1997). Several factors may contribute to reduced self-efficacy beliefs of students with visual impairment. First, because visual impairment is, on average, associated with reduced social (Gronmo & Augestad, 2000; Huurre & Aro, 1998) and physical competence (Gronmo & Augestad, 2000) as well as restrictions in daily living (Talbert-Kipasa, 2008), young people with visual impairment may exhibit lower levels of self-efficacy beliefs than their peers without visual impairment. Second, public misconceptions about blindness as well as low expectations and over-assisting behavior of significant others may limit the development of skills that would be needed to succeed and to compete with sighted peers (Adenzato, Ardito, & Izard, 2006).

However, Blake and Rust (2002) found that general self-efficacy scores of young people with disability (many of whom had a visual impairment) were similar to scores from the normative sample. Similarly, in another study no significant differences between adults with and without visual impairment were found (Suzukamo, Hirokai, & Trumotu, 2001). Nonetheless, Brown and Barrett (2011) found that higher levels of visual impairment were associated with lower self-efficacy of older adults. As our search in electronic data bases (Medline, PsycLit, Google Scholar) did not identify comparative studies of self-efficacy of adolescents with and without visual impairment, the first goal of our study was to test whether the levels of self-efficacy beliefs would differ between both groups. Because Schieman and Campbell (2001) observed that differences in levels of self-efficacy between adults with and without disability increased with age, we also wanted to explore whether differences between the levels of self-efficacy beliefs of students with and without visual impairment would vary by age and change over a one-year period.

Associations of Self-efficacy with Psychological Health and Successful Development

It has been suggested that higher self-efficacy beliefs predict success in life and mental health. In adults with visual impairment, self-efficacy beliefs were associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression (Brown & Barrett, 2011; Dodds, Ferguson, Ng, Flannigan, Hawes, & Yates, 1994; Horowitz, Reinhardt, & Kennedy, 2005) as well as higher levels of vision-specific mental health (Talbert-Kipasa, 2008) and general life-satisfaction (Brown & Barrett, 2011). To our knowledge, no such data are available for adolescents with visual impairment.

Relevant indicators of adolescents’ success in life may be academic achievement and the attainment of age-associated developmental tasks. Research not specific to visual impairment indicates that self-efficacy is a strong and proximal predictor of academic achievement. This is found in studies with students without visual impairment for general self-efficacy beliefs as well as for academic self-efficacy beliefs (Weiser & Riggio, 2010). These positive associations may reflect children’s and adolescents’ "insight" into abilities that affected their previous performance and the self-fulfilling or motivational effects of self-beliefs (Chamorro-Premuzic, Harlaar, Greven, & Plomin, 2010).

According to Havighurst (1948), developmental tasks are biologically, socially, and individually determined tasks that must be completed in a particular period of life, such as childhood and adolescence. Developmental tasks of adolescence include, among others, gaining autonomy from parents, building peer relations, and starting to prepare for a future profession. Again, associations of self-efficacy beliefs with success in mastering age-associated developmental tasks have not been assessed in young people with visual impairment. In students without visual impairment, Schönpflug and Jansen (1995) found that adolescents with stronger “self-as-agent beliefs” preferred active strategies in coping with developmental tasks and showed smaller discrepancies between present and desired attainments in three developmental tasks (gaining autonomy from parents, developing professional expertise, developing opposite-sex friendships). However, in that study self-as-agent beliefs were a mixture of self-esteem, locus of control, and self-efficacy beliefs. Thus, it remained open whether self-efficacy beliefs in particular or general positive self-evaluations were related to success with developmental tasks. A small number of other studies have focused on a single developmental task and have found self-efficacy to predict success with attaining it (e.g., with regard to preparation for a career; Pinquart, Juang, & Silbereisen, 2003).

Due to the lack of studies that compare young people with and without visual impairment, it has not been tested whether both groups benefit from self-efficacy beliefs to the same extent. Because studies of individuals with visual impairment (Brown & Barrett, 2011; Dodds et al., 1994; Horowitz et al. 2005) and studies of individuals without impairment (Schönpflug & Jansen, 1995; Weiser & Riggio, 2010) have observed associations of self-efficacy beliefs with desirable psychosocial outcomes, we expected to find positive associations of self-efficacy beliefs with indicators of psychological adjustment, academic achievement, and success with attaining developmental tasks in both groups. Nonetheless, we expected that the effect sizes may vary between these groups. On the one hand, self-efficacy beliefs become more important if goals are not easily attainable and success is not self-evident (Locke, Frederick, Lee, & Bobko, 1984). As some goals are more difficult to attain for students with visual impairment than for peers without this kind of impairment (such as gaining access to a peer group; Pfeiffer & Pinquart, 2011), adolescents with visual impairment might benefit more from self-efficacy beliefs. On the other hand, self-efficacy beliefs may only promote success in life and psychological adjustment as long as goals are attainable. For example, a belief in one’s ability to drive a car will not help in obtaining a driving license if the law does not allow persons with a particular degree of visual impairment to apply for such a license. Thus, individuals with visual impairment may in some cases benefit less from high self-efficacy beliefs. Because of the contradictory theoretical arguments, we did not state a specific hypothesis with regard to differences in the size of association of self-efficacy with psychosocial outcomes in individuals with and without visual impairment.

Method

Participants

We used data from the first and second time of measurement from the Marburg Study on Vision Loss (MARVIL). Adolescents with visual impairment were recruited from three German special schools for students with visual impairment. Because most German adolescents with visual impairment attend special schools for students who are blind or have low vision, we focused on these schools. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the German Psychological Society. After we had gained the permission from the schools and the informed consent of parents and adolescents, 6th to 11th graders answered our questions in their classes. Sixth to 11th graders without visual impairment were recruited from schools in the vicinity of the schools for students with visual impairment. All students came from the highest school track (Gymnasium). At the first time of measurement (T1), 161 students with visual impairment and 537 students without visual impairment participated (participation rate 93.1%). At the one-year follow-up (T2) we were able to reassess 133 students with visual impairment and 446 control group members (response rate 83%).

Dropout analysis indicates that the participants of the longitudinal study were younger (M = 14.74) than the students who participated only at T1 (M = 15.31; F(1,779) = 18.51, p < .001), in part because some of the older adolescents had left school and could not be reassessed in their classes. However, participants of the longitudinal study did not differ from the others with regard to gender (F(1,779) = .70, p > .05) or self-efficacy at T1 (F(1,779) = .16, p > .05).

Fifty-three participants of the longitudinal study were blind (visual acuity of less than 3/60 or a corresponding visual field loss of less than 10° in the better eye with best possible correction) and 80 had low vision (visual acuity of less than 6/18, but equal to or better than 3/60, or a corresponding visual field loss of less than 20° in the better eye with best possible correction) according to standards established by the ICD-10 (World Health Organization, 2010). About 14% of the students with visual impairment also had a second disability, such as hearing impairment (N = 3) or mobility impairment (N = 2). Students with visual impairment were older (M = 15.95, SD=1.87) than students without this impairment (M = 14.41, SD = 1.78, F(1,578) = 76.20, p<.001). However, the two groups did not differ with regard to the percentage of female participants (42% vs. 52%; F(1,578) = 3.51, p > .05) or the percentage of students from boarding schools (10% vs. 16%; F(1,578) = 3.47, p > .05). Because the students with visual impairment were older than their peers, we controlled for that variable in the following analyses.

Measures

Self-efficacy. We used the General Self-Efficacy Scale (Schwarzer & Jerusalem, 1995) which consists of 10 Likert-type items. A sample item is, “I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough” (1 = not at all true, 2 = hardly true, 3 = moderately true, 4 = exactly true). This scale is available in 30 languages and has been used in a large number of studies around the globe (Schwarzer, R., 2006). In the present study, Cronbach’s α was .87 (T1) and .89 (T2).

Psychological adjustment. Two indicators of psychological adjustment were used, one focusing on positive feelings (life-satisfaction; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) and one focusing on negative feelings (emotional symptoms; Goodman, 1997). Life-satisfaction was assessed with the 5 items of the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al., 1985), which is one of the most widely used life-satisfaction scales. A sample item is, “I am satisfied with my life” (1 = strongly disagree, 7 = strongly agree). In the present study, Cronbach’s α was .80 (T1) and .85 (T2). In addition, we used the five item scale, ‘Emotional Symptoms,’ from the self-rating form of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire that asks for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic complaints (SDQ; Goodman, 1997). The SDQ is a widely used screening instrument of psychological symptoms for children and adolescents. A sample item is, “I worry a lot.” The items are scored 1 for not true, 2 for somewhat true, and 3 for certainly true. Cronbach’s α was .73 (T1) and .72 (T2).

Academic achievement. Previous academic achievement was assessed by asking the students to report their grades from their last school report card in mathematics, physics, German, and English. In previous research, self-reported and transcript-based grade point average has shown a correlation of .85 for university students (Schuman, Walsh, Olson, & Etheridge, 1985), indicating good reliability. Average grades were computed and the four-item scale had a Cronbach’s α of .70 at T1 and T2. Lower scores indicate better achievement.

Attainment of developmental tasks. We used a modified version of the Development Task Questionnaire (Seiffge-Krenke, Silbereisen, & Ortremba, 1984). The measure asks for desired and present attainment of 12 developmental tasks of adolescence, such as belonging to a group of peers and acquiring skills that are important for one’s future profession. With regard to the desired attainment, the respondents were asked how far along they wanted to be with achieving this goal right now (1 = not yet started, 2 = want to have started, 3 = want to be finished). With regard to the attained state, they were asked how far they were in attaining this goal right now (1 = not started yet, 2 = still in process, 3 = already finished). We computed a sum score of the attainment of the 12 tasks. In addition, following Schönpflug and Jansen (1995), we computed the discrepancy between the desired and present attainment of each developmental task and totaled them across all developmental tasks. In our study, Cronbach’s α was (T1) .62 and .60 (T2) for the present attainment. The scale of the discrepancies between desired and attained attainment had a Cronbach’s α of .71 at T1 and T2.

Results

Means and standard deviations of the study variables are presented in Table 1. Adolescents with visual impairment had lower levels of life-satisfaction (at T1 and T2), more emotional problems (at T2), better academic achievement (T1 and T2), and a reported higher attainment of developmental tasks at T2. This was the case with regard to three developmental tasks: identity development (F(1,578) = 6.61, p < .01), knowing which profession they want to choose (F(1,578) = 5.40, p < .001), and autonomy (F(1,578) = 4.93, p < .05). However, the two groups did not differ in the size of discrepancies between desired and present attainment of the developmental tasks.

Table 1. Means and standard deviations of the study variables

 

Visual impairment

No visual impairment

 

 

 

Variable

M

SD

M

SD

F(1,578)

p

ŋ2

Self-efficacy T1 (range 10 to 40)

28.23

5.80

29.12

4.88

2.73

.10

.005

Self-efficacy T2

28.86

5.51

28.72

5.25

0.06

>.10

.000

Life-satisfact. T1 (range 5 to 35)

21.86

7.36

23.31

6.16

4.54

.04

.008

Life-satisfact. T2

23.04

6.51

25.04

5.94

9.43

.002

.016

Emotional symptoms T1 (range 5 to 15)

8.47

2.71

7.98

2.39

3.55

.06

.006

Emotional symptoms T2

8.74

2.67

7.74

2.23

16.42

.001

.028

Academic achievement T1 (range 1 to 6)

2.63

0.67

2.83

0.67

7.68

.006

.013

Academic achievement T2

2.66

0.75

2.83

0.69

4.97

.026

.009

Attainment of dev. tasks T1 (range 12 to 36)

25.46

3.05

25.60

2.85

0.21

> .10

.000

Attainment of dev. tasks T2

27.40

3.02

26.68

2.88

5.61

.018

.010

Discrepancy (dev. tasks) T1 (range -24 to 24)

4.93

3.49

4.48

3.56

1.48

> .10

.003

Discrepancy (dev. tasks) T2

4.37

3.33

4.60

3.65

0.36

> .10

.001

N

133

 

446

 

 

 

 

Note: F = test for differences between students with and without visual impairment. All analyses controlled for age. ŋ2 = variance explained by vision status. Lower academic achievement scores indicate better performance.

In the first research question we had asked whether students with and without visual impairment would differ in the level of self-efficacy beliefs and whether the size of between-group differences would change across the one-year interval. We computed an analysis of covariance with repeated measurement. Age at T1 was used as a covariate. We found no significant main effects of vision status (visual impairment versus no impairment; F(1,565) = 0.60, p > .05) and time of measurement (F(1,565) = 2.78, p > .05). However, the interaction effect of vision status and time of measurement reached significance (F(1,565) = 3.97, p < .05). Follow-up tests showed that self-efficacy beliefs increased slightly in students with visual impairment (t(132) = 2.11, p<.05), and declined in the control group (t(434) = -2.00, p < .05).

We also tested whether there would be an interaction effect of age and vision status on change in self-efficacy. Because of the small number of students at the age of 11 (N = 19) and 19 years (N = 9), we built four age groups (11-12 years, 13-14 years, 15-16 years, and 17-19 years) for getting more robust results. We computed a regression analysis with self-efficacy at T2 as dependent variable and self-efficacy (T1), age group, vision status, and the interaction effect of age group and vision status as independent variables. Age group and vision status were mean-centered before computing the interaction effect in order to avoid multicolinearity of predictor variables (Aiken & West, 1991). We found a main effect of self-efficacy at T1 (β = .56, t = 16.03, p < .001), age group (β = .07, t = 1.97, p < .05), and vision status (β = -.08, t = -2.02, p < .05), as well as a significant interaction effect of age and vision status (β = .08, t = 2.15, p < .04). Older participants and those with visual impairment showed a stronger increase in self-efficacy. In order to interpret the interaction effect, we split the sample in students with and without visual impairment and computed separate regression analyses with self-efficacy (T1) and age group as dependent variables. We found that older students without visual impairment showed more positive change of self-efficacy (β = .11, t = 2.67, p < .01). However, change of self-efficacy of students with visual impairment did not vary between age groups (β = -.07, t = -1.05, p > .05).

In order to answer the second research question, we computed five hierarchical regression analyses with life-satisfaction, emotional symptoms, academic achievement, attainment of developmental tasks, and discrepancy between desired and present attainment at T2 as dependent variables. A hierarchical approach was chosen because it provides information on changes in the explained variance per step of analysis. The pretest score of the dependent variable and age of the participants were entered at the first step, vision status at step two, self-efficacy (at T1) at step three, and the interaction effect of vision status and self-efficacy at the final step. Vision status and self-efficacy were centered before computing the interaction term in order to avoid problems with multicolinearity (Aiken & West, 1991). Because the pretest of the dependent variables was entered as the first predictor, our analyses tested whether age, vision status, and self-efficacy predict change in the levels of the dependent variables.

As indicated in Table 2, all dependent variables showed considerable correlational stability over time. Higher age predicted faster progress with attaining adolescent developmental tasks but did not predict change among the other outcome variables. The amount of change of three of the five assessed variables varied between individuals with and without visual impairment. Students who had no visual impairment showed more improvement in life-satisfaction and stronger decrease in emotional symptoms than students with visual impairment. However, adolescents with visual impairment showed stronger progress in the attainment of their developmental tasks.

We were interested in whether self-efficacy at T1 predicts the level of change of the assessed variables and whether this association varies between students with and without visual impairment. Table 2 shows that higher levels of self-efficacy were, on average, associated with stronger improvement in life-satisfaction, stronger decline in emotional symptoms, more improvement in academic achievement, and more progress with attaining developmental tasks of adolescence. Self-efficacy explained between 0.5% (emotional symptoms) and 3% (attainment of developmental tasks) of the variance of the dependent variables.

Table 2. Associations of vision status and self-efficacy with changes in life-satisfaction, emotional symptoms, academic achievement, and success with attainment of developmental tasks

 

Life-satisfaction (T2)

Emotional symptoms (T2)

Academic achievement (T2)

Attainment of developmental tasks (T2)

Discrepancy betw. desired and present attainment of developmental tasks (T2)

 

B

β

t

B

β

t

B

β

t

B

β

t

B

β

t

Dependent variable (T1)

.37

.39

9.14***

.39

.40

9.90***

.72

.68

22.37***

.43

.42

11.10***

.40

.39

10.08***

Age

.15

.05

1.19

.03

.02

0.30

.01

.04

1.14

.17

.11

2.96**

-.05

-.02

-0.59

Vision status (1 = vis. impairment, 2 = no impairment)

1.27

.09

2.19*

-.81

-.14

-3.62***

.04

.02

0.68

-.86

-.12

-3.33***

.42

.05

1.21

Self-efficacy (T1)

.18

.15

3.66***

-.05

-.11

-2.69**

-.01

-.09

-2.90**

.12

.20

5.26***

-.08

-.12

2.89**

Vision status x self-efficacy

-.02

-.01

-0.24

-.08

-.08

-3.62***

-.00

-.00

-0.00

.05

.04

1.19

-.12

-.08

1.97*

(Constant)

6.34

 

2.27*

7.32

 

6.29***

.89

 

3.26***

11.52

 

8.34***

4.97

 

2.91**

R2 (pretest, age)

.21

 

 

.21

 

 

.48

 

 

.28

 

 

.16

 

 

R2 (vision status)

.01

 

 

.02

 

 

.00

 

 

.01

 

 

.00

 

 

R2 (self-efficacy)

.02

 

 

.005

 

 

.01

 

 

.03

 

 

.01

 

 

R2 (interaction)

.00

 

 

.005

 

 

.00

 

 

.00

 

 

.01

 

 

Total R2

.24

 

 

.24

 

 

.49

 

 

.32

 

 

.18

 

 

Note: Only the results of the last step of the regression analysis are shown. Lower academic achievement scores indicate better performance. ∆R2 = change in explained variance per step of analysis. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Two of the five interaction effects of vision status and self-efficacy were statistically significant, and the interaction effects explained 0.5% (emotional symptoms) and 1% (discrepancy between desired and present attainment of developmental tasks) of the variance of the dependent variables. In order to interpret the interaction effect, we computed separate regression analyses in the subgroups of adolescents with and without visual impairment, and analyzed associations of self-efficacy and age with change in the outcome variables (Aiken & West, 1991). In students without visual impairment, we found that self-efficacy at T1 predicted stronger declines of emotional symptoms (β = -.12, t = -2.64, p < .009). However, no such statistical effect was found for students with visual impairment (β = -.02, t = -.24, p > .05; see Figure 1). In addition, initial self-efficacy predicted declines in the discrepancy between the desired and present attainment of developmental tasks among students without visual impairment (β = -.14, t = -3.14, p < .002), but not in students with visual impairment (β = -.01, t = -.10, p > .05; see Figure 2).

Figure 1. Associations of self-efficacy beliefs at T1 with levels of emotional symptoms at T2 in students with and without visual impairment

Figure 1 shows associations between emotional symptoms (Y-axis) and self-efficacy (X-axis) in adolescents with and without visual impairment. In adolescents without visual impairment, higher levels of self-efficacy are associated with lower levels of emotional symptoms. In adolescents with visual impairment, no such association appears.

Note: The analyses controlled for age and level of emotional symptoms at T1

Figure 2. Associations of self-efficacy beliefs at T1 with discrepancies between desired and present attainment of developmental tasks at T2 in students with and without visual impairment

Figure 2 shows associations between discrepancies between desired and present states of solving developmental tasks (Y-axis) and self-efficacy (X-axis) in adolescents with and without visual impairment. In adolescents without visual impairment, higher levels of self-efficacy are associated with lower discrepancies. In adolescents with visual impairment, no such association is found.

Note: The analyses controlled for age and discrepancies between desired and present attainment at T1

Although we put our main emphasis on associations of self-efficacy with change in life-satisfaction, emotional symptoms, academic achievement, and attainment of developmental tasks, it may also be interesting to note whether the latter variables predict change in self-efficacy beliefs and whether these associations vary between students with and without visual impairment. Supplementary regression analyses using the main effects of the pretest scores of these variables and their interaction effects with vision status, as well as self-efficacy at T1, and age and vision status as independent variables, found that higher attainment of developmental tasks (β = .10, t = 2.65, p < .008) and lower discrepancies between desired and present attainment of these tasks at T1 (β = -.10, t = -2.93, p < .004) predicted an increase in self-efficacy beliefs over time. These associations did not vary between students with and without visual impairment.

Discussion

The present study found similar levels of self-efficacy beliefs among students with and without visual impairment, although these beliefs showed more positive change after one year in students with visual impairment. Higher self-efficacy beliefs were, on average, associated with more positive change of the outcome variables. However, only students without visual impairment benefited from high self-efficacy beliefs with regard to change of emotional symptoms and of discrepancies between present and desired attainment of developmental tasks. In addition, students with and without visual impairment differed with regard to levels of life-satisfaction, emotional symptoms, academic achievement, and attainment of developmental tasks, as well as change in life-satisfaction, emotional symptoms, and success with attaining developmental tasks. We start the discussion with differences in study variables between students with and without visual impairment, followed by the main effects and interaction effects of self-efficacy beliefs.

The observed lower levels of psychological adjustment among young people with visual impairment as compared to their peers without visual impairment are consistent with results of previous studies (Huurre & Aro, 2000). This between-group difference may be based on difficulties in participating in activities charged with vision content, higher dependency on others, negative ideas about physical attraction, and being discriminated against by others (Huurre & Aro, 2000; Lifshitz, Hen, & Weisse, 2007). Nonetheless, average between-group differences were small.

The higher academic achievement of students with visual impairment as compared to their peers without impairment cannot be explained by differences in academic curricula because these curricula were identical for both groups. The observed difference may indicate that the assessed students with visual impairment are a positive selection with regard to academic ability and motivation because a lower percentage of students with visual impairment attend the highest German school track (16% vs. 30% of students without visual impairment; Pfaff, 2004). In fact, Freeland, Emerson, Curtis, and Fogarty (2010) found that a nationally representative U.S. sample of students with visual impairment scored below-average in an academic achievement test. Alternatively, teachers of students with visual impairment might be more willing to give good grades than other teachers, even if these grades do not completely match the academic performance. In line with this suggestion, the results of the standardized final examinations that are identical for all students of the federal state did not differ between students with and without visual impairment (Hofmann, 2008).

Between-group differences in the level of attainment of developmental tasks were small although students with visual impairment showed more progress and had a higher average level of attainment at T2. As between-group differences were mainly related to choosing a future profession and identity development (having clear ideas about how I want to live my life), our results may indicate that students with visual impairment need less time for these developmental tasks because of the restriction in the number of available options (e.g., they cannot choose jobs with high vision load; Carlstrom, Kaff, & Low, 2009) or because their schools provide more advice. The higher levels of perceived autonomy from their parents among students with visual impairment could be explained by the fact that a higher percentage of these students did not live in the parental home during their school days because of the long distance between parental home and school (e.g., some of them shared a flat with other students). The higher attainment of developmental tasks among students with visual impairment at T2 might also be based on a positive selection of highly performing students. However, additional analyses that controlled for academic achievement at T1 showed that students with visual impairment still reported higher levels of identity development (F(1,577) = 4.36, p < .05) and choosing a future profession (F(1,577) = 4.07, p < .05), although the between-group difference in autonomy development was only marginally significant (F(1,577) = 3.56, p < .06). Thus, we conclude that the observed differences cannot exclusively be explained by a positive selection of students with visual impairment.

Between-group differences in the level of self-efficacy beliefs were small, and the interaction effect of vision status and time of measurement indicates that students with visual impairment caught up with the marginally significant backlog that was observed at T1. Our results are consistent with the study by Suzukamo et al. (2001) on self-efficacy of older adults with visual impairment. As we assessed general self-efficacy beliefs, individuals with and without visual impairment have opportunities to experience the success of their efforts (Bandura, 1982) although the specific opportunities might differ between the two groups. Between-group differences in domain-specific self-efficacy beliefs have to be tested in future studies.

Interestingly, we found an age-associated increase in self-efficacy beliefs in students without but not with visual impairment. A significant small positive association of age with general self-efficacy beliefs has also been observed in a data set of more than 6,800 adolescents without visual impairment (Schwarzer, 2006). These results indicate that opportunities for experiencing success and other sources of general self-efficacy beliefs tend to increase across adolescence in young people without visual impairment. However, sources of self-efficacy among students with visual impairment, such as the development of compensatory skills, are not dependent upon age.

In line with previous studies (Brown & Barrett, 2011; Horowitz et al., 2005; Weiser & Riggio, 2010; Schönpflug & Jansen, 1995), high self-efficacy beliefs were, on average, associated with better psychological adjustment, higher academic achievement and lower discrepancies between desired and present attainment of age-associated developmental tasks. Most of these associations were found for students with and without visual impairment. The small size of the statistical effects can be explained by the fact that the assessed dependent variables showed considerable correlational stability, and a very limited amount of additional variance had to be explained in our study. In addition, we used a global measure of self-efficacy that shows weaker associations for an outcome variable than self-efficacy beliefs that are specific for a particular outcome (Bandura, 1982; Weiser & Riggio, 2010).

In the Introduction section we had provided arguments for lower versus higher associations of self-efficacy with psychosocial outcomes in students with visual impairment as compared to their peers without visual impairment. The present study found empirical support only for the former assumption. Bandura (1982) suggested that self-efficacy beliefs promote effective coping and persistence in goal pursuit, which in turn foster success in life. However, as preconditions, individuals must have sufficient competencies and the goals must be attainable. Competencies that are relevant for the attainment of some goals may be impaired in individuals with visual impairment (Gronmo & Augestad, 2000; Huurre & Aro, 1998). Under these conditions, supportive external circumstances may become more important for the attainment of developmental tasks than self-efficacy beliefs, and the assessed students may have sufficient support from parents, teachers, and peers for attaining their developmental tasks. Reasons why self-efficacy does not reduce negative emotions may also lay outside the students with visual impairment, such as having higher risks for being bullied by sighted individuals (Horwood, Waylen, Herrick, Williams, & Wolke, 2005) or facing more barriers with entering the work force (Wehman, 2006).

Nonetheless, we have to be aware that similar associations of self-efficacy with psychosocial outcomes were found for students with and without visual impairment with regard to most assessed psychosocial outcomes.

Limitations and Conclusions

Strengths of the present study lie in the rather large sample size, the longitudinal design, and in the use of a well-known measure of self-efficacy beliefs in contrast to some previous studies that used an invalidated mix of self-efficacy items and self-esteem items (Brown & Barrett, 2011; Schönpflug & Jansen, 1995). Nonetheless, some limitations specific to the present study should be mentioned. First, we had to rely on adolescent self-reports. However, these reports have been found to be quite valid (Schuman et al., 1985). Second, all students came from the highest school track. As students with visual impairment from lower school tracks may be more likely to have other disabilities also, it remains open whether similar results would be found in students with additional learning disabilities or other disabilities. Third, as we recruited students with visual impairments from special schools for this group, we focused on young people with severe visual impairments. Students who can attend regular schools because of lower levels of visual impairment might benefit more from high self-efficacy beliefs.

Despite these limitations, three main conclusions can be drawn from the present study. First, whereas researchers in the field of visual impairment very often seek for elevated levels of psychological and social problems, our results indicate that young people with visual impairment may be even more successful than their peers with regard to some criteria (e.g., making career choices), at least in students from the highest school track. Second, although students with visual impairment may benefit less from high self-efficacy than students without visual impairment with regard to some outcome variables, our results indicate that self-efficacy beliefs are a relevant inner resource for students with visual impairment. Thus, ensuring high self-efficacy is important for all students (independent of visual status). Third, regarding future research needs we recommend studies on self-efficacy beliefs of students with visual impairment from lower school tracks and from integrated schools. In addition, future research should also include domain-specific self-efficacy scales in order to test in which domains young people with visual impairment may or may not show lower levels of self-efficacy as compared to their peers. Finally, future studies should explore external factors affecting the student with visual impairment (e.g., discrimination, attitudes of the society at large, misconceptions about visual impairment by parents and teachers) that may contribute to the smaller impact of higher self-efficacy on the reduction of negative emotions.

Implications for Practitioners and Families

Young people with visual impairment have similar levels of self-efficacy to those of their peers without visual impairment although they benefit less from them. Thus, no interventions may be needed for increasing self-efficacy beliefs among adolescents with visual impairment. Interventions should instead focus on increasing the beneficial effect of self-efficacy beliefs, for example by training self-management skills that would be needed to cope with vision-related stressors and worries; or by promoting external conditions that support positive effects of efficacy beliefs, such as increasing the probability of success. Intervention studies have shown that vision-specific self-management training improved general and domain-specific self-efficacy in older adults with visual impairment (Brody et al., 1999; Girdler, Boldy, Dhaliwal, Crowley, & Packer, 2010). Similar interventions should be applied with younger people with visual impairment. In addition, parents may foster skills and autonomy rather than being overprotective and overassisting. First, parents should create access to opportunities for developing skills, such as encouragement of participation in peer-group activities or providing transport when needed. Second, parents should state clear expectations for autonomy and competence that go slightly beyond the present level of their children’s skills and that promote a stepwise increase of competence. Third, because observing the behavior of others is an important source of social learning (Bandura, 1997), children and adolescents with visual impairment need more verbal guidance than children without this impairment. Fourth, parents should positively reinforce competent behavior and autonomy. Finally, parents can support skill development by getting access to rehabilitation services that help with building compensatory skills. Suggestions for the promotion of self-efficacy in younger children with visual impairment have also been stated by Cho and Palmer (2008).

Because students with visual impairment had higher levels of emotional symptoms and lower levels of life-satisfaction than their peers without visual impairment, interventions aimed at improving their psychological well-being are also needed. Suggestions for counseling have been summarized by Moore, Graves, and Patterson (1997). Finally, because the assessed students with visual impairment had higher academic achievement than the students without visual impairment, our results indicate that qualified and motivated students with visual impairment should not be discouraged from pursuing the highest school track, if that would be their preference.

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