Swimming in friendly waters – By Dr Rebecca Band

Dr Rebecca Band is a senior research fellow at NIHR CLAHRC Wessex

After several months of thinking ‘I think I’d like to learn how to swim’, last year, I finally made the decision to enrol in adult swimming lessons. I was motivated, I felt fit and so was confident this was something I was capable of doing (and I must admit the lessons were also convenient to get to). Psychologists might say that I had high “self-efficacy”. Self-efficacy is the belief that you will successfully be able to complete a task, activity or performance.

However, my high self-efficacy did not necessarily mean that everything went smoothly or to plan. In the hours leading up to the first lesson I started to make excuses to myself and almost (spoiler alert!) didn’t go. I suspect you’re wondering what has all this got to do with anything?

Here at NIHR CLAHRC Wessex, we are particularly interested in something called “collective efficacy”. Collective efficacy is a feeling or perception regarding how able you feel to ask for, and receive, help from your social network to complete a task, activity or performance. We know social networks are important to a person’s health and wellbeing, and that they too are important for behaviour. For us, collective efficacyis important and is thought to influence, and be influenced by, self-efficacy.

Back to me. In my case, I was fortunate; I knew there were people who I could talk to about my fears of not knowing what I was doing, looking daft etc. These people reminded me I have been to new groups before, and that it’s pretty normal to be nervous. One friend even offered to join me and start taking lessons too (I didn’t take her up on this).

In this way, we believe that collective efficacy is different from social support because the focus is not on how many supportive people you have around you. Instead, it addresses the dynamic nature of problems and support – is the right support available and accessible from the right person at the time when it is needed the most? In my example, I was able to talk to my friends at the right time, who offered the right sort of support needed in order to encourage me to the pool (thank you).

Healthy option?

We think collective efficacy is important because we know that many health behaviours from starting a new activity to more complex behaviours like self-management of health are likely to be influenced by many factors. That is why we have developed and tested the first measure of collective efficacy within personal networks, called the CENS (The Collective Efficacy of Networks measure; http://bit.ly/censCW). We found the CENS was able to predict important outcomes such as mental wellbeing and loneliness, especially when combined with a measure of self-efficacy.

We believe that measuring both self- and collective efficacy together, may be of benefit to researchers, clinicians and commissioners alike. For example, it could be used as a tool to tailor interventions (i.e. where collective efficacy is low), to explore changes in behaviour, or as an outcome (that is, being able to utilise network support more successfully).

If you are interested in using the CENS please contact me at r.j.band@soton.ac.uk

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