The Theory of Planned Behaviour: Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes
This article elaborates on the nature of behaviour-specific factors in Ajzen’s framework: Theory of Planned Behaviour. Following limitations in accounting for behaviours in which people do not have complete volitional control, the Theory of Reasoned Action model was refined to include perceived behavioural control that improves the predictive power of behaviours.
The causal chain (attitudes -> intentions -> behaviours) recognizes attitudes as a poor gauge of behaviour in specific situations although they influence intentions and can affect the final outcome.
Perceived behavioural control plays an important role in shaping behavioural intentions, thus the motivation to commit a specific act. It refers to how easy or difficult an individual perceives a potential behaviour to be — based on availability of mandatory opportunities and resources. Factors such as time, skills and/or cooperation of others etc collectively represent the individual’s actual control over the behaviour of interest. I understand this as where the required circumstances are present, and a strong intention to perform the behaviour is exerted, an individual is very likely to succeed in doing so.
It is important to note that perceived behavioural control is dependent of two aspects:
(1) degree to which individuals conceptualize themselves as sufficiently knowledgeable, skilful, disciplined, and able to perform some act
(2) extent to which individuals feel that other factors, such as cooperation of colleagues, resources or time constraints, could inhibit or facilitate the behaviour
The Theory of Planned Behaviour emphasizes that behavioural intentions are function of not just personal attitudes towards consequences, social norms but also our inherent sense of control.
I will use the example of a campaign against drink-driving to analyze the various components. An individual’s (let’s call him Mickey) chain of thoughts:
Beliefs about the outcome of the behaviour – Drink-driving is very dangerous.
Evaluation of expected outcomes – By drink-driving, I am a hazard to society. By not drink-driving, I fulfil my role as a responsible citizen.
Attitudes bring about positive or negative feelings relating to the specific behaviour.
- Normative Beliefs
Contribution of “V.I.P” opinions – Family and friends do not want me to drink and drive.
Compliance – I need to do what they want me to do. I need to listen to their wishes.
Motivation to avoid an undesirable behaviour is weighted on an individual’s perception of whether people important to him/her believe the behaviour should be performed. Mickey’s close family and friends would definitely reject the idea of his drink-driving.
- Control Beliefs
I have enough self-discipline to refrain from alcohol. It will not be difficult to avoid drink-driving.
Mickey’s high perceived behavioural control is the extent to which he assumes he can refrain from alcohol. Perceived behavioural control bases on the concept of self efficacy. However this internal locus of control conflicts with external control where there is lack of cooperation from others, for e.g. when he is peer-pressured into drinking, giving into the temptation of drinking as part of a social group.
Mickey was oblivious to factors that would obstruct the intended behaviour of refraining from alcohol. This explains why perceived and actual behavioural controls sometimes diverge, affecting the extent to which intentions are associated with corresponding behaviours (Armitage & Conner, 2001).
Ajzen’s suggests that the link in the above diagram should ideally be between behaviour and actual behavioural control (rather than perceived). However the difficulty of assessing actual control has led to perceived behavioural control as an approximate. I infer that the accuracy of an individual’s perception results in the final deviance.
By understanding the Theory of Planned Behaviour, communication strategies are drawn up to target the affecting factors. Of course the relative importance of each component can vary across individuals and contexts (Ajzen, 1991). The Theory of Planned Behavior is one of the most predictive persuasion theories.
How would you then, as a media professional, use knowledge of this framework to attempt to alter Mickey’s behaviour?
Reference: Ajzen, I. (1991). The Theory of Planned Behaviour. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.