Based on the theory of reasoned action, the theory of planned behavior (TPB) was first described by social psychologist Icek Ajzen in 1985. The theory posits that someone’s behavior is determined by their intention to perform that behavior and in some cases, their perceived level of behavioral control.
Understanding the theory of planned behavior
The theory of planned behavior posits that all behaviors are conscious, planned, and reasoned. In other words, it assumes that the individual has deliberate control over their actions.
Someone’s intention to perform a specific behavior is fundamental to the theory of planned behavior. In a subsequent 1991 article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Ajzen described intention as the “motivational factors that influence a behavior; they are indications of how hard people are willing to try, of how much an effort they are planning to exert, in order to perform the behavior.”
Since the theory helps practitioners understand and predict human behavior, its applications are almost unlimited.
Nevertheless, it is particularly popular in healthcare contexts such as family planning, addiction, birth control, and disease prevention.
TPB has also been applied to entrepreneurial intention (EI). In a study of 528 business administration undergraduates in Turkey, researchers found that students with prior start-up experience were more likely to engage in entrepreneurial behavior because of increased levels of self-efficacy and personal attitude toward entrepreneurship itself.
What influences behavioral intention in the TPB?
Behavioral intention is influenced by three factors.
1 – Personal attitudes
The sum of an individual’s attitudes, knowledge, and prejudices toward a specific behavior (both positive and negative).
Someone’s attitude toward smoking, for example, may include that tobacco is a relaxing pastime that also makes them smell and wake up with a hacking cough in the morning.
2 – Subjective norms
The perception of the attitudes of other people toward the behavior. The smoker may perceive that their friends and family think their habit is addictive and harmful to their health.
3 – Perceived behavioral control
The extent to which the individual believes they can control their behavior. This may be influenced by factors such as their perceived level of ability and determination or the number of support services available to them.
Importantly, TPB believes this perception affects:
- The individual’s intention to behave a certain way. That is, the more control one believes they have over their behavior, the stronger the intention to perform that behavior.
- The behavior directly. When an individual perceives that there is more control, they tend to exert effort for longer to succeed.
How can the theory of planned behavior be used?
The theory of planned behavior is the most used model in healthcare psychology and intervention campaigns.
If we return to the previous example of the smoker, let’s imagine that the individual is 18 years old and part of a friend group where most others also smoke. Based on this, the teenager may come to the mistaken conclusion that smoking is the norm.
Using TPB, the government could develop an anti-smoking campaign where the true percentage of teenage smokers was clarified.
In America, for example, a 2021 CDC study found that just 1.9% of high school students had smoked cigarettes in the previous 30 days.
When the teenage smoker is exposed to the true extent of smoking among those in their age group, their subjective norm will likely change. In other words, they will perceive that the vast majority of people don’t smoke and potentially see their behavior as undesirable.
- The theory of planned behavior posits that all behaviors are conscious, planned, and reasoned. The theory posits that someone’s behavior is determined by their intention to perform that behavior and in some cases, their perceived level of behavioral control.
- The theory of planned behavior helps practitioners understand and predict human behavior, so its applications are almost unlimited. It is mostly used in healthcare contexts but is also seen in entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development.
- Behavioral intention in the theory of planned behavior is determined by three variables: personal attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. By understanding these variables, organizations and governments can predict behavior and create interventions that nudge individuals toward more beneficial behaviors.
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