Theory of Planned Behavior: Definition, Examples & Usefulness

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  • 0:05 Theory of Planned Behavior
  • 0:57 Using Intention
  • 2:20 Determining Intention
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell

Erin has an M.Ed in adult education and a BS in psychology and a BS in management systems.

Most assume that our attitudes determine our behavior. However, according to the theory of planned behavior, there is more to predicting behavior than just knowing one's attitude. In this lesson, we discuss this theory and its usefulness in predicting actual behavior.

Theory of Planned Behavior

We have already discussed a number of ways that others try to influence us and attempt to change our attitudes. The biggest reason they want to change our attitudes is because of the assumption that it will also change our behavior. For example, a salesman wants to change our attitude about his product so we will actually buy it.

It is true that attitudes are a good way to predict spontaneous, unplanned behavior. However, our attitudes don't always correctly predict our deliberate behavior - at least, not on their own. Attitudes, combined with perceived control and norms, actually predict our intentions. This is the basis of the theory of planned behavior, which is used to predict deliberate and planned behavior.

Using Intention To Predict Behavior

According to this theory, when people have time to plan how they are going to behave, the best predictor of that behavior is one's intention. In other words, to predict what people are going to do, you need to know what they intend to do. This may seem obvious - after all, if you intend to do something, you'll definitely do it! Right? Well, not necessarily. Intention doesn't always accurately predict behavior when there is a reflex or conditioned response involved. For example, someone with a phobia may intend to stay calm and collected when faced with their fear, but may end up having a panic attack instead.

Still, the vast majority of our planned behavior - eating out, watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, and so on - doesn't involve an involuntary response, so intention is still the best overall predictor. But, again, it is not the only piece of the puzzle. The equation below shows all of the important pieces of the theory of planned behavior. As previously mentioned, intention is believed to be determined by three things: attitude, perceived control, and subjective norms. Let's go over each of these in more depth.

Equation illustrating the theory of planned behavior
Planned Behavior Theory Equation

Determining Intention

First is one's attitude toward the behavior. Attitudes can be defined as evaluations of ideas, events, objects, or people. Attitudes are generally positive or negative. Let's say you were considering going to a particular dance club. Do you think going would be fun? Or, would it be boring? Would it make you feel good or bad?

Second is one's perceived control of the behavior. Perceived control refers to the belief of the amount of direction one has over the environment. It suggests if the task will be easy or difficult to accomplish. How easy would it be to go to the club? How much effort is involved? Do you have transportation? Will there be traffic? Is it far away?

Third is one's subjective norms. Norms are attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal, typical, or average. They determine others' approval or disapproval of the behavior. What would others think if you went to the club? Is it considered taboo? How would your reputation be affected?

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