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In most instances, we engage in certain behaviors because we want to. After all, I want to watch a movie or play badminton because I want to do so. Hence, it is appropriate to say that some level of thought has gone into my choosing to do a certain behavior.

This personal phenomenon can be generalized to a wider population because most of the behaviors take place as a result of certain thoughts, beliefs and attitudes backing up the behavior.

What Is This Theory All About?

The theory of reasoned action was initially proposed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen in 1967. This theory is based on the previously established expectancy value model and it is considered as one of the most influential theories to explain volitional behaviors. TRA is one of the attitude theories through which the relationship between attitude and behaviors is studied. Many of the attitude theories propose that behaviors are usually fuelled by attitude towards the specific behavior.

This theory like many other theories of attitude assumes that a deliberate thought goes behind the behavior regarding the behavioral beliefs and its future implications. In other words, this theory believes that before any behavior takes place, it is preceded by a rational thought process. During such a process, a multitude of aspects such as the various options available, the implications and the repercussions of the choice made etc. are well thought through. After this strenuous process, a decision is made.

For example, when Jack proposed to Diana she wanted to make sure that her decision wasn’t just purely based on emotions but also practically oriented. So she thought out many things before accepting his proposal. She considered his character, his habits, his personality, his background, education, career, their compatibility, and the kind of life she believed she would share with him etc. So when her marriage turned out successful, in hindsight she knew this would be the case because it was a well-thought-out decision.

This theory proposes that behavioral intention is the ultimate driving force behind behavior and that people act based on their intentions. If I chose to be kind and loving towards a certain person, I have a clear intention behind it. It could be because:

  • I genuinely love that person.
  • I want a favor from them, and I know that only by pleasing them I can get my job done.
  • I am trying to be a good person in general.

Although the behavior seemed to be one, the intentions behind it are many. In a metaphorical sense, behavior is just the tip of the iceberg whereas the major chunk of the iceberg lies beneath the surface which is the intention.

Many studies reveal that the relationship between intention and behavior is much stronger when there is a plan devised on how to turn the intention into behavior. For example, if I intend to become fit, I will first think through and strategize the process before I pull up my sleeves and get into work. I would make prior plans with time, the nature of the workout, the food I should intake, transport and scheduling my day among other things.

In this theory, behavioral intention is an important concept as that is determined by the attitude to behaviors. This theory also suggests that when the behavioral intention is stronger, a person is more likely to take more effort to fulfil a behavior and it will directly result in the success of the behavior.

How Are Intentions Formed To Commit Or Modify A Behavior?

The theory of reasoned action believes that intentions (Behavioural Intention – BI) are formed based on two integral factors. They are:

  1. Attitudes toward the behavior (A)
  2. Subjective norms (SN)

Attitudes (A) toward the behavior refer to the thoughts and beliefs about the behavior and the nature of its implications. Based on whether the attitude and the implications are positive or negative, a behavior is likely to occur.

For example, Oliver doesn’t smoke because he holds a negative belief about smoking. He is also aware of the detrimental effects that smoking leads to and therefore avoids it altogether.

Subjective norms (SN) refer to the societal implications of the behavior. In simple terms, it means how society views a particular behavior and whether people will be accepting of the behavior or not. An extent of social appropriateness is also required to know that a behavior is likely to take place.

In a country like Saudi Arabia where most of the population is Muslim, it’s very hard to find people adopting a cohabitation lifestyle. This is so because the subjective norms of society don’t support such a behavior as it is considered an impious act.

Adding up to the previous example, another important reason why Oliver doesn’t smoke is because he knew that in the society that he was living in, smoking was a socially inappropriate behavior to adopt, and it came with a few societal consequences.

To conclude the meaning of Behavioural Intention (BI) is that a person’s ability or capability to intend to perform behaviour. The Intentions have found to predict the behaviour. It is rather considered as the function of both Attitudes and Behavioural Norms.


Leslie is a kind of talkative person; she tries hard to keep her mouth shut. She talked a lot and never kept a secret so people began to call her BBC network. Once she came to know about her nick name and got so depressed. She didn’t want to be called like that and for that she tried to keep her mouth shut and talked to others only when it is needed. Here Leslie intent to behave in another way which was formed by her attitude and subjective norms.

That is BI = A+SN.

Another factor called perceived behavioral control is the third determinant which was later added to the theory, and it refers to a person’s appraisal of their ability to perform. In other words, the extent to which a person believes they are capable of carrying out a certain behavior. It’s important to note that although intention is an integral force of drive behind the behavior, the amount of control one holds will decide whether the action will take place or not.

For example, I might have the best intention to finish my work on time. However, whether I have the volitional control to finish my task on time is the ultimate decider.

The founders of this theory invented a simple formula, that is

BI = (AB)W1 + (SN)W2

In which

  • BI = Behavioural Intention.
  • AB = One’s attitude toward performing the behaviour.
  • W = Empirically derived weights.
  • SN = One’s subjective norm related to performing the behaviour.
  • W1 = Denotes the individual’s control over his/her attitude.
  • W2 = Denotes the weightage of attitude exerted upon other persons regarding the situation and context.

Implications Of TRA

Many research studies show us that the theory of reasoned action has significant amounts of applications in many fields. It is extensively used for predicting behaviors in many settings. Studies reveal that the usage of the hallucinogen drug ‘Ecstasy’ can be predicted using some of the key elements of this theory.

Researchers found out that attitude, intention, subjective norm and perceived control were all present in those who consumed the drug. Those who used ecstasy seemed to possess a positive attitude about the drug and the behavior was also accepted amongst their peer groups and these individuals also believed that they had a perceived control over it.

This theory can be widely applied to understand human behavior in areas related to health, voting, consumer behavior, sexual behavior among teens, religious involvement, and use of condoms etc.

Limitations Of TRA

Although this theory is an astounding feat in understanding how attitudes influence behavior, there are a few limitations to this theory which impedes its effectiveness. Many theorists criticize this theory for placing high importance on intent behind a behavior. They argue that behaviors are not always preceded by a conscious process of intentions and plan. Some behaviors take place on accounts of spontaneity and impulsivity and in such instances; the element of intention doesn’t come inside the picture.

This theory also doesn’t take situational conditions into consideration. Therefore this theory can hold good only for planned and deliberate behaviors. Other studies show that although this theory can predict behaviors to a good extent, it doesn’t extend its accuracy more than that.

Theory Of Planned Behavior

The theory of planned behavior developed by Fishbein and Azjen in the 1980s theorizes about the relationship between behavior and intentions. This theory concludes that beliefs and attitudes hold a significant influence on behavior.

The actions of people are predominantly fuelled by a conscious process where people weigh down their beliefs about the behavior and the outcome. If they hold a positive outlook about the behavior and feel that it would produce positive outcomes, behavior is highly likely to take place.

For example, a doctor choosing to pursue a diploma in business management because she believes it would help her manage the business operations of her clinic much more efficiently.

This theory is an extension of the theory of reasoned action. TRA had conceptualized two determinants of intentions. However, TPB goes a step ahead and includes another crucial determinant to the theory which makes it more sound and reliable.

The third determinant added to TPB is called perceived behavioral control which refers to the amount of control a person holds over a behavior. This addition has transformed the theory to be better predictive and highly applicable in various areas of research, particularly in health-related sector.

Attitude-To-Behavior Process Model

The attitude-to-behavior process model was formulated by Fazio and his colleagues in the year 1986. In this model, Fazio theorizes that our behaviors are formed based on our perceptions regarding an attitude object. In simpler terms, we behave a certain way in a situation based on how we view the situation. Based on how intensely and how frequently they access this attitude, the behavior would be determined.

For example, a person’s attitude about prosocial behavior would influence whether or not they would engage in it. If they hold a positive attitude about it, their behaviors are likely to align with their attitude; i.e. they are more likely to help someone.

However, if the person has had a negative experience of having helped someone, they would readily access that specific memory and this might alter their attitude towards prosocial behavior and may consequently avoid situations where they would have to help someone.

This model can successfully be linked to TRA as it comes from the same place of origin. It is very similar to TRA in terms of hypothesizing that attitude indeed has a tremendous amount of influence on behavior and that people assess their attitudes before choosing to take a step towards a behavior.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Ingrid thurmond December 24, 2015, 4:52 am

    I appreciated the formula added to the theory, it aided in explaining the concept in another way.

  • Khaled Alyami January 3, 2020, 4:17 am

    Thank you. Adding more details would have been better.

  • Ignatius Fenu July 15, 2023, 12:35 am

    Quite simple and explanatory.

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