Theoretical Spotlight: The Theory of Planned Behavior

Literature Review

Many doctoral students struggle to identify theories to serve as the foundation for their dissertation study. In this blog series we highlight the most popular theories we come across in our work with dissertation students.

Theory: Ajzen’s (1991) theory of planned behavior

Ajzen (1991) developed the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to explain individuals’ behavioral intentions, or how people plan to act. Researchers have used the TPB to explain people’s behavioral intentions in relation to topics such as policy adoption and planning and implementing organizational change. The TPB is a well-known and often used theory in an array of fields, including business, education, healthcare, information technology, and marketing.

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Ajzen developed the TPB from the theory of reasoned action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), which includes two factors: subjective norms and attitude. Ajzen added the factor of perceived behavioral control to the theory of reasoned action to develop the TPB. According to Ajzen, people’s intentions to act are based not only on subjective norms and attitude but also on perceived behavioral control. Subjective norms are the social standards that can influence individuals’ actions. Attitude toward an action involves positive or negative feelings toward the action. Lastly, perceived behavioral control refers to individuals’ views of their abilities to perform an action, including facets of the action that are within or outside of their control.

Taken together, these factors can be salient predictors of behavior intentions. Social standards, or what is considered the norm, can have a strong influence on individuals’ intentions. Individuals’ attitudes toward an action also can influence their intentions; people may be more likely to act in a specific way if they hold positive attitudes toward an action rather than negative ones. Finally, if individuals feel there are facets of an action that are outside of their control, they may be less likely to act than if they feel facets of the action are in their control.

Further reading:

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 179–211.

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.