Psychological models of behaviour choice

Himmelfarb and Eagly (1974) described an attitude as ” a relatively enduring organisation of beliefs, feelings and behavioural tendencies, towards socially significant objects”. Many researchers (Cohen, 1964; Festinger, 1964; Abelson, 1972) have questioned the strength of the attitude-behaviour relationship. This essay will firstly discuss attitude formation and proceed to propose several factors which may hamper corresponding behaviours from attitudes. Subsequent models that incorporate discretionary factors will also be presented as each is discussed. The essay will conclude by summarising the illustrated factors, and their relevant roles within behaviour choice models, lastly proposing four essential factors within the attitude -behaviour relationship.

Attitudes contain functional and structural components which are believed to be the foundation of behaviour and attitude relationships (Pennington, 1990). Four main attitude functions are proposed to facilitate between internal and external demands enabling individual mediation with the environment; adaptive (hedonistic functions), knowledge (about the physical and social world), self-expressive (identity) and ego defensive (maintaining self image) (Pennington, 1990).

It could be surmised that, if these functions are elusive, attitude exhibition may be reduced. Structural components may be explained by the ‘Three Component Model’, which comprises of cognitive, affective, and connotative parts, (beliefs, values, and behaviour towards an attitude object) (Rosenberg and Hovland, 1960, cited in Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). Research has found possession of mixed beliefs, but univalent feelings enabled stronger affective influences on attitude than cognitive ones (Lavine, Thomsen, Zanna and Borgida, 1998). This small correlation between cognitive and affective components has been shown to result in weaker behaviours (Millar and Tesser, 1989).

Furthermore, individuals may share attitudes, but hold different beliefs and behaviour intentions (Thomas, 1971), thus resulting in different behavioural responses (Zimbardo and Leippe, 1991). Therefore, as attitude parts work interdependently, the divergence of beliefs and values will prevent attitudes from inducing behaviour intentions and subsequently producing behaviour (Pennington, 1990). For example, if one usually sings loudly at a football game, but loses one’s voice, then behaviour demonstration is restricted.

Research suggests (Ajzen and Fishbein 1970,1980) that attitudes influence behaviour indirectly through their impact on behavioural intentions. Factors including personal moral beliefs and self-identity are said to shape behavioural intentions (Aarts, Verplanken and Knippenberg, 1998). However, whether intention is directly antecedent to behaviour is dependent on internal factors (i.e. commitment) and external factors (i.e. context, target, time) (Tanner, 1999; Fishbein and Ajzen 1980).

These are incorporated into the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) which suggests that although positive attitudes and intentions to act may be consistent, due to the inadequacy of opportunities imposed by individuals’ internal (Leon, Perugini and Ercolani, 1999) external conditions (environment, time, money), non-engaging behaviours may result.

Behaviour maximisation is ostensibly dependent on the tangibility of individuals’ plans about ‘where, when, and how’ the behaviour is realised (Sheeran and Orbell, 1999). The time frame and information (Matheson, Holmes and Kristiasen, 1999) value are suggested to be important in order for expressions towards attitude objects to occur. Kaiser, Wolfing, and Fuher (1999) found that if situational influences are controlled (i.e. traffic), environmental attitudes become good predictors of ecological behaviour. Similarly, planning attitude elicitation and maintaining the behaviours are considered an important process in the attitude-behaviour relationship (Ogden, 2000).

As controlling and planning are not always elicited; the strength of the relationship is subjective. The Stages of Change Model, (Diclemate, 1982) proposes if such processes have not transpired, resulting actions are unlikely. Equally, the Rubicon Model illustrates the necessity of deliberating when, where and how behaviour can be revealed (Frey, Stahlberg and Gollwitzer, 1993). Thus, if no contemplation of attitude demonstration has occurred, behaviour correspondences may not result.

Personal attributes are considered to contribute to the strength of the attitude-behaviour relationship (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1969) i.e. knowledge, motivation, and controllability. Individuals that have an external locus of control are believed to lack motivation to exhibit held beliefs (Myers, 1999). Rotter’s (1966) Locus of Control Theory exemplifies the need for self-worth and feeling in control for attitude-behaviour correspondence.

Low self-efficacy, in relation to behaviour correspondence, is incorporated into the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977). Behavioural intentions are largely explained, by individual’s knowledge and values about the environment (Kaiser, Wolfing, and Fuher, 1999). It is argued, (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980) that knowledge only provides information about overall behaviour patterns and little about behaviour likelihood. This suggests therefore, that insufficient qualitative knowledge may reduce behaviour predictability. Attitude commitment has also been illustrated (Tanner, 1999) to contribute to behaviour, since the occurrence of introspection may alter attitude stability (Wilson, Hodges and LaFleur, 1995). Thus, attitude instability may not cause corresponding actions.

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