Theory of Reasoned Action & Theory of Planned Behavior in Alcohol and Drug Education

By Sharma, Manoj | Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Theory of Reasoned Action & Theory of Planned Behavior in Alcohol and Drug Education


Sharma, Manoj, Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education


In the mid to late 1960s Martin Fishbein (1965, 1967), a social psychologist at University of Illinois at Urbana, originated the idea of the relationship between beliefs and attitudes. In the seventies he teamed up with Icek Ajzen of University of Massachusetts, Amherst to write the book, "Belief attitude, intention and behavior. An introduction to theory and research" (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) which formed the basis of the Theory of Reasoned action (TRA). In 1980, the Ajzen and Fishbein came up with a second book, Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior, which simplified the TRA and made it more practical for use in a variety of fields. Since the early 1980s the theory has been popular among researchers and practitioners. In 1980s, a meta analysis was done on the TRA (Sheppard, Hartwick, & Warshaw, 1988) and it found that the theory had strong predictive utility. Still it was felt by some researchers including Professor Icek Ajzen that theory was deficient in explaining behavior especially of people who have little or feel they have little power over their behaviors. As a result he added a new construct to the TRA. This construct is the concept of perceived behavioral control which resulted in the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991).

TRA and TPB have been applied to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. A study conducted in south-eastern Michigan assessed the predictive potential of TPB with regard to use, frequency of use and misuse of alcohol among eighth-graders (Marcoux & Shope, 1997). The study also made a comparison between, TRA and TPB in predicting intention to use alcohol. Multiple regression modeling demonstrated that intention explained about 26% of variance in alcohol use, 37% of variance in frequency of alcohol use and around 30% of variance in alcohol misuse. Peer pressure and friend's experience with alcohol were found to be important variables in the model of TPB. The third important predictor was found to be normative belief of parents. Hence this study underscored variables such as reducing alcohol availability, decreasing peer pressure and encouraging parents to have discussion related to alcohol use with their children and getting involved in prevention programs. Another study described and compared the predictors of cigarette smoking among African-American, Puerto Rican and non-Hispanic white teenagers (Hanson, 2005). It was seen that all three variables, namely attitude, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control predicted smoking intentions in African Americans while only attitude and perceived behavioral control were predictive of smoking in Puerto Rican and non-white Hispanic teenage girls. Similar findings were found in a literature review which looked at the applicability of the TPB in the study of post-partum smoking relapse (Gantt, 2001). This theory has also been studied in undergraduate students who indulged in binge drinking (Norman, Bennett, & Lewis, 1998). When TPB variables were added to the variable of sex, they explained 38% of the variance in the frequency of binge drinking. The two variables which emerged as independent predictors of binge drinking were perceived behavioral control and positive control beliefs. In another study the impact of variables such as moral norm, descriptive norm and anticipated regret and past behavior along with TPB variables were studied in a sample of school children (McMillan, Higgins, & Conner, 2005). Attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control explained 51.8% of intentions in smoking behavior and additional variables increased the predictive utility of TPB.

Despite the wide application of the TRA & TPB these theories have been criticized. Both TRA and TPB are theories that predict behavioral intention and behavior but do not necessarily explain behavior change which is the prime concern in alcohol and drug education programs. Hence, detailed and specific guidance for behavior modification is not provided by TRA and TPB.

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