Willpower and Perceived Behavioral Control: Influences on the Intention-Behavior Relationship and Postbehavior Attributions

By Fitch, Judy L.; Ravlin, Elizabeth C. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, February 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Willpower and Perceived Behavioral Control: Influences on the Intention-Behavior Relationship and Postbehavior Attributions


Fitch, Judy L., Ravlin, Elizabeth C., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Individual differences in willpower (a subdimension of conscientiousness) and perceived behavioral control (PBC: cognition regarding extent of control over an action; Ajzen, 1985) in the intention-behavior relationship were explored to better understand when intention will be completed to action. The impact of these constructs in postbehavior attributions also was explored. Subjects were traditional and nontraditional students (N=325) preparing for examinations at two time periods. Rather than confirming main effects proposed by prior research (e.g., Ajzen), moderation effects characterized these data. At Time 1, individuals higher in willpower behaved more consistently with their intentions. At Time 2, individuals higher in PBC showed a similar effect. Lower willpower also led subjects to make less attribution to effort when expectations were exceeded.

Key words: effort, individual differences, intention, perceived behavioral control, willpower

Motivation is one of the most debated topics within the fields of psychology and organizational behavior (e.g., Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). However, Markus and Ruvolo (1989) note that researchers have typically tended to minimize the role of the self-concept or self-system in the process. While some theories do include the self (e.g., self-efficacy: Bandura, 1991), these approaches tend to lack an emphasis on constructs such as intentions. Our research brings these two aspects of motivational theory, the self and intentions, together to address a key question: What self-relevant constructs influence whether intentions are carried out? In any type of interdependent and goal-directed system, planning, scheduling, task allocation, and predicting multilevel outcomes all depend on individuals' consistently fulfilling their intentions. Motivation implies a willingness to put forth effort toward a purpose (Finder, 1984), which requires that a person form an intention toward the activity. However, while one individual may have the best intentions to perform some task, at the end of the day the task may still be undone, whereas others' intentions are successfully completed to action.

Our purpose was to examine central self-relevant (rather than situational) factors affecting the likelihood that individuals would carry out their intentions. Specifically, the personality trait of willpower (defined as persistence and determination), and the self-relevant cognition of perceived behavioral control (PBC: perceived difficulty of performing a specific behavior; Ajzen, 1985), were our foci. These aspects of the self-system are also thought to influence attributions made for outcomes; ultimately, such postbehavior cognition should exert a dynamic influence on self-construal and future behavior in similar taskoriented situations (Wigfield & Eccles, 2001). We review literature and develop hypotheses regarding effects of willpower and PBC on the intention-behavior relationship, and build a case for the influence of these individual differences on attributions for outcomes of task-oriented behavior. We then describe a field study of student intentions and studying behavior at two points in time.

THE SELF IN MOTIVATION

Self-related structures are commonly used in the psychology literature to explain the control and regulation of behavior (see Bandura, 1991). Aspects of the self are generally thought to serve a variety of functions and to affect a broad range of phenomena, including motivation, perception, and behavior (e.g., Boldero & Francis, 2002). However, the origin and nature of self- structures that allow willful control over behavior are not entirely clear (Cross & Markus, 1990). Our research was concerned with the individual self, as opposed to collective aspects of the self, because we targeted the individual intention-behavior relationship. Both trait aspects of the self and self-relevant cognition (although not entirely separable) appear to be important in motivation (Conner & Abraham, 2001).

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