Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Incomplete Knowledge and Attitude-Behavior Inconsistency

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Incomplete Knowledge and Attitude-Behavior Inconsistency

Article excerpt

Much previous research has shown the health belief model to be effective in explaining social-cognitive processes that lead to attitude-behavior consistency across a wide variety of health-related behaviors. The health belief model, like other social-cognitive models that rely upon the hierarchy-of-effects principle, presumes rationality between beliefs and attitudes, attitudes and intentions, and intentions and behavior for volitional behavior. It was found, for food intake behavior, that rationality is not achieved unless respondents have a high threshold level of "how-to" and "awareness" nutrition knowledge. Thus, as with ill-formed intentions, ill-formed knowledge (i.e., beliefs) can lead to nonrationality in volitional behavior.

Social cognitive theories of attitude-behavior consistency, such as the theory of rational expectations (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), and the health belief model (Becker, 1974; Rosenstock, Strecher, & Becker, 1988), rely upon the hierarchy-- of-effects principle, wherein it is posited that beliefs (knowledge) cause affect (attitudes), which causes conation (intention), which causes behavior (Lavidge & Steiner, 1961). Considerable research has investigated the definition and measurement of beliefs, attitudes, intention, and behavior and the nature of relationships among these attributes and has found much support for theories based upon the hierarchy-of-effects principle (Worchel, Cooper, Goethals & Olson, 2000).

The hierarchy-of-effects principle assumes that cause and effect are rational in the sense that attitudes accurately reflect beliefs, intention accurately reflects attitudes, and behavior accurately reflects intentions (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). Although rationality has been conceptualized as resulting from different cognitive processes-such as expected utility, subjective utility, attribution, and resolution of cognitive dissonance (e.g., Fazio, 1986; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) the presumption of rationality is central to all theories derived from the hierarchy-- of-effects principle.

Previous literature has reported extensive examinations of conditions that create attitude-behavior inconsistency, or nonrationality, in behavior. Conditions such as the existence of contradictory beliefs (e.g., wherein attitudes and behavior reflect cognitive dissonance), countervailing values (e.g., engaging in warfare despite holding humanistic values), addictions motivated by both physical and social conditions (e.g., smoking cigarettes), and abnormal psychology can create nonrational behavior. But in the absence of these special - but not unusual - circumstances, theories that rely upon the hierarchy-of-effects principle presume that behavior represents the logical (i.e., rational) outcome of beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. The purpose of this study was to examine how limitations in knowledge (i.e., ill-formed beliefs) can lead to nonrational volitional behavior, wherein this nonrationality is not related to contradictory beliefs, countervailing values, or other structural limitations or social-psychological "abnormalities," but instead is related to an inability to engage in behavior that accurately reflects attitudes and intentions.

Much research has investigated the effects of limited knowledge on the rationality of volitional choice, particularly in the economics of utility maximization. Rational choice models nevertheless rely upon the principle of rationality. That is, the "objective observer" might conclude that an individual's choice was not the most "rational" one to be made to maximize utility and note that this inefficiency resulted from lack of full knowledge. But the rational choice model is "rational" in that the inefficient choice is intended to accurately reflect the information known by the individual. The findings of this study show, instead, that it is possible that lack of knowledge can create nonrational choices resulting from an inability to act rationally upon stated attitudes and intentions. …

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