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The OCR Glossary

Theory of Planned Behavior

Karen Freberg

One of the more well-established persuasion theories from psychology that can be applied to corporate reputation management is the theory of planned behavior. The theory of planned behavior is the extension of a similar theory, the theory of reasoned action. Both theories attempt to predict behavioral intention and behavior itself. The theory of reasoned action proposes that behavioral intention reflects attitudes toward the behavior and relevant subjective norms. The theory of planned behavior adds perceived behavioral control to the existing constructs of the theory of reasoned action. This entry discusses the role of attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intention in the theory of planned behavior. The entry then discusses the theory’s implications for corporate reputation management.

The concept of an attitude has a long history in the study of human behavior. An attitude is the sum total of a person’s inclinations and feelings, prejudice or bias, preconceived notions, ideas, fears, threats, and convictions about a specific topic. More contemporary scholars view attitudes as guides for determining positive or negative evaluations while performing a specific task. In the context of the theory of planned behavior, an attitude represents a summary evaluation of a psychological object captured in attribute dimensions such as good/bad, harmful/beneficial, pleasant/unpleasant, and likable/dislikable.

The theory of planned behavior also argues that individuals form behavioral beliefs about the likelihood that a behavior will lead to a particular outcome. For example, a person might have a positive attitude about following a healthy living rule: “If I eat fewer calories, I’ll lose weight” (behavioral belief) and “Losing weight is good for my health” (attitude toward behavior). In a business setting, a person might have a behavioral belief concerning social responsibility: “If I do business with this company, I will be socially responsible”; this is consistent with an attitude stating, “Being socially responsible is good for my reputation.”

Subjective norms introduce a social dimension to decision making and intention and are influenced by the normative beliefs held by an individual. In addition to forming attitudes with positive or negative valence, people use the attitudes of significant others to guide behavior. Normative beliefs reflect the attitudes of friends, family members, experts, and others with influence. Subjective norms are judgments of the amount of pressure one feels from significant others to comply with normative beliefs. “My friends think that buying a product from a company that is active in corporate social responsibility efforts is a good thing” is a normative belief, and “My friends’ opinions about corporate social responsibility initiatives are very important to me” reflects a subjective norm.

A corporation’s choice of spokesperson, brand ambassador, or influencer should be informed by a firm understanding of the type of person who is most likely to influence the normative beliefs of audiences. For example, the level of trust expressed toward peers or “people like you” is much stronger as reflected in recent surveys than the trust placed in paid spokespersons or celebrity endorsers. Subjective norms in today’s social media environment can be the result of influence from virtual acquaintances in addition to face-to-face social contacts. Online reviews and ratings could produce strong effects on audiences. Social media greatly expand the concept of “People I know think a certain way” about an organization.

Perceived behavioral control describes how easy a person thinks it will be to perform a behavior. This concept originated in psychological work on self-efficacy. Perceived behavioral control is determined by control beliefs, which involve an understanding of the factors that can help or hinder the performance of a behavior. Control beliefs include perceived assistance and barriers related to performing a behavior. Control beliefs include both internal and external barriers. An internal control belief reflects an individual’s ability to carry out a behavior, such as having enough willpower to quit smoking. An external control belief relates to other people or events, such as wanting to join a gym to lose weight but not having a gym located conveniently.

Behavioral intention in the theory of planned behavior is the immediate precursor of the actual performance of the behavior and is in turn predicted by attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control.

The theory of planned behavior provides reputation managers with a model for predicting how reputational factors work together with subjective norms and perceived control to predict audiences’ intentions to act and their actual behavior in interactions with an organization. Reputation is most salient to the behavioral beliefs and attitudes toward behavior in relationships with an organization. Corporate reputation has an attitudinal base. The theory of planned behavior indicates, however, that the attitudes that make up a reputation do not operate in a vacuum. Instead, these attitudes interact with social influences and self-efficacy in predictable ways. Understanding these interactions provides organizations with guidance for shaping behavior via attitudes and social influence.

Not only does the theory of planned behavior provide an understanding of audiences’ intentions to act and their eventual actions, but the model also guides the development of effective interventions. A reputation manager might be in the situation of wishing to change the behavior of audiences toward an organization. Interventions designed to produce behavior change might target any of the components of the theory of planned behavior.

One of the key strengths of the theory of planned behavior is that it highlights the primary beliefs that form the foundation of a particular behavior. This knowledge helps reputation managers avoid the pitfall of targeting the wrong beliefs while attempting to influence behavioral change. For example, the amount of knowledge a person has about the dangers of smoking does not necessarily influence the person’s intent to quit smoking. An intervention that provides further information about the dangers of smoking is unlikely to produce the desired change in behavior.

Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179–211.

Ajzen, I. (2001). Nature and operation of attitudes. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 27–58.

Ajzen, I. (2002). Perceived behavioral control, self-efficacy, locus of control, and the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 665–683.

Caruana, A., Cohen, C., & Krentler, K. A. (2006). Corporate reputation and shareholders’ intentions: An attitudinal perspective. Journal of Brand Management, 13(6), 429–440.

Cooke, R., & French, D. P. (2008, October). How well do the theory of reasoned action and theory of planned behaviour predict intentions and attendance at screening programmes? A meta-analysis. Psychology & Health, 23(7), 745–765.

Edelman Trust Barometer. (2014). Annual global study. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (2010). Predicting and changing behavior: The reasoned action approach. New York: Psychology Press.

Thurstone, L. L. (1928). Attitudes can be measured. American Journal of Sociology, 33(4), 529–554.

See Also

Edelman Trust Barometer; Reasoned Action Theory

See Also

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