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The Nature of Attitudes and Persuasion

The Yale Approach

Congruity Theory

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Social Judgment/ Involvement Theory

Information Integration Theory

Theory of Reasoned Action

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Theory of Reasoned Action

Theory of Reasoned Action
Relationship of Behavioral Intention to Behavior
Evaluation
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Self-Test
Theory of Reasoned Action
The theory of Reasoned Action was developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen as an improvement over Information Integration theory (
Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). There are two important changes. First, Reasoned Actions adds another element in the process of persuasion, behavioral intention. Rather than attempt to predict attitudes, as does Information Integration theory (and several others), Reasoned Action is explicitly concerned with behavior. However, this theory also recognizes that there are situations (or factors) that limit the influence of attitude on behavior. For example, if our attitude leads us to want to go out on a date but we have no money, our lack of money will prevent our attitude from causing us to go on a date. Therefore, Reasoned Action predicts behavioral intention, a compromise between stopping at attitude predictions and actually predicting behavior. Because it separates behavioral intention from behavior, Reasoned Action also discusses the factors that limit the influence of attitudes (or behavioral intention) on behavior.

The second change from Information Integration theory is that Reasoned Action uses two elements,  attitudes and norms (or the expectations of other people), to predict behavioral intent. That is, whenever our attitudes lead us to do one thing but the relevant norms suggest we should do something else, both factors influence our behavioral intent. For example, John’s attitudes may encourage him to want to read a Harry Potter book, but his friends may think this series is childish. Does John do what his attitudes suggest (read the book) or what the norms of his friends suggest (not read the book)?

Specifically, Reasoned Action predicts that behavioral intent is created or caused by two factors: our attitudes and our subjective norms. As in Information Integration theory, attitudes have two components. Fishbein and Ajzen call these the evaluation and strength of a belief. The second component influencing behavioral intent, subjective norms, also have two components: normative beliefs (what I think others would want or expect me to do) and motivation to comply (how important it is to me to do what I think others expect).

Therefore, we have several options for trying to persuade someone. The first group of options are like the strategies identified by information integration theory:

-strengthen the belief strength of an attitude that supports the persuasive goal.
-strengthen the evaluation of an attitude that supports the persuasive goal
-weaken the belief strength of an attitude that opposes the persuasive goal
-weaken the evaluation of an attitude that supports the persuasive goal
-create a new attitude with a belief strength and evaluation that supports the persuasive goal
-remind our audience of a forgotten attitude with a belief strength and evaluation that supports the persuasive goal.

For example, suppose you wanted to persuade your roommate, Pat, to go see a movie. If Pat had a positive attitude toward that movie (“I’ve heard that movie is funny”), you could try to increase the belief strength (“Everyone says it is funny; no question about it”) or evaluation (“That movie isn’t just funny, its hilarious!”) of that attitude. If Pat had a negative attitude toward attending the movie (“The movie theater is decrepit”) you could try to reduce the belief strength (“They remodeled it”) or evaluation (“The important thing is the movie, not the theater”) of that negative attitude. You could create a new favorable attitude (“I heard the soundtrack to this movie is great!”) or remind Pat of a favorable attitude.

However, the addition of subjective norms creates several other options:

-strengthen a normative belief that supports the persuasive goal
-increase the motivation to comply with a norm that supports the persuasive goal
-reduce a normative belief that opposes the persuasive goal
-reduce the motivation to comply with a norm that opposes the persuasive goal
-create a new subjective norm that supports the persuasive goal
-remind the audience of a forgotten subjective norm that supports the persuasive goal.

For example, you could try to strengthen an existing normative belief (“No one should sit home on a Friday night”) or increase the motivation to comply (“You’ll really be depressed if you stay home -- people are right when they say you shouldn’t stay home on the weekend”). If Pat thinks it is wrong to go to a movie with a roommate instead of a date, you could try to weaken this normative belief or her motivation to comply with it. Furthermore, you could try to create a new norm (“Everybody is going to see movies made by this director”) or remind Pat of a forgotten norm.

Finally, the fact that there are two influences on behavioral intention, attitudes and norms, gives one final possibility for persuading others:

-if one component (attitudes, norms) supports the persuasive goal more than the other, make that component more important than the other.

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