In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Attitude-Behavior Consistency

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Reviews
  • Historical Background
  • Specificity of Conceptual Definitions
  • Applications to Health Communication
  • Applications to Marketing and Advertising
  • Applications to Prejudice and Racism

Communication Attitude-Behavior Consistency
Nancy Rhodes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0128


The extent to which attitudes and behavior are correlated has been the focus of study in the social sciences since early in the 20th century. There are many reasons for the sustained interest in this area, and attitudes have long been a central focus of study in the fields of communication, psychology, and sociology. A central tenet in the concept of attitudes is that they predispose one to behavior. Most definitions of attitudes include some aspect of behavior. For example, the tripartite model of attitudes specifies that attitudes comprise affect (emotion), cognition (thought), and behavior. Central to the concerns of communication scholars is the idea that if attitudes and behavior are highly correlated, then changing attitudes through persuasive communication will have the effect of changing the associated behavior. Much of the work in persuasion is built on the assumption that persuasive communication affects one’s internal states, such as one’s emotions and beliefs about the subject of the persuasive communication. This change in internal states also includes a change in one’s attitude toward the topic. It is through this change in attitude that behavior change subsequently occurs. However, although the assumption that attitudes direct behavior appears sound, it is not always the case that people act in accordance with their attitudes. The focus of much of the research in this area has been to determine the conditions under which attitudes are more likely to correspond with behavior. For example, research has determined that attitudes that are based on direct experience are more likely to predict behavior, as are attitudes that are accessible, meaning they are quickly activated in memory. Another area of focus in this work has been the development of the understanding of behavioral intention. Given two people with the same attitude about a behavior, the person who has a clear intention to perform the behavior at a specific place and time is more likely to enact the behavior than the person who has not formed an intention to perform the behavior. Research in this area has demonstrated a strong relationship between intention and behavior, and behavioral intention is often used as a proxy for behavior in research. Finally, when one is concerned with changing attitudes to affect behavior, it has been found that persuasion that occurs through careful thought regarding the persuasive material is more likely to lead to subsequent behavior change.

Core Texts

There are a number of books that cover the general area of attitudes and persuasion well, and most of these also discuss attitude-behavior consistency. A few books deal specifically with relevant theory. Ajzen and Fishbein 1980 and Fishbein and Ajzen 2010 are primary sources that describe the authors’ model (see the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA), the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), and the Integrative Model), which is the theory most directly related to the understanding of the attitude-behavior (AB) relationship. Other books are general reference works that cover theory and research in attitudes and persuasion. Eagly and Chaiken 1993 has long been the go-to text for all information related to attitudes. Written primarily for researchers and graduate students, its coverage of the issues in attitude-behavior consistency is comprehensive and thoughtful. The chapter Zanna and Fazio 1982 provides a good historical context and theoretical introduction to the work on the attitude-behavior relation. Other books with good chapters on attitude-behavior consistency include Oskamp and Schultz 2005, Maio and Haddock 2010, and Stiff and Mongeau 2003.

  • Ajzen, Icek, and Martin Fishbein. 1980. Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    This book describes the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) approach, and it summarizes the research supporting the theory since its original presentation, as well as the methodology used to investigate the theory. This is a valuable resource for the development of measurement tools, as well as for understanding the predictions made by the theory. In addition, this volume includes one of the few early experimental tests of the application of the TRA to persuasion.

  • Eagly, Alice H., and Shelly Chaiken. 1993. The psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

    This is a general text covering all aspects of attitudes and persuasion. It provides comprehensive coverage of the attitude-behavior relation and provides good information on the theoretical perspectives and historical context of the work in this area. This book is written for graduate students and researchers in the area, and thus can be difficult for undergraduates, but it represents high-quality scholarship and thoughtful consideration of the issues.

  • Fishbein, Martin, and Icek Ajzen. 2010. Predicting and changing behavior: The reasoned action approach. New York: Psychology Press.

    Written by the original developers of the major theoretical model in this area, this book presents an excellent overview of the reasoned action approach to understanding how attitudes predict behavior. It provides a review of recent research and theoretical developments, and is essential reading for new scholars to this area of inquiry.

  • Maio, Gregory R., and Geoffrey Haddock. 2010. The psychology of attitudes and attitude change. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    A good introductory-level text, this book is accessible to undergraduates, yet it provides a very nice introduction to the topic. The descriptions of the theoretical models are particularly cogent.

  • Oskamp, Stuart, and P. Wesley Schultz. 2005. Attitudes and opinions. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This is a good general book on attitudes and persuasion, pitched at the graduate student level, although probably accessible to advanced undergraduates as well. There is a chapter on the attitude-behavior relation that provides good coverage of the theories and research in this area.

  • Stiff, James B., and Paul A. Mongeau. 2003. Persuasive communication. New York: Guilford.

    Another undergraduate introduction to persuasion, this book comes more directly from the perspective of communication scholars than some of the others on the list. There is a good introductory chapter on the attitude-behavior relationship that discusses the major theories and research.

  • Zanna, Mark P., and Russell H. Fazio. 1982. The attitude-behavior relation: Moving toward a third generation of research. In Consistency in social behavior: The Ontario Symposium. Vol. 2. Edited by Mark P. Zanna, E. Tory Higgins, and C. Peter Herman, 283–301. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This chapter provides a summary of the research on the attitude-behavior relationship within psychology. The authors argue that there have been three generations of research on the attitude-behavior relationship. The first generation focused on whether there is a relationship. The second generation focused on moderators of the AB relationship. The third generation is focused on theories of the relationship.

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