In This Article The Reasoned Action Approach and the Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Measurement
  • Critiques and Commentaries
  • Interventions and Behavior Change

Psychology The Reasoned Action Approach and the Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior
Martin S. Hagger
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0240


Since the inception of the theory of reasoned action in late 1970s by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior and, in its more recent incarnation, the reasoned action approach, have been among the most influential approaches to predicting and understanding intentional behavior. The theories have been widely applied across multiple behaviors, contexts, and populations. With their roots in attitude theory and the social cognitive tradition, the theories focus on individuals’ beliefs with respect to future performance of a given behavior. The theory of reasoned action was the earliest version of the theory. The central construct of the theory is intention, a motivational construct that is considered the most proximal determinant of behavior. Intention reflects the extent to which an individual is likely to plan to do, and invest effort in pursuing, a given behavior. Intention is conceptualized as a function of two belief-based constructs: attitudes and subjective norms. Attitudes are positive or negative evaluations of performing the behavior in future, while subjective norms reflect beliefs that significant others would want them to perform the behavior. The theory of reasoned action demonstrated effectiveness in predicting variability in people’s behavior across many contexts, populations, and behaviors. Ajzen modified the theory of reasoned action to account for behaviors that were not under the complete control of the individual. The theory of planned behavior introduced perceived behavioral control as an additional predictor of intentions. In circumstances where individuals’ perceptions of control closely reflect actual control, perceived behavioral control would determine the strength of the Intention-Behavior Relationship. When their perceived behavioral control was high, individuals would be more likely to act on their intentions. Ajzen also proposed that when perceived behavioral control closely reflects actual control, it will directly predict behavior. Fishbein and Ajzen proposed the reasoned action approach as a further development in their theory based on research. The reasoned action approach extends the theory of planned behavior by differentiating between different subcomponents of the attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control constructs in the theory of planned behavior. The popularity of the theories is due to their relative simplicity and flexibility, as well as their effectiveness in accounting for substantive variance in behavior. The theories have also served as the basis for extended theories that encompass new constructs toward developing more comprehensive explanations of behavior, and to test salient processes that determine action such as the relationship between intentions and behavior. This annotated bibliography outlines key books, chapters, and articles that chart the progress of these theories from their origins and development to their application and extension. The list of readings offered in this bibliography is not exhaustive, but aims to provide readers with a representative overview of the origins of the theories, key theoretical assumptions and debates, the empirical evidence testing the theories, and research on extensions and practical application of the theories.

General Overviews

This section begins with Ajzen and Fishbein’s original conceptual reviews that detail the origins of the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior, and, ultimately, the reasoned action approach. Influenced by the literature on attitudes and social cognition, Fishbein and Ajzen 1975 and Ajzen and Fishbein 1977 outline the links between attitudes and behavior, with intention as a fundamental construct that mediates this relation. These formative writings formed the bases of the theory of reasoned action, and the seminal book Ajzen and Fishbein 1980 provides the definitive exposition of the theory, its predictions, and its application. Ajzen outlined his theory of planned behavior in a seminal book chapter, Ajzen 1985, and a follow-up research article (Ajzen 1991) and book (Ajzen 2005). The broader, generalized framework of the reasoned action approach is outlined in the two contemporary books Ajzen, et al. 2007 and Fishbein and Ajzen 2010, with a comprehensive overview provided by Conner and Sparks 2015.

  • Ajzen, I. 1985. From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In Action-control: From cognition to behavior. Edited by J. Kuhl and J. Beckman, 11–39. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

    E-mail Citation »

    Seminal research article outlining the theoretical bases for the theory of planned behavior, which introduces the construct of perceived behavioral control as a predictor of intentions and behavior.

  • Ajzen, I. 1991. The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50.2: 179–211.

    DOI: 10.1016/0749-5978(91)90020-TE-mail Citation »

    This article further outlines the conceptual and theoretical bases of the theory of planned behavior, and outlines how the key predictors are underpinned by sets of behavioral, normative, and control beliefs. It also outlines limitations and boundary conditions such as inclusion of past behavior and the sufficiency of the theory. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Ajzen, I. 2005. Attitudes, personality and behavior. 2d ed. Berkshire, UK: Open Univ. Press.

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    A comprehensive and updated treatment of theory and research on personality, attitudes, behavioral consistency, intentions, and actions, culminating with the conceptual bases of the theory of planned behavior.

  • Ajzen, I., D. Albarracín, and R. Hornik, eds. 2007. Prediction and change of health behavior: Applying the reasoned action approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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    This edited volume presents chapters outlining key conceptual issues relating to the theory of reasoned action and how it has been modified and extended. It introduces the reasoned action approach, and provides examples and reviews of applications of the approach in multiple contexts such as smoking cessation, HIV prevention, health promotion, and changing multiple behaviors.

  • Ajzen, I., and M. Fishbein. 1977. Attitudes-behavior relations: A theoretical analysis and review of empirical research. Psychological Bulletin 84.5: 888–918.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.84.5.888E-mail Citation »

    The authors comprehensively review research on the link between attitudes and behavior. They introduce the constructs of subjective norms and intentions, and outline the importance of correspondence in terms of target and action for precision in attitude-behavior relations. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Ajzen, I., and M. Fishbein. 1980. Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    The definitive text on the theory of reasoned action in which the authors set out the key premises of the theory, and comprehensively cover issues relating to the development of the constructs and their Measurement, means to test the theory, and its applications.

  • Conner, M. T., and P. Sparks. 2015. The theory of planned behavior and reasoned action approach. In Predicting and changing health behaviour: Research and practice with social cognition models. Edited by M. T. Conner and P. Norman, 142–188. Maidenhead, UK: Open Univ. Press.

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    Up-to-date, comprehensive treatment of the conceptual, theoretical, and applied issues relating to the theory of planned behavior and reasoned action approach in health contexts. The chapter provides important guidance on research designs, measurement, and interventions based on these approaches.

  • Fishbein, M., and I. Ajzen. 1975. Belief, attitude, intention and behavior. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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    This book outlines the fundamental bases of the theory of reasoned action, and introduce the construct of intentions as a focal construct that reflects the behavioral function of attitudes.

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

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    Recognizing developments in research on the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior, the authors introduce the more comprehensive reasoned action approach. The approach distinguishes between specific subcomponents of the attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control constructs, and outlines their conceptual bases and means to test them. It also outlines how the theory can be used as a basis to change behavior.

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