Theory of Reasoned Action

20/05/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

The theory of reasoned action (ToRA or TRA) aims to explain the relationship between attitudes and behaviours within human action. It is mainly used to predict how individuals will behave based on their pre-existing attitudes and behavioral intentions. An individual’s decision to engage in a particular behavior is based on the outcomes the individual expects will come as a result of performing the behavior. Developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen in 1967, the theory derived from previous research in social psychology, persuasion models, and attitude theories. Fishbein’s theories suggested a relationship between attitude and behaviors (the A-B relationship). However, critics estimated that attitude theories were not proving to be good indicators of human behavior. The TRA was later revised and expanded by the two theorists in the following decades to overcome any discrepancies in the A-B relationship with the theory of planned behavior (TPB) and reasoned action approach (RAA). The theory is also used in communication discourse as a theory of understanding.

The primary purpose of the TRA is to understand an individual’s voluntary behavior by examining the underlying basic motivation to perform an action. TRA states that a person’s intention to perform a behavior is the main predictor of whether or not they actually perform that behavior. Additionally, the normative component (i.e. social norms surrounding the act) also contributes to whether or not the person will actually perform the behavior. According to the theory, intention to perform a certain behavior precedes the actual behavior. This intention is known as behavioral intention and comes as a result of a belief that performing the behavior will lead to a specific outcome. Behavioral intention is important to the theory because these intentions “are determined by attitudes to behaviors and subjective norms”. The theory of reasoned action suggests that stronger intentions lead to increased effort to perform the behavior, which also increases the likelihood for the behavior to be performed.

Key concepts and conditions


A positivistic approach to behavior research, TRA attempts to predict and explain one’s intention of performing a certain behavior. The theory requires that behavior be clearly defined in terms of the four following concepts: Action (e.g. to go get), Target (e.g. a mammogram), Context (e.g. at the breast screening center), and Time (e.g. in the 12 months). According to TRA, behavioral intention is the main motivator of behavior, while the two key determinants on behavioral intention are people’s attitudes and norms. By examining attitudes and subjective norms, researchers can gain an understanding as to whether or not one will perform the intended action.


According to TRA, attitudes are one of the key determinants of behavioral intention and refer to the way people feel towards a particular behavior. These attitudes are influenced by two factors: the strength of behavioral beliefs regarding the outcomes of the performed behavior (i.e. whether or not the outcome is probable) and the evaluation of the potential outcomes (i.e. whether or not the outcome is positive). Attitudes regarding a certain behavior can either be positive, negative or neutral. The theory stipulates that there exists a direct correlation between attitudes and outcomes, such that if one believes that a certain behavior will lead to a desirable or favorable outcome, then one is more likely to have a positive attitude towards the behavior. Alternatively, if one believes that a certain behavior will lead to an undesirable or unfavorable outcome, then one is more likely to have a negative attitude towards the behavior.

Behavioral belief

Behavioral belief allows us to understand people’s motivations for their behavior in terms of the behavior’s consequences. This concept stipulates that people tend to associate the performance of a certain behavior with a certain set of outcomes or features. For example, a person believes that if he or she studies for a month for his or her driver’s license test, that one will pass the test after failing it the first time without studying at all. Here, the behavioral belief is that studying for a month is equated with success, whereas not studying at all is associated with failure.


The evaluation of the outcome refers to the way people perceive and evaluate the potential outcomes of a performed behavior. Such evaluations are conceived in a binary “good-bad” fashion-like manner. For example, a person may evaluate the outcome of quitting smoking cigarettes as positive if the behavioral belief is improved breathing and clean lungs. Conversely, a person may evaluate the outcome of quitting smoking cigarettes as negative if the behavioral belief is weight gain after smoking cessation.

Subjective norms

Subjective norms are also one of the key determinants of behavioral intention and refer to the way perceptions of relevant groups or individuals such as family members, friends, and peers may affect one’s performance of the behavior. Ajzen defines subjective norms as the “perceived social pressure to perform or not perform the behavior”. According to TRA, people develop certain beliefs or normative beliefs as to whether or not certain behaviors are acceptable. These beliefs shape one’s perception of the behavior and determine one’s intention to perform or not perform the behavior. For example, if one believes that recreational drug use (the behavior) is acceptable within one’s social group, one will more likely be willing to engage in the activity. Alternatively, if one’s friends groups perceive that the behavior is bad, one will be less likely to engage in recreational drug use. However, subjective norms also take into account people’s motivation to comply with their social circle’s views and perceptions, which vary depending on the situation and the individual’s motivations.

Normative beliefs

Normative beliefs touch on whether or not referent relevant groups approve of the action. There exists a direct correlation between normative beliefs and performance of the behavior. Usually, the more likely the referent groups will approve of the action, the more likely the individual perform the act. Conversely, the less likely the referent groups will approve of the action, the less likely the individual will perform the act.

Motivation to comply

Motivation to comply addresses the fact that individuals may or may not comply with social norms of the referent groups surrounding the act. Depending on the individual’s motivations in terms of adhering to social pressures, the individual will either succumb to the social pressures of performing the act if it is deemed acceptable, or alternatively will resist to the social pressures of performing the act if it is deemed unacceptable.

Behavioral intention

Behavioral intention is a function of both attitudes and subjective norms toward that behavior (also known as the normative component). Attitudes being how strongly one holds the attitude toward the act and subjective norms being the social norms associated with the act. The stronger the attitude and the more positive the subjective norm, the higher the A-B relationship should be. However, the attitudes and subjective norms are unlikely to be weighted equally in predicting behavior. Depending on the individual and situation, these factors might have different impacts on behavioral intention, thus a weight is associated with each of these factors. A few studies have shown that direct prior experience with a certain activity results in an increased weight on the attitude component of the behavior intention function.