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Theories & Approaches

All Theories & Approaches

How the TRA was Developed

The TRA evolved from the field of social psychology. Until Fishbein's early work on the role of people's attitudes in their subsequent (or later) behaviors, researchers who had explored the relationship between attitudes and behavior had found few connections between the two. Fishbein's insight was to distinguish between attitudes towards a general topic (or "object") and attitudes towards the behavior(s) related to that object.

For example, a study of mammography screening behaviors among women might have looked at a woman's attitude towards breast cancer (the "object") to predict whether or not she would seek a mammogram. In Fishbein's TRA, on the other hand, researchers instead would look at her attitudes towards the behavior itself — seeking a mammogram.

Fishbein discovered that when a woman is asked whether or not she believes that a mammogram leads to breast cancer detection (i.e., behavioral belief, or likelihood), and whether or not that is something she values (i.e., evaluation, or good/bad), and whether or not people close to her think this would be a good thing to do, her answers to these questions are indeed good predictors of her mammogram-seeking behavior. Her attitudes towards breast cancer in general would not be as reliable at predicting her behavior because they do not capture her behavioral intent or its determinants: attitudes and norms.

Let's assume all women have positive attitudes about avoiding breast cancer: it's a frightening disease and even those who survive often have to go through painful, prolonged, and even debilitating treatments. We also know that regular mammograms increase the chances of early detection, effective treatment, and survival. Yet women's positive attitudes about avoiding breast cancer do not always translate into positive attitudes towards getting mammograms.

A woman's beliefs about the power of mammograms to detect cancer and whether the people closest to her approve of getting a mammogram would be better indicators of her actual behavior, not her general attitudes about breast cancer. For example, a woman might not believe that mammograms are effective because a friend or relative died of breast cancer in spite of regular mammograms. This experience, in turn, might influence her own behavior by leading her to believe that mammograms are futile.

The measurement of TRA's constructs draws on a long history in the field of psychology devoted to measuring attitudes. Called "expectancy value," this is the concept that an attitude is the result of one's expectations or beliefs about the attributes of an object or action, and of how those attributes are assessed or evaluated by the person contemplating the behavior. As described in the examples below, Fishbein (joined later by Ajzen) translated the concept of expectancy value to the TRA's measurement of attitudes and norms, creating a precise way of understanding people's behavioral intentions.

Next: Relevance of the TRA

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