Intention Stability

In the vast majority of quality applications of SCMs to predicting health behavior, a prospective design is employed where the predictors of behavior are measured by questionnaire (at time 1) and then behavior is measured at a second time point (in stronger designs behavior change is the focus of interest). An important assumption of such a design is that the measured cognitions (e.g., attitudes) remain unchanged between their measurement and the opportunity to act. So, for example, the assumption is that intentions do not change in between when the (time 1) questionnaire is completed and the time points at which the respondent has the opportunity to act. This is an explicit limiting condition of the TRA/TPB (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). However, cognitions including intentions may indeed change in this time period and such change provides one important limitation on their power to predict behavior. Several studies have now demonstrated the power of intention stability to moderate the intention-behavior relationship (see Conner and Godin, 2007, for a review). For example, Conner et al (2002) found that intentions were strong predictors of healthy eating up to 6 years later, but only among those whose intentions had remained stable over an initial period of 6 months.

A number of factors have been found to influence the intention-behavior relationship. For example, anticipating feeling regret if one does not perform a behavior or perceiving a strong moral norm to act have both been found to significantly increase the intention-behavior relationship (see Cooke and Sheeran, 2004, for a review). Sheeran and Abraham (2003) showed intention stability to moderate the intention-behavior relationship for exercising and that intention stability mediated the effect of other moderators of the intention-behavior relationship (e.g., anticipated regret, certainty). This suggests that the mechanism by which a number of these other moderators may have their effect on intention-behavior relationships is through changing the temporal stability of intentions. Hence, factors that might be expected to make individual intentions more stable over time would be expected to increase the impact that these intentions have on behavior and so increase the intention-behavior relationship. Thus intention stability might be a useful focus of attention as a key mediating variable in intervention studies attempting to change health behavior.

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