Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Intention-behaviour gap
What is the intention-behaviour gap and how can it be bridged?
The intention-behaviour gap is a gap between a personsbeliefs and intentions and their behaviour (Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran & Webb, 2016). It suggests that an individual's behaviour does not always correlate with their intentions. This is an issue as it demonstrates a lack of commitment or self-belief to form behaviours patterns (Sheeran, 2002). Theories of motivation and emotion can be used to bridge the gap between intentions and behaviours (Sheeran, 2002). Humans are motivated to behave in a way that is autonomous, competent and allows for them to experience relatedness. There are a number of factors that influence an individual's decision making process to engage in a behaviour. However, underlying theories including the health action process model, transtheoretical model and self-determination theory shed light on the steps required to transform an intention into a behaviour. More specifically, key traits such as action planning and self-efficacy strategies appear to be credible predictors of health actions (Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran et al., 2016). Additionally, self-regulatory strategies are a key effector of goal pursuit (Sheeran, 2002). A vast amount of research has offered several techniques and qualities that have been demonstrated as highly effective for individuals needing to bridge the gap between intention and behaviour (Sheeran, 2002; Sheeran et al., 2016).
This chapter incorporates different research strategies surrounding the intention-behaviour gap in order to identify the most successful interventions. Through foundational research of the intention-behaviour gap, analysis of human motivation and emotion, and critique of common interventions explored in research and literature, an evaluation of the most effective techniques can be provided. This chapter aims to provide guidance on how to identify an intention-behaviour gap and effective methods of reducing the gap.
A patient who recently experienced their first injury has been referred to a physiotherapist and actively attends weekly physiotherapy treatment to recover. The patient was very active prior to the injury and wishes to get back to full health. The patient is required to engage in a number of different behaviours including: attending appointments and completing a number of exercises/activities in their own time at home through self-management. The patient engages in the activities when attending the appointment but does not have the motivation to do the activities at home. They feel as though they do not have time due to school, work and social commitments and frankly they just can't quite be bothered. After all, the exercises take too long and are uninteresting. Eventually the patient cancels their appointments because it is too expensive and takes up too much of their time. (Case extrapolated from Bassett, 2015).
What has happened here?
What causes the gap?
The intention-behaviour gap occurs when the attitudes and values of an individual is not represented in their behaviour and actions (Sheeran, 2002). An intention is something that a person aims to achieve while behaviour is the way in which an individual conducts themselves (Sheeran, 2002).
This psychological discrepancy, named the "intention-behaviour gap" (Sheeran et al., 2016) explores behaviours that are guided by self-instruction to perform behaviour, as opposed to achieving a desired outcome. Intention formation has been deemed crucial for behavioural change, as it places the decision making process back on the individual. For example, a behaviour intention would be "I intend to spend today working on my assignment" whereas a goal intention sounds more like "I intend to finish this assignment before 2pm today" (Sheeran et al., 2016). A behaviour intention requires more effort from the individual to maintain focus, motivation and emotions that will help them to achieve their intention. It is for this reason, that research suggests the intention-behaviour gap plays a significantly important role in behaviour change; lifestyle choices such as avoiding risky behaviours, engaging in regular physical activity and developing study patterns are governed by the gap between intention and behaviour (Sheeran et al., 2016).
How big is the gap?
The intention-behaviour gap is evidently large, with research suggesting intentions are only translated half of the time (Sheeran et al., 2016). This suggests that although people generate an intention to develop or change a behaviour they may not in fact take action (Sheeran et al., 2016)
Literature case studies explore the intention-behaviour gap in relation to physical activity intentions; this topic is common as it requires a significant amount of intention formation to generate a new behaviour pattern. (Sniehotta, Scholz & Schwarzer, 2005) See Table 1 for some examples of the intention-behaviour gap.
Research supporting the breadth and depth of the gap between intention and behaviour frequently examine individual'scapacities to follow through with lifestyle and habitual changes. Most commonly, individuals appear to experience great difficulty with modifying health behaviours (see Figure 1) (Sheeran et al., 2016). Some examples include:
|Patients following a physiotherapy program
(Sluijs et al., 1993; Taylor & May 1996; Bassett, 2015)).
|Smokers giving up smoking
(Sheeran, 2002; Moan & Rise, 2005).
|People engaging in regular physical activity
(Rhodes & Bruijn, 2013).
|People reducing excessive alcohol consumption
(Armitage, 2009; Mullan et al., 2011).
What influences the connection between intention and behaviour?
Information deficit suggests that an individuals inability to actualise behaviour can be attributed to a lack of understanding resulting from poor knowledge and information (Owens & Driffil, 2008). An individual may reject or disagree with certain information because they simply do not understand the content (Owens et al., 2008). This influences the intention-behaviour gap as the individual is unable to understand why their behaviour needs to change (Owens et al., 2008). Information deficit directly affects motivation, emotion, intention and behaviour.
Example: "I don't need to quit smoking, I only smoke socially so it isn't that bad."
External motivation occurs when an individual is motivated to behave due to reasons outside of their own (Tsorbatzoudis, Alexandres, Zahariadis, 2006). These motivators include gaining rewards and avoiding punishments (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). Based on operant conditioning, individuals are motivated to behave for incentives, consequences and rewards (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). This generates low internal motivation and reduces the individual's ability self-motivate. People who are externally motivated tend to have a reduced capacity for autonomous self-regulation (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). Research suggests external motivation is an inefficient strategy due to negative side effects of emotionality, poor relationships and negative modelling (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006).
Example: "I am motivated to do the activity because (a) I will get $5; or (b) I will be yelled at if I do not do it."
Amotivation occurs when someone is lacking in autonomy, competence and relatedness (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). Individuals who are amotivated have no interest in the task at hand, do not believe they have the ability to perform the behaviour required and feel little to no connectedness with the other people involved (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). This is problematic as the individual has low self-efficacy, low self-regulation and a significant disinterest in the activity.
Example: "I do not want to exercise because it is difficult, I am not good at it and I don't like people who exercise."
Research suggests our behaviour can be influenced by social pressures. An individual's sense of responsibility can be highly influenced by the attitudes and beliefs of their culture, religion, family values and peers (Rhodes et al., 2012). Social obligation works in a similar way to external motivation. For this reason, it is important to encourage an individual to behave in ways that align with their own beliefs and values. It is important to have social support, but social obligation has a negative effect on the intention-behaviour gap due to the lack of meaning to the individual (Rhodes et al., 2012).
Example: "I exercise because my mum and dad run every day and I feel guilty if I do not do it."
Internal motivation is an individual's desire to engage in activities that interest themselves and develop their own capacity (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). Internal motivation generates autonomy, competence and relatedness; qualities that are important for psychological needs satisfaction (Tsorbatzoudis, 2006). Internal motivation improves self-regulation, self-efficacy and planning as the individual is self-motivated to engage in a behaviour.
Example: "I am motivated to do the activity because it brings me joy and a sense of satisfaction."
Early research to present
Health behaviour theories including Theory of Reasoned Action, Theory of Planned Behaviour and The Projection Motivation Theory suggest that behavioural intentions are the highest predictor of behaviour (Sainsbury, Mullan & Sharpe, 2013; Rhodes et al., 2013). However, over time, literature has demonstrated that intentions do not always correlate with behaviour and for that reason these theories have been rejected (Rhodes et al., 2013). Research now suggests the gap is a result of people intending to behave but failing to realise intentions. Based on the health action process approach, research suggests that distinguishing between the motivation phase and the volitional phase may provide benefit in understanding the intention-behaviour gap (Schwarzer, Lippke & Luszczynska, 2011). The transtheoretical model has also gathered significant interest from scholars to due its concept of the non-linear progression of intention-behaviour. Additionally, self-determination theory boasts a simple three-component model demonstrating the key influences of psychological needs.
The pathway from intention to behaviour
Health action process approach
The health action process approach can be used to explain the pathway of intention development all the way through to the completed action or behaviour (Schwarzer et al., 2011). This model demonstrates a five-phase concept in which individuals can take a variety of paths based on their motivational and emotional skill-set (Schwarzer et al., 2011). If followed concisely, an individual is able to demonstrate intention and the appropriate following behaviour (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Developed by Rald Schwarzer (1992) the model includes: (1) motivation and volition, (2) two volitional phases, (3) post intentional planning, (4) two kinds of mental stimulation and (5) phase specific self-efficacy (see Figure 2). The model has generated a large amount of empirical evidence as it suggests a distinctive difference between pre-intentional motivation processes (the generation of intention) and post-intentional volition processes (generation of a behaviour) (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Within these two concrete phases, socio-cognitive predictors emerge as key factors that influence the progression of intention and behaviour (Schwarzer et al., 2011. During the intention development stage, an individual employs evaluation of risk perception, outcome expectancies and self-efficacy (Schwarzer et al., 2011). When a current habit has a high risk and the new behaviour choice has positive outcome expectancies combined with self confidence a substantial intention can be formed (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Following this inclination to adopt a new habit, the intention must translate into an action. This period involves self-regulation techniques which can be achieved through self-efficacy and planning. In addition to this, the maintenance of a habit consists of a cycle of constant initiative, maintenance and recovery.
As an example of implementation, the HAPA can be used by health professionals to understand patient behaviour. A professional can use the HAPA to understand what phase of the cycle the individual is experiencing difficulty in allowing the professional to determine the best intervention plan for their client. This will assist the client in achieving their goals.
Transtheoretical model (TM) comprises of six stages that an individual will traverse in order to generate a new behaviour (Taylor, Bury, Campling, Carter, Garfield et al., 2006). Developed in 2005 by Prochaska and Di Clemente, the model consists of: (1) pre-contemplation, (2) contemplation, (3) preparation, (4) action, (5) maintenace and (6) termination (see Figure 3) (Taylor et al., 2006). Based on a similar concept to the HAPA, the TM consists of a number of steps that suggest a format of intention development, self-belief, planning, action and self-regulation to maintain the action (Taylor et al., 2006). It is interesting to note that the process is not linear and an individual can experience a number of relapses throughout different stages of progression (Taylor et al., 2006). This temporal dimension of change occurring over time recognises a number of processes of change that need to be implemented for an individual to successfully progress across the stages (see table 2) Furthermore, the theory suggests that the cons of engaging in a behaviour decrease significantly following the action phase, and the pros of the behaviour increase after the precontemplation phase (Taylor et al., 2006). This suggests that self-efficacy and self-regulation improve following action planning as this makes the behaviour more achievable.
|Cognitive Processes||Behavioural Processes|
|Consciousness raising||Personal liberation|
|Dramatic relief||Problem solving|
|Environmental reevaluation||Seeking support|
|Social liberation||Management of environment/stimulus|
Self-determination theory (SDT) explores the relationship between motivation and personality, more specifically, relating to innate psychological needs and an individual's inherent tendencies for growth (Chatzisarantis, Biddle & Meek, 1997). SDT considers behaviour that is generated by self-motivation and self-determination (Chatzisarantis et al., 1997). Evidence suggests that when an intention is generated from personal beliefs surrounding the outcome of acting, a behaviour is more likely to occur (Chatzisarantis et al., 1997). Furthermore, when an intention is set around an individual's feelings toward actualising a behaviour, the behaviour is at a higher chance of occurring (Chatzisarantis et al., 1997). SDT provides detail on the importance of the basis of the intention (Chatzisarantis et al., 1997). In relation to the intention-behaviour gap, this research is beneficial as it demonstrates what factors guide the process of intention formation through to behaviour. Comprised of three parts, SDT places value on (1) autonomy, (2) competence and (3) relatedness to bridge the gap between intention and behaviour (see Figure 4) (Chatzisarantis et al., 1997).
From this theory perspective, an example of a intention-behaviour gap may been seen in binge drinking. SDT proposes autonomy, competence and relatedness as the key contributors to actualising behaviours. For this reason, an individual would experience an intention-behaviour gap if they did not feel automaticity, confident in their ability or relate to other individuals completing the task. An individual wishes to quit binge drinking. It is likely the individual frequently attends social events where they consistently over-consume alcohol lack causing a lack of autonomy. Additionally, they will also feel unable to quit binge drinking because it is a habit that they have been engaging in for quite some time. Furthermore, the individual might believe that all their friends binge drink and therefore they will feel left out if they decide to quit (reducing relatedness to the population who engage in the new habit). It may be difficult for this individual to overcome their issues, however if they are equipped with the right tools, they will be able to improve their feelings of autonomy, competency and relatedness.
Research suggests that individuals need to develop a strong behavioural intention in order to adopt and maintain new behaviours. This can be achieved by applying knowledge of theories of motivation and emotion;
Detailed action planning has been reported to be a valuable predictor of behaviour (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Planning precedes initiation of the behavioural change. When an individual employs planning, they develop a mental representation of the behaviour, this leads to implementation of the intention which promotes goal attainment (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Action planning can include visualisation, imagery and mental representation of the goal in a when-where-how format (Sniehotta et al., 2005).
As suggested by the health action process approach, good intentions have a higher probability of being actualised through the development of successful experiences and preparation (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Successful experiences generate mental stimulation that forms environmental cues to behave automatically (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Studies on health behaviours suggested that when individuals are trying to achieve a dietary goal, a specific plan is more successful than an overall plan (Schwarzer et al., 2011). Randomised controlled trials further favour planning interventions when implementing and maintaining new health actions (Schwarzer et al., 2011).
Example: writing a step-by-step guideline on the how, what, where and when of a goal.
Self-Efficacy refers to an individuals' beliefs about their own ability to accomplish something through their own actions (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Evidence suggests this concept is a valuable predictor of intention (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Self-efficacy is highly important in the maintenance of intention despite possible barriers, particularly difficult ones (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Self-efficacy also includes the autonomic nature of cognitive processes (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Studies suggest that action planning facilitates self-efficacy by generating automatization which directly effects behaviour to remain consistent (Sniehotta et al., 2005).
Example: "I believe in myself and my ability to be resourceful to achieve my goal."
Self regulatory strategies/action control
An element of mastery, consists of self-monitoring, awareness and self-regulatory efforts (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Self regulation can be achieved through goal setting, reporting achievements and attempts within a time and acknowledging levels of motivation and their emotions toward achieving the intention (Sniehotta et al., 2005). It is important to note the individual's motivation and emotion in order to ensure the intended behaviour is achievable (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Action planning is mediated by action control (Sniehotta et al., 2005).
Example: writing daily reflections on progress, emotion and motivation toward goal.
The theories are interlinked, with self-efficacy improving action planning and planning promoting regulatory strategies.
Emma intends to engage in more pro-environmental behaviours. Emma is aware that in order to achieve her intention she must employ action planning, self-efficacy and self-regulatory strategies. For this reason, Emma gets a journal and conciseslywrites down that she is going to make an effort to turn off the lights in her house more often. She also writes that she is going to do this from 8pm 4 nights each week. Emma feels confident that she is going to be able to achieve her goal. In order to track her progress and feel a sense of accomplishment, Emma gets a calendar and places ticks after each day she achieves this goal. Eventually, Emma turns off the lights in her house after 8pm every day without even thinking about it.
How to minimise the intention-behaviour gap
It is evident,that in order to minimise the intention-behaviour gap, an individual requires a high level of action planning (autonomy), self-efficacy (competence) and self-regulation (relatedness).
Goal setting is frequently used as a way of increasing an individual's motivation (Bassett, 2015). Goal setting has been shown to improve self-regulation, self-efficacy and action planning (Bassett, 2015). The framework of goal setting includes generating something meaningful to the individual that they would like to achieve (Bassett, 2015). This ensures that an individual can improve their ability to achieve by addressing the necessary steps to reach the end state (goal). Some key considerations of goal setting includes:
The nature of the intention, basis and properties influence the likelihood of the following behaviour: (1) Goal dimensions (Sheeran et al, 2016), this consists of the features and content of an intention have an important influence on the likelihood of the intention to relate in behaviour. Research suggests that when intentions/goals are framed in terms of promotion, autonomy and learning or mastery, they are more likely to be achieved (see Figure 5) (Sheeran et al., 2016). SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) intentions are more likely to be maintained. (2) Basis of intention (Sheeran et al., 2016) Intentions based on personal beliefs are better predictors of behaviour than those used to confirm to social pressures (norms) (Sheeran et al., 2016). Furthermore an intention should be based on the act of performing the behaviour as opposed to the consequences of not. (3) Properties of intention (Sheeran et al., 2016) Intention properties impact intention-behaviour consistency; properties include direction, intensity, accessibility, certainty and temporal stability (Sheeran et al., 2016). It is important to be confident within your intended behaviour but also to ensure that the intended behaviour is accessible and achievable.
Internalisation occurs when an individual transform from being externally motivated to internally motivated (Cook & Artino, 2016). This ensures full integration of the person themselves generating their own values, beliefs and regulation (Cook et al., 2016). There are a number of ways to achieve this: (1) motivating others to do uninteresting activities; this promotes autonomous motivation by building interest in the activity, the individual will develop interest over time (Cook et al., 2016). (2) Explanatory rationales; this occurs when an individual (often a parent or health care profesional) explains the importance of doing an activity (Cook et al., 2016). Internalising will improve an individuals sense of self-efficacy, self-regulation and action planning.
Planning and organisation
The will to act is influenced by concrete comprehension of the pathway to change (Sniehotta et al., 2005; Rhodes et al., 2013). Research suggests that building plans is a highly effective method of decreasing the intention-behaviour gap especially in health related follow-up interventions (Rhodes et al., 2013). Planning assists people to identify barriers to achieving their goals and generate a specific concept of how to overcome these to be successful. If an individual has a highly specific concept of what they are going to do, how they will do something and when they will do something, their chances of success are increased (Rhodes et al., 2013). Planning presents the standard for action along with crucial cues which allow the develop self-regulatory mechanisms (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Planning and organisation increases an individual's ability to develop automaticity through self-monitoring (Sniehotta, Schwarzer, Scholz & Schuz, 2005). It also improves self-efficacy as the individual is able to track and recognise their progress.
Affect is the experience of emotion. Affect demonstrates the importance of making activities emotionally engaging in positive ways (Rhodes et al., 2013). When implementing a new behaviour, it is important to place emphasis on the positive benefits of making the behaviour (Rhodes, 2013). This generates positive experiences that will motivate the individual to continue to pursue that behaviour (Rhodes et al., 2013).
Locus of control
Locus of control suggests an individual's behaviour will vary with their perception of their control over the situation (Grimmer & Miles, 2017). This most commonly affects consumers who intent to act pro-environmentally but fail to actualise their behaviour as they feel their actions will not make a difference (Grimmer et al., 2017). To combat this, the individual needs to internalise their motivations.
Sniehotta et al., (2005) reported outcome expectancies are an individual's perception of the outcomes for engaging in a new behaviour. Outcome expectancies can being thought of as comparing the benefits and costs of something. If the benefits outweigh the costs, the likelihood of a behaviour occurring increases. This can be commonly seen in the inactive population when considering the health benefits of physical activity; they might acknowledge that exercise is beneficial for their health however it can require great amounts of resources and result in fatigue.
As previously mentioned, self-efficacy is an individual's belief in themselves. Efficacy determines the level of effort an individual perceives themselves as having to put in to initiate and maintain an action (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Efficacy effects the ability to overcome barriers. Someone who is self-efficacious will confidently overcome problems and develop strategies to maintain a behaviour (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Outcome expectancies and perceived self-efficacy have been shown to have the greatest influence the intention-behaviour gap (Sniehotta et al., 2005).
An individual's level of awareness about the risks if their behaviour does not change. Frequently related to health problems, risk awareness is not the most influential predictor of behaviour, however it has been noted to add deliberation to behaviour change (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Risk awareness can be improved through education.
Limitations of the research
Limitations of research include the nature of most studies to incorporate a questionnaire method (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Questionnaires are a valid tool but can lead to a number of user biases (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Furthermore, it may be more beneficial to use case studies and target populations as opposed to randomised controlled trials (Sniehotta et al., 2005). Target populations who evidently experience the intention-behaviour gap include, but are not limited to, those who wish to exercise, quit smoking, reduce risky alcohol consumption or quit taking drugs but have failed to do so thus far. Furthermore, longitudinal studies can cause difficulty in interpreting empirical relationships (Sniehotta et al., 2005).
What is the most effective method of bridging the gap?
Overall, there is clear evidence to suggest that although the intention-behaviour gap is rather prevalent worldwide, there are strategies that can be used to reduce the gap (Sniehotta et al., 2005). All relevant psychology theories of human behaviour and intention (health action process model, transtheoretical model and self-determination theory) provide valid information surrounding the concept. There appears to be two main themes emanating from the concepts: (1) the importance of planning to bridge the gap by reducing potential problems/obstacles and (2) self belief, self-efficacy and competence. The latter as a personality trait, is highly important in reducing the gap, however it is important to note that self-efficacy can be trained. Through goal setting and building on positive experiences, an individual increases their chances of actualising behaviour.
Considerations for future research
The intention-behaviour gap is a potential causation of public health issues. It is evident that the intention-behaviour gap is prevalent throughout a wide range of health conditions. For this reason, future research should utilise people in target populations as participants in their studies. The studies used should be observational and utilise both prospective cohorts and case-control studies. This will generate a greater amount of specific evidence for the relationship between intention and behaviour.
- Extrinsic motivation and antisocial behaviour in children (Book chapter, 2015)
- Climate change and consumer behaviour motivation (Book chapter, 2018)
- Locus of control and motivation (Book chapter, 2019)
- Binge drinking motivation (Book chapter, 2015)
- Health behaviours (Book chapter, 2013)
- How do habit theories effect behaviour? (Book chapter, 2016)
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