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date: 28 June 2017

Theories, Models, and Approaches of Reasoned Action and Integration in Health and Risk Messaging

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

The design of health messages involves a large number of decisions with respect to the messages’ format, delivery, and content, among others. Because many of these decisions involve creative translations of message content, determining what a message needs to convey is a first step in health message design. Message content should correspond to those factors that most importantly guide people’s decision to engage or not engage in a particular health behavior, as improvement in these factors should result in maximal improvement in the behavior. Clearly, then, the better we can explain which factors determine a particular health behavior, the better able we are to design effective health messages. Reasoned action theory is a useful tool both for explaining any given health behavior and for selecting message content. Reasoned action theory comprises the theory of reasoned action, the theory of planned behavior, and the integrative model of behavioral prediction, which together can best be seen as a sequence of reformulations that build on one another in a developmental fashion. The current formulation of the theory is called the reasoned action approach to explaining and changing behavior. The theory proposes that health behavior follows from intention when one has the necessary skills for performing the behavior and when no environmental barriers exist that obstruct behavioral performance. Intention follows from one’s attitude, perceived normative pressure, and perceived behavioral control with respect to performing the behavior. Because the extent varies to which attitude, perceived normative pressure, and perceived behavioral control shape intentions across behaviors and populations, each health message design project should begin with research to establish the relative importance of attitude, perceived normative pressure, and perceived behavioral control. Underlying these variables are beliefs about consequences, influence from normative referents, and control with respect to performing the behavior. Whereas people may hold a great many beliefs about a particular health behavior, only some of these beliefs will guide people’s decisions about performing or not performing the behavior. Reasoned action theory focuses on changing or reinforcing this subset of beliefs. The appeal for health message design is that reasoned action theory provides guidelines for the identification of beliefs to target in a health message.