Three Theories of Individual Behavioral Decision-Making

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1 Three Theories of Individual Decision-Making Be precise and explicit about what you want to understand. It is critical to successful research that you are very explicit and precise about the general class or type of that you want to explain. Here is what I mean by being explicit and precise. Step 1: What type or genre of human social processes, structures and functions do you want to study? Do not confuse type of process, structure or function with a specific topic for the research. For example, I present below three theories commonly used to understand al decision-making. This could include decisions about whether to your diet, where to go to college, whether to join a gym or take up jogging, or whether to invest money in the stock market or buy a new car. These specific topics are all examples of decision-making and these three theories are equally useful in understanding and explaining all of these s. Look at the theory of planned, for example. The construct of self-efficacy can refer to virtually any al decision. These theories do not explain s that do not involve purposive decision-making e.g., psychotic, group identity, emotions, etc. Step 2: What is the unit of analysis of interest to you? Social scientists conduct research on individuals, households, communities, formal and informal groups, organizations, nation states The list goes on. You have to determine very early and clearly the unit of analysis for your research. For example, one could look at college students (18-22 age group) as individuals and use individual theories of decision-making to try to understand their decision-making processes and rationale. In this case, any of the three theories presented on the following pages would be candidates for the research. However, one could also look at them as members of a formal or informal group (fraternity or sorority or sport team or close friends, etc.). In the latter case, these three theories would not be appropriate choices because these theories deal with individual decisionmaking, not group decision-making. There are many theories that try to explain group decision-making. Examples include innovation diffusion theory, identity theory, several theories of organizational, and social learning theory. The theory of planned, does not explain group decision-making. Overall, we can say that the general class of that the three theories presented below describe is al decision-making. In fact, in most instances, these theories explain the decision to. We can also say that they explain al decision making primarily as an individual process. In fact, even more explicitly, these theories are all what we call RATs or rational choice theories that share some assumptions about why people do what they do. Most important, they assume that people weigh the costs and benefits of a and decide what to do based on the relative advantage of one al choice over another. In a sense, they all treat decision-making as a process that occurs in the individual human mind, with little influence from the outside and essentially no social processes involved. To be quite honest, all of the RATs are rather deeply flawed by these assumptions because we know that all sorts of social contexts and process influence al decisions and we also know that all of us routinely engage in s that we know are not good for us. Why do I present them then? (1) They re simple (and perhaps simplistic as well) and easy to understand when you are new to theory. (2) I m using these theories for examples. Therefore, you cannot use the theory of planned (TPB) or its predecessor the theory of rational choice (RCT) for your projects (individual or group) this semester. There are at least two other groups of theories that are commonly applied to understand al decisionmaking. The first are the interpersonal al decision-making theories. While these theories also ultimately try to explain why an individual does or does not engage in a specific, they differ from the individual al theories in two key respects. First, they incorporate larger social groups (friends, family, etc.) as a primary factor in determining al decisions. Fundamentally, these theories posit social relationships as a very powerful set of forces driving. It is not that they argue that the individual does not act as a decision-maker. Rather, they see the individual s al outcomes as a component in a larger social process. Second, not surprising perhaps, these theories focus less on purposive or rational decisionmaking. Again, these theories do not deny that individuals make decisions. However, they see rationality or purpose as just one factor that influences, rather than, in many cases, the primary factor. Finally, a third group of theories relevant to al decision-making focus on the structures that influence human s and facilitate or limit options available to individuals. These theories focus much more on the ways

2 large social structures like communities, organizations, or less obvious social structures such as race, gender and class affect what an individual can do. I will use obesity to show how the three theoretical frameworks (individual, group and structural) differ in focus. All theorists would agree that each adult in some sense decides what to eat. So take a morbidly obese person as our example. Why does this person continue to gain weight? Put another way, why doesn t s/he decide to his/her diet? TPB would say that the person weighs the benefits and costs of changing diet and find that the costs outweigh in the person s mind the potential benefits. The group theories would say that the individual learned diet from his/her parents, relatives and friends and lives in a context that encourages him/her to maintain the traditional diet even if the person knows it is not good for him/her. The structural theories would say that the person s decisions are constrained by interacting structures marketing for fast foods, perhaps no supermarkets where s/he lives, unhealthy foods in restaurants, at school, etc. that constrain the ability to choose a healthy diet. Step 3: Review the topical literature. It is critical that you understand that your first step in the research process is to become knowledgeable about the theories that are relevant to the topic or subject of your research, e.g., in our example obesity. You do that by reviewing the published research reports based on the theories by evaluating the existing, published evidence that supports the validity of the theory as an adequate explanation. There is NO substitute for knowing the research literature. Step 4: Select a theoretical framework appropriate for your research goals. There are, in my experience, three common theoretical goals or objectives for research. One is to test theory, e.g., to evaluate the degree to which a theory adequately explains something usually under a different set of conditions, with a different group of people, or at a different stage in the life cycle of people (families, communities) than those under which it has already proven successful in explaining the phenomenon of interest. Although theory testing is discussed at great length in the literature about research design and methods, my personal view is that this often not the research objective among social scientists. The second is to build theory. This, I believe, is a very common research objective for social scientists. Theory building commonly involves clarifying the relationships among constructs and, in some cases, adding new constructs to see if they enhance the theory s explanatory power (e.g., how well it performs as an explanation). For example, if you look at the third theory presented here, the transtheoretical model, you will see that social liberation is a construct in the theory, but that it does not appear in the diagram (model) of the theory I offer. That s because no one has really figured out where it goes in the diagram no one has been very successful in establishing its linkage to the other constructs. Theory building could focus on this construct to enhance our model of this theory. The third objective is to compare the explanatory power of two or more theories. This is often a very fruitful research objective. At the least, it allows us to draw some conclusions about the relative explanatory power of the theories used. Often, this kind of research allows us to bring together two or more theories to create a new, more elaborate theory, to resolve differences in the theories about where constructs fit in the model, or in some cases to incorporate constructs from one theory into another. For example, self-efficacy or control beliefs of some sort are a construct in all three of these theories. A researcher could fruitfully try to determine if these constructs all mean the same thing, and if they do, help us clarify the commonalities among these three theories. You will have to decide in your research which of these three research objectives best fits your work. Then you will be ready to select a theoretical framework for your work. It may be a single theory or a combination of two or more theories. Whatever your decision, you cannot create a research instrument without a theoretical framework.

3 Belief Model susceptibility severity benefit barriers Cues to action Self-efficacy One s belief regarding the chance of getting a condition One s belief of how serious a condition and its consequences are One s belief in the efficacy of the advised action to reduce risk or seriousness of impact One s belief about the tangible and psychological costs of advised action Strategies to activate one s readiness to act One s confidence in one s ability to take the advised action Individual Perceptions Modifying Factors Likelihood of Action Age, sex, ethnicity Personality Socioeconomics Knowledge benefits minus perceived barriers to susceptibility to undesirable outcome threat of disease Likelihood of al severity of undesirable outcome Cues to action Education Symptoms Media

4 Theory of Planned Behavior Summative s Attitude toward Subjective norm al control intention Primary s belief Evaluation Normative belief Motivation to comply Control Beliefs Power Overall evaluation of the Belief that al performance is associated with certain attributes or outcomes Value attached to a al outcome or attribute Belief about whether most people approve or disapprove of the Belief about whether each referent approves or disapproves of the Motivation to do what each referent thinks Overall measure of perceived control over the likelihood of occurrence of each facilitating or constraining condition effect of each condition in making al performance difficult or easy likelihood of performing the beliefs Evaluations of al outcomes Attitude toward Normative beliefs Motivation to comply Subjective norm intention Control beliefs power al control Behavior

5 Transtheoretical Model of Individual Change Summative Stages of Decisional balance Process of Process Stages of Change Precontemplation Contemplation Preparation Action Maintenance Consciousness raising Dramatic relief Environmental reevaluation Self-reevaluation Self-liberation Helping relationships Selfefficacy Primary Precontemplation Has no intention to take action within the next 6 months Contemplation Intends to take action within the next 6 months Preparation Intends to take action within the next 30 days and has taken some al steps in this direction Action Has d overt for less than 6 months Maintenance Has d overt for more than 6 months Pros Benefits of changing Cons Costs of changing Confidence Confidence that one can engage in the desired across different challenging situations Temptation Temptation to engage in the undesirable across different challenging situations Consciousness Finding and learning new facts, ideas, and tips that support the raising Dramatic relief Experiencing the negative motions (fear, anxiety, worry) that go along with al risks Self-reevaluation Realizing that the is an important part of one s identity as a person Environmental Realizing the negative impact of the undesirable or the reevaluation positive impact of the desirable on one s proximal social and physical environment Self-liberation Making a firm commitment to Helping Seeking and using social support for the relationships Counterconditioning Substituting alternative s and cognitions for the undesirable Reinforcement Increasing the rewards for the positive and management decreasing the rewards of the undesirable Stimulus control Removing reminders or cues to engage in the undesirable and adding cues or reminders to engage in the desirable Social liberation Realizing that the social norms are changing in the direction of supporting the Counterconditioning Reinforcement management Stimulus control

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