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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Since the theory’s conception in 1967, many researchers have found that it has adequate predictive utility. Bagozzi (1981) conducted a field study of blood donors examining hypotheses within leading attitude-behavior theories, including the theory of reasoned action. Bagozzi (1981) concluded that behaviors under an individual’s complete volitional control showed that attitude 258 influences behavior only through its impact on intentions, as described by Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) theory of reasoned action. Moreover, Bagozzi (1981) found support for measuring the attitude-behavior relationship in regards to Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) correlation of target, context, action and time. Bagozzi (1981) states, “The present study also demonstrates the sensitivity of the intentions-behavior and attitude-intentions relationships to specificity considerations. With respect to the former, the relations are strongest when the corresponding variables are measured at comparable levels of specificity with regard to action, target, context and time. With respect to the latter, the relationship is strongest when the respondent is allowed to adjust intention according to the degree of behavioral commitment he or she is willing to make. It appears that attitudes and intentions can correspond in terms of the consequences of the act as well as in terms of the action, target, context and time elements” (625).

Like Bagozzi (1981), Burnkrant and Page (1982) assessed the determinants of the intention to donate blood. Based on Bagozzi’s (1981) findings, Burnkrant and Page assumed that intention would fully mediate intention, resulting in behavior. Burnkrant and Page concluded that, “Our results provide strong support for the validity of a two-component (i.e. attitudinal and normative) conceptualization of the determinants of behavioral intention” (560). Moreover, Schlegel et al.

(1977) extended the generalizability of the theory of reasoned action through measuring alcohol drinking by adolescents. Schlegel et al. concluded that their research had shown the theory of reasoned action to be sufficiently strong and “compared favorably with results obtained from applications of the [theory] to other behaviors” (428).

Furthermore, Davidson and Jaccard (1975) tested the theory of reasoned action using phone interviews of women on the topic of family planning. The researchers attempted to show the predictivity and generalizability of the theory. Davidson and Jaccard concluded that, to the degree that attitudinal and normative components predict behavioral intention, the theory provides highly active predictions of family planning intentions. (1077) Also, the researchers found that a high correlation was present between individuals’ attitude toward performing a given behavior and beliefs about the consequences of performing that behavior. (1079) And finally, Davidson and Jaccard showed support for the theory of reasoned action as correlations are stronger when the traditional attitude toward the object is replaced with attitude toward the act in predicting specific behaviors (as suggested by the theory of reasoned action). (1079) Davidson and Jaccard performed a two-year study of family planning behavior again in 1979. Again, Davison and Jaccard (1979) found predictive validity of the theory and concluded “Even prior to the adjustments made for attitude change and the sequence of events, both intention and the attitudinal and normative components measured at the first interview provided reasonable correlations with behavior during the subsequent 2 years (the lowest validity coefficient was.508)” (1374).

Possibly, the most overwhelming evidence of the theory’s predictive utility is Sheppard et al.

(1988). Sheppard et al. (1988) conducted two meta-analyses of past studies utilizing the Ajzen and Fishbein model. Sheppard et al. (1988) found that, “Based on the data […], a frequency-weighted average correlation for the intention-behavior relationship was.53. This correlation is based on 87 separate studies with a total sample of 11,566 and is significant at the 0.01 level. Based on the data […], a frequency-weighted average correlation for the attitude-subjective norm-intention relationship was.66. This correlation is based on 87 separate studies with a total sample of 12,624 and is significant at the 0.001 level. These results provide strong support for the overall predictive utility of the Fishbein and Ajzen model” (336).

Perhaps most closely linked to the study at hand, the theory of reasoned action has been proven effective in marketing literature. In applying the theory to predicting and understanding consumer behavior, Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) demonstrated the theory’s ability to predict purchase intentions by asking 37 college students to indicate their intentions to perform two or three different behaviors in reference to five brands in three product types (automobile, toothpaste and beer). While Ajzen and Fishbein stressed correspondence between measures, they concluded that “there is little 259 doubt that buying intentions can be accurately predicted from corresponding measures of attitude toward the behavior and subjective norm. With respect to the products and behaviors considered in this study, the attitude toward the behavior seemed to be the more important determinant of buying intention” (169).

In a review of the relevant marketing literature, Ryan and Bonfield (1975) cited that the theory had several shortcomings and recommended a larger body of marketing research using the theory; however, they also concluded that evidence across studies indicate that the theory has “value in predicting and explaining variance in intentions and behaviors over a wide range of purchase intentions and purchase behavior” (125). Ryan and Bonfield (1975) found that across the relevant literature, the average correlation between behavioral intention and behavior was.44. (125) Moreover, it is important to note, as Ryan and Bonfield (1975) have, that much of the marketing research based on the theory of reasoned action has not actually measured behavior, rather much of the research, both positive and negative, has measured the relationship between variables in the theory of reasoned action.

Wilson et al. (1975) applied the theory of reasoned action to a study of adult housewives answering questionnaires and then observing their behavior when selecting between six different brands of toothpaste, which they were given at no-charge for their participation in the study, from a display. Wilson et al. concluded that the theory of reasoned action can be applied in a marketing context, and that attitude toward action (as suggested by the theory of reasoned action) predicted behavioral intention better than other models. Additionally, it was argued that attitude toward action has considerably greater predictive power in purchase situations where barriers exist to purchase (e.g. financial, status effects, time etc.). (47) Likewise, a study by Tuck (1973) used the theory of reasoned action to show correlation across different user groups of a specific brand of bedtime drink, Horlicks. Tuck (1973) found that when the total sample was considered, the correlation was.74, and all correlations were significant at over the.005 level. (347) Tuck added, “Predictions of behavior will be improved (in my experience and that of other users of the model) by the measurement of normative beliefs according to the [theory of reasoned action]” (347).

Furthermore, Ryan and Bonfield (1980) used questionnaires and interviews of prospective loan customers at a credit union to study the theory of reasoned action as it resulted in behavior (loan application). Ryan and Bonfield determined their study supported the validity of the theory of reasoned action. (92). The researchers stated, “The results of this study are consistent with the findings of other researchers who have investigated this [theory]. […] The mediating effect of behavioral intentions was shown, and the ability of this deterministic [theory] to predict unobtrusively observed real world group behavior adds external validity evidence to previous support” (90). Moreover, Ryan and Bonfield added “behavioral intention not only provides a quantitative criterion that is more convenient to monitor than overt behavior, but it also appears to mediate the effect of attitudes and norms on subsequent behavior” (90).

Unfortunately, several researchers have concluded that the theory requires revision in order to increase accuracy, and this is important to note. Most of this research focuses on alteration of one or more of the theory’s components. Ajzen and Fishbein argue, in most of these instances, that the theory is not being properly used, most often in regards to specificity across components indicating target, action, context and time. For example, assessing the attitude of a woman about punishing children is different then assessing the attitude of a woman about punishing her own children.

Therefore, specificity is not stable across components predictive of behavior using the theory of reasoned action. Nevertheless, with this type of research guiding the relevant literature indicative of negative correlations between attitude and behavior using the theory of reasoned action, it is, therefore, important to address the major limitations of the theory.

Sheppard et al. (1988) explains that the theory, although it is frequently applied in these situations, is not applicable to situations in which “(1) the target behavior is not completely under the subjects’ complete volitional control, (2) the situation involves a choice problem not explicitly 260 addressed by Fishbein and Ajzen and/or (3) subjects’ intentions are assessed when it is impossible for them to have all of the necessary information to form a completely confident intention” (325).

Moreover, it is important to note that the theory was later revised to include behaviors that may not be under the individual’s complete volitional control (the Theory of Planned Behavior);

however, for the purposes of this study, it was assumed that purchase intentions are completely under the consumer’s volitional control. Therefore the theory of reasoned action was used in this study, rather than its revised counterpart, the theory of planned behavior (See Ajzen 1988, 1991).

Hypotheses and Research Questions

Because the majority of research indicated a positive association between financial performance and CSR, this perspective will be the basis for determining the relationship between CSR and purchase intention. Therefore, this research assumes the relationship between financial performance and purchase intention to be similar. Furthermore, assuming that intent implied behavior, the theory of reasoned action worked well for predicting associations about attitudes of consumers in regards to CSR and purchase intention for this study. In addition, it was interesting to research consumers’ awareness of organizational involvement in socially responsible practices on a basic level.

H1: A positive association exists between an organization’s involvement in CSR programs and consumers’ purchase intention. Thus, consumers are more likely to purchase an organization’s product if that organization is involved in socially responsible practices.

RQ1: Are consumers aware of specific organizational involvement in socially responsible practices?

RQ2: Are consumers aware of a lack of specific organizational involvement in socially responsible practices?

–  –  –

The methodology of this study sought to follow the established guidelines of Ajzen and Fishbein’s (1980) theory of reasoned action in order to answer the hypothesis. After assessing consumers’ salient beliefs and forming a modal set of behavioral beliefs for this study, consumers were initially asked to explain what CSR means to them. As few corporations have even fully grasped the concept of CSR, an explanation of CSR followed this question, including the variety of names CSR goes by and examples of CSR programs. Next, consumers were asked a series of questions based on the predetermined salient beliefs to determine the level of importance that CSR plays in their purchasing decisions. A second part of the interview and survey asked consumers which, if any corporations they consider to be particularly socially responsible or irresponsible.

The initial part of the research followed the guidelines posited by the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980) to determine if consumers are more likely to purchase products from organizations based on involvement in socially responsible activities. The second part of the research, asking consumers which specific corporations they consider particularly responsible or irresponsible, was compared to Fortune magazine’s top and bottom ranked socially responsible companies in 2007.


–  –  –

Procedures Thirteen interviews were initially conducted at a popular Midwest business and 287 surveys were collected (14 percent response rate). Surveys were sent to approximately 2,000 webmail accounts at a large Midwestern university. Webmail accounts included faculty, staff and students at the university.

Participants were interviewed and surveyed with regard to the influence organizational involvement in socially responsible programs has on their intentions to purchase a product.

Demographic information including age, gender, level of education, marital status, income level, political affiliation and whether or not they have children was collected in order to cross analyze results and ensure a representative sample is present.


Results of this study were encouraging in regards to the indication of a positive relationship between corporate social responsibility and consumer purchase intention. Also, comparisons between Fortune data and this study’s data had moderately positive results.

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