Theory for Discovery

People learn by observing others completing an activity.

The social cognitive theory explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns while providing the basis for intervention strategies (Bandura, 1997). Evaluating behavioral change depends on the factors of environment, people and behavior. SCT provides a framework for designing, implementing and evaluating programs.

Environment refers to the factors that can affect a person’s behavior. There are social and physical environments. Social environment include family members, friends and colleagues.

Physical environment is the size of a room, the ambient temperature or the availability of certain foods. Environment and situation provide the framework for understanding behavior (Parraga, 1990). The situation refers to the cognitive or mental representations of the environment that may affect a person’s behavior. The situation is a person’s perception of the lace, time, physical features and activity (Glanz et al, 2002).

The three factors environment, people and behavior are constantly influencing each other. Behavior is not simply the result of the environment and the person, just as the environment is not simply the result of the person and behavior (Glanz et al, 2002). The environment provides models for behavior. Observational learning occurs when a person watches the actions of another person and the reinforcements that the person receives (Bandura, 1997). The concept of behavior can be viewed in many ways. Behavioral capability means that if a person is to perform a behavior he must know what the behavior is and have the skills to perform it.

Factors that determine if a person will attempt to complete an activity or not.

Theory of Reasoned Action suggests that a person’s behavior is determined by his/her intention to perform the behavior and that this intention is, in turn, a function of his/her attitude toward the behavior and his/her subjective norm. The best predictor of behavior is intention. Intention is the cognitive representation of a person’s readiness to perform a given behavior, and it is considered to be the immediate antecedent of behavior. This intention is determined by three things: their attitude toward the specific behavior, their subjective norms, and their perceived behavioral control. The theory of planned behavior holds that only specific attitudes toward the behavior in question can be expected to predict that behavior. In addition to measuring attitudes toward the behavior, we also need to measure people’s subjective norms – their beliefs about how people they care about will view the behavior in question. To predict someone’s intentions, knowing these beliefs can be as important as knowing the person’s attitudes. Finally, perceived behavioral control influences intentions. Perceived behavioral control refers to people’s perceptions of their ability to perform a given behavior. These predictors lead to intention. A general rule, the more favorable the attitude and the subjective norm, and the greater the perceived control the stronger should the person’s intention to perform the behavior in question.


Intention is deciding factor, driven by

  1. attitude about the activity
  2. if an individual thinks they can actually do it
  3. what the individual thinks other people will think about them doing it

An entity or person decides what and how much information people are given.

The gatekeeper decides which information will go forward, and which will not. In other words a gatekeeper in a social system decides which of a certain commodity – materials, goods, and information – may enter the system. It is important to realize that gatekeepers can control the public’s knowledge of the actual events by letting some stories pass through the system but keeping others out. Gatekeepers can also be seen as institutions or organizations. In a political system, there are gatekeepers, individuals or institutions that control access to power positions and regulate the flow of information and political influence. Gatekeepers exist in many jobs, and their choices hold the potential to color mental pictures that are subsequently created in people’s understanding of what is happening in the world around them. Media gatekeeping showed that decision-making is based on principles of news values, organizational routines, input structure and common sense. Gatekeeping is vital in communication planning and almost al communication planning roles include some aspect of gatekeeping.

The gatekeeper’s choices are a complex web of influences, preferences, motives, and common values. Gatekeeping is inevitable, and in some circumstances, it can be useful.

The way a message is designed also shapes the content of the message itself.

Medium theory focuses on the medium characteristics itself (like in media richness theory) rather than on what it conveys or how information is received. In medium theory, a medium is not simply a newspaper, the Internet, a digital camera and so forth. Rather, it is the symbolic environment of any communicative act. Media, apart from whatever content is transmitted, impact individuals and society. McLuhan’s thesis is that people adapt to their environment through a certain balance or ratio of the senses, and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio, thereby affecting perception.

Statement: Some of the metaphors used by McLuhan are: The medium is the message! The medium is the massage. We live in a mess-age. The content of a new medium is an old medium.

Motivation And Processing Ability Determine Attitude Change

Attitudes guide decisions and other behaviors. Persuasion is a primary source of attitude development. The model features two routes of persuasive influence: central and peripheral. The ELM accounts for the differences in persuasive impact produced by arguments that contain ample information and cogent reasons compared to messages that rely on simplistic associations of negative and positive attributes to some object, action, or situation.

The key variable in this process is involvement, the extent to which an individual is willing and able to ‘think’ about the position advocated and its supporting materials. When people are motivated and able to think about the content of the message, elaboration is high. Elaboration involves cognitive processes such as evaluation, recall, critical judgment, and inferential judgment.

When elaboration is high, the central persuasive route is likely to occur; conversely, the peripheral route is the likely result of low elaboration. Persuasion may also occur with low elaboration. The receiver is not guided by his or her assessment of the message, as in the case of the central route, but the receiver decides to follow a principle or a decision rule derived from the persuasion situation.

A person’s beliefs impact their understanding of a situation and willingness to act.

According to expectancy-value theory, behavior is a function of the expectancies one has and the value of the goal toward which one is working. Such an approach predicts that when more than one behavior is possible, the behavior chosen will be the one with the largest combination of expected success and value. Expectancy-value theories hold that people are goal-oriented beings. Their behaviors in response to their beliefs and values are undertaken to achieve some end. However, although expectancy-value theory can be used to explain central concepts in uses and gratifications research, there are other factors that influence the process.

For example the social and psychological origins of needs, which give rise to motives for behavior, which may be guided by beliefs, values, and social circumstances into seeking various gratifications through media consumption and other nonmedia behaviors.

Statements: Expectancy value theory suggests that “people orient themselves to the world according to their expectations (beliefs) and evaluations”. Utilizing this approach, behavior, behavioral intentions, or attitudes are seen as a function of “(1) expectancy (or belief) – the perceived probability that an object possesses a particular attribute or that a behavior will have a particular consequence; and (2) evaluation – the degree of effect, positive or negative, toward an attribute or behavioral outcome” (Palmgreen, 1984).

How interpretation of an event impacts a person’s understanding of it.

Attribution theory is concerned with how individuals interpret events and how this relates to their thinking and behavior. Attribution theory assumes that people try to determine why people do what they do. A person seeking to understand why another person did something may attribute one or more causes to that behavior. According to Heider a person can make two attributions 1) internal attribution, the inference that a person is behaving in a certain way because of something about the person, such as attitude, character or personality. 2) external attribution, the inference that a person is behaving a certain way because of something about the situation he or she is in.

Our attributions are also significantly driven by our emotional and motivational drives. Blaming other people and avoiding personal recrimination are very real self-serving attributions. We will also make attributions to defend what we perceive as attacks. We will point to injustice in an unfair world. We will even tend to blame victims (of us and of others) for their fate as we seek to distance ourselves from thoughts of suffering the same plight. We will also tend to ascribe less variability to other people than ourselves, seeing ourselves as more multifaceted and less predictable than others. This may well be because we can see more of what is inside ourselves (and spend more time doing this).

Uncertainty is unpleasant and therefore motivational; people communicate to reduce it.

Uncertainty reduction follows a pattern of developmental stages (entry, personal, exit). During the entry stage information about another’s sex, age, economic or social status, and other demographic information is obtained. Much of the interaction in this entry phase is controlled by communication rules and norms. When communicators begin to share attitudes, beliefs, values, and more personal data, the personal stage begins. During this phase, the communicators feel less constrained by rules and norms and tend to communicate more freely with each other. The third stage is the exit phase. During this phase, the communicators decide on future interaction plans. They may discuss or negotiate ways to allow the relationship to grow and continue.

However, any particular conversation may be terminated and the end of the entry phase. This pattern is especially likely to occur during initial interaction, when people first meet or when new topics are introduced later in a relationship. Besides the stages in uncertainty reduction patterns makes Berger a distinction between three basic ways people seek information about another person: (1) Passive strategies – a person is being observed, either in situations where the other person is likely to be self-monitoring* as in a classroom, or where the other person is likely to act more naturally as in the stands at a football game. (2) Active strategies – we ask others about the person we’re interested in or try to set up a situation where we can observe that person (e.g., taking the same class, sitting a table away at dinner). Once the situation is set up we sometimes observe (a passive strategy) or talk with the person (an interactive strategy). (3) Interactive strategies – we communicate directly with the person.

People seek to increase their ability to predict their partner’s and their own behavior in situations. One other factor which reduces uncertainty between communicators is the degree of similarity individuals perceive in each other (in background, attitudes and appearance).

Statements: the axioms in URT follow the “If… then…” statements typical of the law-governed approach. For example: “If uncertainty levels are high, the amount of verbal communication between strangers will decrease.”

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Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University

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