The Theory of Reasoned Action


Nursing largely borrowed theories from other disciplines using them as the basis for the development of unique nursing theories. Nursing theories are derived from propositions and concepts from theories borrowed from other disciplines that serve as the foundation of nursing theories. This discussion looks at the Theory of Planned Behavior. It looks at the main ideas of the theory, its origin, usefulness and testability. It also gives a general evaluation of the theory.

Keywords: nursing, theory, attitude, behavior, intention, reasoned action


Theories are the coherent sets of statements and propositions used for describing, explaining and predicting of phenomena. They are essential in prescribing particular actions aimed at attaining the given goals (Brannon & Feist, 2010). The Borrowed Nursing Theory is a knowledge that has been developed by another discipline, and that is adapted in the discipline of nursing. The Borrowed Nursing Theories are aimed at formulating the least set of generalizations to be used by the Nursing discipline in explaining several observable relationships among variables. Nursing theories help in defining the nursing concepts, promoting additional knowledge development and establishing the nursing profession. They provide essential directions to nursing practice. 

Federal Government of the United States established initiatives to fund nursing education offered in other disciplines so as to relate the theories to the nursing discipline (Johnson, 2012). As a result of the initiatives, nurse researchers started using frameworks and theories from other disciplines, hence contributing to the development of the theory in nursing. Some borrowed nursing theories presented some fields of knowledge and methods used in other disciplines. Thus, they failed to provide useful knowledge to guide nursing practices. In such situations, the nursing discipline is forced to develop its own theories. This discussion looks at the Theory of Planned Behavior as an example of the borrowed theories used in nursing.

The Main Ideas of the Theory

The Theory of Reasoned Action was developed by Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein (Peterson & Bredow, 2009). It was developed from previous research that saw the development of the theory of attitude. The earlier Theory of Attitude presented the basis for the study of attitude and behavior. The underlying concept in the theory is that behavioral intentions are the key predictors of behavior. In the theory, Ajzen suggested that there was a link between perceived behavioral control and behavioral intention. Therefore, the core idea behind the theory is that intentions lead to actions. The theory is anchored on four key variables that include attitude, subjective norm, Perceived Behavioral Control, and Behavioral Intention. It posits that people form intentions through measuring their attitudes and subjective norm in making decisions to perform the given voluntary behavior. Based on the theory, people develop intentions to perform a behavior when they positively evaluate the behavior, due to perceived social pressure emerging from vital referents to perform the behavior, and when performing, the behavior is perceived to be easy (Villarruel, Bishop, Simpson, Jemmott, & Fawcett, 2001).

The Origin of the Theory

The theory of Planned Behavior relates to the Economic Theory. The original idea of the Theory of Reasoned Action, from which the Theory of Planned Behavior was derived, was largely the analysis of consumer behavior. The Theory of Planned Behavior was included in the model of reasoned action in 1988 with the aim of addressing the inadequacies identified by Fishbein and Ajzen through conducting a research using the Theory of Reasoned Action (Villarruel et al., 2001).

The model predicts consumer intentions and behavior and provides a simple basis used in identifying how and where to strategize for consumers’ behavior change. The theory was developed as a move towards understanding people’s intentions to purchase different services and goods. It was derived from the social psychology setting, and proposed to explain the correlation between people’s intentions and behavior. The theory was borrowed for the use in nursing for examining people’s intentions to implement a given health behavior like the choices made by adolescents to use a given method of contraception (Peterson, & Bredow, 2009).

The Theory of Planned Behavior and Reasoned Action came up when psychologists developed interest in studying people’s attitudes and behaviors. The theory realized a remarkable growth when the discipline of psychology started to look at the term ‘attitude’. Ajzen and Fishben developed the theory based on their understanding that attitudes could explain the trends of human actions. Znaniecki and Thomas were the first psychologists to view attitudes as individual mental processes determining people’s responses. The theory was adopted into nursing by several nurses who sought to design and evaluate various aspects around HIV infection and prevention. For example, Jemmot and Jemmot used the theory to evaluate measures of HIV risk reduction among African American women (Peterson, & Bredow, 2009). They also used the theory to examine the level of condom use intervention among African American youth. Other nurses who used the theory include: Young, Lierman, Powel-Cope, Kaspryzk and Benoliel in 1991. They studied self-breast examination behavior (Villarruel, et al., 2001).


As from the point of the theory’s adoption to nursing, the ideas behind it are used in predicting and understanding healthy and unhealthy behavior and the outcomes of individual’s behavior. The theory has essential implications for health education as it is used in examining of health-related behaviors, in implementation and developing of health prevention measures. The theory is also practically helpful to nursing in predicting and understanding of individual’s intentions, and behaviors. It also helps in analyzing the outcomes of various health-related behaviors like drug abuse and smoking among others. Based on the increasing concern about the spread of HIV/AIDS, the theory can be used in studying youth’s responses to various preventive measures that are proposed by health organizations and institutions to fight the scourge.


The theory is based on practical behavioristic concepts and variables, hence it is testable. By studying individual’s intentions in given situations, it is possible to determine whether an individual’s intentions influenced their behavior. For example, it is possible to test whether the youths’ intention to avoid HIV/ AIDS infection determines their trend in ensuring an involvement in protected sex or abstinence. Because of its testability, the theory was used by Jemmot and Jemmot in 1992 to evaluate measures of HIV risk reduction among African American women (Peterson, & Bredow, 2009). The theory resulted into several researches. For example, it resulted into a study aimed at predicting the level of condom use among the socioeconomically diverse African American women. It was a descriptive study that aimed at providing an explanation to the observed trend in condom use among the studied population. The propositions are based on the ideas supported by the theory. The study was to confirm whether intentions to keep safe from HIV/AIDS infection had any impacts on condom use.

Overall Evaluation

The Theory of Planned Behavior is highly comprehensible. Apart from its use in economics to explain consumer needs and in social psychology, its ideas can be generalized and effectively used to give insights in nursing. It clearly shows the correlation between people’s intentions and the behavior that they exhibit as prove of their intentions. As such, it is useful in formulating a set of generalizations that are usable in the nursing discipline, especially in explaining various observable relationships among variables. However, the theory fails to consider personality and demographic variables. It is also ambiguous on how the perceived behavioral control can be defined. The ambiguity poses a challenge regarding how to define the perceived behavioral control. The theory fails to consider individual’s unconscious motives, and only focuses on the assumption that people are rational, hence they make decisions based on available information (Peterson & Bredow, 2009).  Despite the weaknesses, the theory is suitable for use in understanding of human behavior.


Nursing largely depends on theories that are borrowed from other disciplines as the building blocks of its unique theories. The borrowed theories are essential in the development of essential guidelines for the nursing discipline. However, nurses should avoid adopting the borrowed theories blindly. Instead, they should systematically evaluate the borrowed theories before adopting them in describing and explaining the nursing concepts. The application of such theories as the Planned Behavior Theory can be made more effective with the understanding of their origin.


  1. Brannon, L., & Feist, J. (2010). Health psychology: an introduction to behavior and health. Australia; United States: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  2. Johnson, D. (2012).  Behavioral systems, viewed 17 July 2014.
  3. Peterson, S., & Bredow, T. (2009). Middle-range theories: application to nursing research. Philadelphia. Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Publishers.
  4. Villarruel, A., Bishop, T., Simpson, E., Jemmott, L., & Fawcett, J. (2001). Borrowed theories, shared theories, and the advancement of nursing knowledge, viewed 17 July 2014.

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