The Effects of Time and Situational Variables on Intention-Behavior Consistency

Joseph A. Cote Jr., Washington State University
John K. Wong, Washington State University
ABSTRACT - Numerous studies have shown that the longer the time interval between measures of intention and behavior, the greater the inconsistency in behavior. Empirical evidence is presented to support the theory that this time effect on behavior inconsistency is partially a function of unexpected situational variables. Unexpected situational variables were also shown to affect changes in intentions over time.
[ to cite ]:
Joseph A. Cote Jr. and John K. Wong (1985) ,"The Effects of Time and Situational Variables on Intention-Behavior Consistency", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 374-377.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 374-377

THE EFFECTS OF TIME AND SITUATIONAL VARIABLES ON INTENTION-BEHAVIOR CONSISTENCY

Joseph A. Cote Jr., Washington State University

John K. Wong, Washington State University

ABSTRACT -

Numerous studies have shown that the longer the time interval between measures of intention and behavior, the greater the inconsistency in behavior. Empirical evidence is presented to support the theory that this time effect on behavior inconsistency is partially a function of unexpected situational variables. Unexpected situational variables were also shown to affect changes in intentions over time.

INTRODUCTION

In the past several years, there has been a revival of interest among social psychologists and consumer behavioralists in the attitude-intention-behavior relationship (Cialdini, Petty and Cacioppo 1981; Zanna, Higgins and Herman 1982; Bagozzi 1981; Bentler and Speckart 1979 and 1981; Tate and Ball 1983; Roedder, Sternthal and Calder 1983; Davidson and Jaccard 1979; Snyder and Tanke 1976; Fazio and Zanna 1979: Ajzen and Fishbein 1980).

Empirical evidence indicates that measures of attitudes and intentions have little value for the prediction of behavior. However, most researchers agree that the effect of attitude and intention are moderated by the presence of intervening variables. Many have attempted to specify both the personal and situational variables that could have affected a person's attitude-intention-behavior consistency. Various competing discussions on the effects of moderating variables during the past several years included the degree of self-monitoring (Snyder 1979); attitudinal qualities (Norman 1975; Schwartz 1978; Fazio and Zanna 1978); situational variables (Ajzen and Fishbein 1973; Schofield 1975; Belk 1975; Sheth 1974); direct behavioral experience with attitude object (Fazio and Zanna 1981); Attitude accessibility (Snyder and Swann 1976); degree of self-consciousness (Wicklund 1979); normative variables (Ajzen and Fishbein 1980) and scripted situation (Abelson 1976).

Many of these studies have used cross-sectional designs. Only a few were longitudinal designs which examined the effect of time interval between measured attitude or intention and behavior (Davidson and Jaccard 1979; Norman 1975; and Schwartz 1978). Longitudinal research has indicated that the greater the time period separating the two measures, the greater the likelihood that intention will change in the interval, thus reducing the predictive power of intention measures (Katona and Mueller 1955; Juster 1964; Morgan 1978; Davidson and Jaccard 1979; Schwartz 1978; Fishbein and Jaccard 1973).

Most researchers feel that the discrepancy between intention and behavior is caused by attitude change rather than the passage of time per se. Fishbein and Jaccard (1973) argue that the subject is exposed to new information after the measurement of intention. This exposure to new information may lead to attitude change. The longer the time interval between the measurement of intention and behavior, the higher the probability of exposure to new information and attitude change. Studies by Katona and Mueller (1955), Pratt (1965), and Schuman and Johnson (1976) support this position. In addition to attitude change, Davidson and Jaccard (1979) have suggested that the discrepancy between intention and behavior may result when events in the behavioral sequence not under the volitional control of the actor.

Another important factor that may interfere with intention is unexpected events (Various researchers have used the terms extraneous event, situational factor or just situation). These unexpected events refer to the antecedent and continuous stimuli, not expected when intention is stated, that may impinge on the individual at the time of the behavioral act. When stating attitudes and intentions, a person probably pictures an anticipated situation and assumes it will not change in the future. Unexpected situational changes can lead to a change in attitude and thus create a discrepancy between measured intention and behavior. Sheth(1974) has suggested that the occurrence of unexpected events at the time of consumption can either enhance or inhibit the conversion of affect and behavior intention into actual behavior. These unexpected events may have changed what otherwise would have been an act based upon prior planning and affect.

Wicker (1971) provides empirical support of the effects of unexpected events on the consistency between intention and behavior. He found that the occurrence of extraneous event factors alone explained 36 percent of the variation in behavior. Brislin and Olmstead (1973) compared the Wicker (1971) and Fishbein models and found that the Wicker model would predict behavior more effectively than the Fishbein motel, with extraneous events being the best predictor (R-.38). Wong (1982) compared the effects of several intervening variables.on intention-behavior consistency and found that unexpected events explained most of the inconsistency. However, these studies relied on subjects' expectations of unexpected situations occurring. Cote (1983; Cote, McCullough and Reilly 1984) used the difference between expected and actual situations, and found that unexpected situations explained up to 40% of the variance in behavior.

The present study teals with the time interval effects and the influence of situational variables on intention-behavior consistency. A theoretical model, based on Sheth's (1974) theory is Presented in Figure One.

FIGURE 1

MODEL OF SITUATIONAL INFLUENCES

According to the model, anticipated situations would affect originally formed behavioral intention. However, as time passes, expectations about the consumption situation may change causing a person to adjust his/her behavioral intention. This is especially true if the time gap between the measurement of behavioral intention and the observation of overt behavior is large. On the other hand, if the anticipated situation occurred, there would be less discrepancy between the behavioral intention and future overt behavior. Therefore, the effect of attitude, social norms, past behavior, belief and behavioral intention are mediated by changes in expectations about the consumption situation.

The purpose of this study is to provide empirical support for a model of the attitude-intention-behavior relationship which include the dynamic effects of situations on shifts of behavioral intention and behavior.

METHOD

Subjects

Data was collected on the intentions and actual attendance of 61 students to a social function sponsored by the instructor. Measures of past attendance to social functions sponsored by instructors, attitudes toward social functions sponsored by instructors, intentions to attend the social function, the likelihood of various situations occurring, and the expected influence of the situation were collected at three different times over a two month period. The first questionnaire was administered six weeks before the social function, the second was administered three weeks before the social function, and the third questionnaire was administered one day before the social function. Finally, a fourth questionnaire measured actual occurrence of the situations two days after the social function occurred.

Measures

The measures of intention, attitudes, and past behavior were patterned after scales commonly seen in the literature. The expected occurrence and influence of the situations were measured in the following manner. Subjects were first asked the effect of a given situation on attendance if it occurred. The questions on the expected effects followed the following format, "The function is scheduled just before a big examination or class paper. This would." The answers were marked on a continuous scale ranging from, "Insure that I would come," to "Insure that I would not come." This was followed by a question asking the student to state the likelihood of the situation occurring. These two questions were repeated for each of the situations studied. The actual attendance and the actual occurrence of the situations were measured using a simple yes/no format.

Situations

A list of relevant situations was generated using focus group interviews. Students were asked to describe any situations they thought would affect their attendance to the function. The researchers then reduced this list by combining similar situations and dropping variables that did not fit Belk's (1974) objective definition of situations. The following list of situations was used in the study.

1)  Function is scheduled just before a big examination or class paper.

2)  Function is scheduled just after a big examination or class paper.

3)  Other functions or activities scheduled (not scheduled) at the same time as this one.

4)  Student forgets about the function.

5)  Directions are poor.

6)  There are not many people at the function.

7)    Ability to get transportation to the function.

8)Student gets involved in other things.

9)  Bad weather (Social function occurred in the winter).

10)  Friends or spouse want to do something else that night.

11)  Any other situations.

Several of the situations were manipulated by the researcher. After the second questionnaire, students knew that the social event would take place after a major project was due in the class. After the third questionnaire, the students were given a detailed map showing directions to the social event. Students were also cautioned about the problems of drinking and driving. The third questionnaire was administered the day before the social function.

ANALYSIS

The first step in the analysis was to recode the situational variables. It is hypothesized that changes in intentions are attributable to changes in the expected effects of situations or the likelihood of the situation occurring. So only changes in the expected effects or likelihood of occurrence were used in the analysis. The situational variables were constructed in the following manner. l) The expected effect of the situation was multiplied times the likelihood of the situation occurring. This will be referred to as the expected situational effect. The expected situational effect was calculated for each of the situations during each of the time periods. 2) The expected situational effect for the previous time period was subtracted from the expected situational effect for the time period being studied. For example, when predicting intention in period three, the expected situational effect for period two was subtracted from the expected situational effect for period three. This was done for each of the situations separately. For simplicity, these differences will be referred to as situational variables for the rest of the paper.

Regression analysis was used to predict intentions for the second and third time periods. First, intentions were regressed as a function of past behavior, attitudes, and previous intentions. Then the situational variables (differences in expected situational effects) were added to the model and backward regression was performed. The difference in the adjusted R squared between the second and the first model indicated the amount of variance in intentions attributable to changes in situational influences.

Discriminant analysis was used to predict attendance. First attendance was predicted using intentions in period three, past behavior, and attitudes. The situational variables were added and a second model was then fit. The improvement in the ability of the model to classify subjects indicated the importance of the situational variables in predicting attendance.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The change in adjusted R squares indicated that situational variables were a major cause of changes in intentions from one time period to the next. The results of the regression analysis are presented in Table 1.

TABLE 1

ABILITY OF PAST BEHAVIOR, ATTITUDES, PREVIOUS INTENTIONS, AND CHANGES IN EXPECTED SITUATIONAL EFFECTS TO EXPLAIN PRESENT INTENTIONS AND BEHAVIOR

Past behavior, attitudes, and behavior intentions at time period one did not explain much of the variation in intentions in time period two (adj.R - 0.0356). This may be caused by the lack of information about the social function presented at time period one. Since intentions at time two included more specific information about the function, intentions would be expected to be very different for the two time periods. In addition, perceptions about the situations that could affect attendance would also be different.

This is supported by the ability of changes in expected situational effects to predict intention in time period two. When the situational variables were added to the model, the adjusted R square jumped to 0.3869. It is interesting to note that the standardized regression coefficients indicated that intention in time period one and the difference in the expected situational effect of forgetting about the event were the most important variables affecting intention in period two. Other situations affecting intention in period two were no other parties occurring at the same time, ability to get transportation, exam occurring after the social event, and no people expected to attend.

Similar results occurred when intention in period three were examined. Past behavior, attitudes, and intention in period two only explained 33.15% of the variance in intention at period three. Very little new information was presented at time period three. The only new information presented was the problem of drinking and driving, and that smoking would not be allowed in the house. Given that no new information was presented, the expected situational influences should be more stable and previous intentions should predict better than for period two. As expected, previous intentions were a better predictor of intention in period three.

When the situational variables were added, the adjusted R square jumped to 0.6710. The directions, possibility of forgetting about the event, having an exam or project after the event, and no other parties occurring all affected intention. Similar results were found when information from period one was used to predict intention in period three.

Since the third questionnaire was administered the day before the social function, intention should predict behavior fairly well. This was in fact the case. Intentions in period three, attitudes, and past behavior was able to correctly classify 80.3% of the students. When the situational variables were added, 90.2% of the students could be correctly classified. Changes in expectations about the directions, other situations and social functions, and work loads before the social function affected the prediction of attendance. Similar results were found when the information from periods one and two were used to predict behavior (see Table 1).

CONCLUSION

Numerous studies have indicated that intentions change over time and that intention-behavior correlations decrease as the time interval between them increases. This inconsistency in intentions has been attributed to changing attitudes. However, it is known that situational variables can affect intentions and behavior. Several researchers have hypothesized that inconsistencies in intentions over time can also be attributed to changes in situational variables. This study is a longitudinal examination of the effects of situations on intentions and behavior.

The results support the claim that the effects of time on intention and behavior consistency are caused by changes in situational variables. When changes in the expected situational effects are not accounted for, intentions are less able to predict new intentions or behavior. When changes in expected situational effects are included, the models predict new intentions or behavior much better.

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