The Moderated Influence of Internal Control: an Examination Across Health Related Behaviors


Blair Kidwell and Robert Jewell (2002) ,"The Moderated Influence of Internal Control: an Examination Across Health Related Behaviors", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 277-279.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 277-279


Blair Kidwell, Virginia Tech

Robert Jewell, Virginia Tech

The construct of perceived behavioral control in the Theory of Planned Behavior (see Ajzen, 1988; 1991) has attracted considerable attention, eliciting numerous studies evaluating its use as a predictor of intentions and behavior across a variety of domains (e.g., Ajzen & Madden, 1986). Yet, few studies have identified the relationship between perceived control and other TPB variables. In this article, we explore; (a) evidence for a direct and indirect influence of perceived control onto intention, (b) patterns of interactions that may exist relative to behavioral category, and (c) a manipulation of behavioral category to explicate hypothesized patterns of interactions.


Recently, a number of conceptualizations of perceived behavioral control have emerged from the literature (for a review, see Peterson & Stunkard, 1992). One avenue of research is the separation of PBC into internal and external components (Armitage, Connor, Loach, & Willetts 1999). In the current paper, we identified internal control as a moderator across variables within the TPB based on two categories of behavior

Alternative categories can be used to differentiate behavior. One category (i.e., utilitarian) views the behavior as practical and useful, while a second category views the behavior as pleasurable and experiential (i.e., hedonic) (Hirschman & Holbrook, 1986). We anticipate that the relations among the constructs of the model will differ for the two behavioral categories.

Consider a utilitarian behavior (e.g., using sunscreen) that is poorly performed due to a person’s internal ability. This performance might influence thoughts about possible consequences and guide future decision-making (Albarracin & Wyer, 2000). Alternatiely, for a hedonic behavior (e.g., fast food consumption), a person may use past ability as a basis for later actions (Taylor, 1975). For example, a person might simply assume that the conditions that led to an earlier behavior exist in the present situation and repeat the behavior without bothering to verify this assumption.

The former conceptualization implies that the influence of cognitions on future decisions is moderated by perceptions of ability to perform the behavior. For this type of behavior we anticipate that internal control will moderate more cognitively focused determinants of intention (i.e., attitude, subjective norm). The later conceptualization implies very little thought toward the behavior and the consequences of engaging in it, and is moderated by a referral to previous outcomes. For this type of behavior we anticipate internal control will moderate non-cognitive determinants of intention (i.e., affect, past behavior).


Study one implicates internal control as moderating both cognitive and non-cognitive determinants of intention for utilitarian and hedonic health behaviors, such that a person’s attitude and subjective norm may be influenced for utilitarian behaviors, while affect and past behavior may be influenced for hedonic behaviors.


Sample and Procedures

Respondents were 150 students from a large southeastern university, who participated as part of an introductory course requirement. The participants in our study ranged from eighteen to thirty-seven years of age, with a mean age of 19.9 years.

Respondents were administered a questionnaire that operationalized the constructs in the model.


Moderated Influence of Internal Control

Hypothesized components of the model for utilitarian and hedonic behaviors contributed significantly to prediction. Forthe two-way interactions, we treated internal control as a moderator and examined the relationship with cognitive variables: attitude and subjective norm and non-cognitive variables: affect and past behavior across 4 behaviors.

Hypothesized pattern of interactions were supported. For utilitarian behaviors (i.e., using sunscreen and donating blood), respondents at high levels of internal control, subjective norm was more predictive of intention (Hypothesis 3), at lower and moderate levels of internal control, attitude was more predictive of intention (Hypothesis 4). For hedonic behaviors (i.e., drinking and driving and consuming fast food), respondents with low levels of internal control, affect was significantly predictive of intention (Hypothesis 5). Respondents with moderate and high levels of internal control, past behavior significantly influenced intention (Hypothesis 6).


One limitation of study 1 is that the type of behavior is confounded with the specific context of the behavior. We conducted study 2 to address this concern. We created a framing manipulation on which the same behavior (e.g., chocolate consumption) was described as either a utilitarian or a hedonic behavior. We hypothesize the same pattern of interactions as described in study 1.


Measures and Procedures

Participants were randomly assigned to four conditions (positive/negative x fat/chocolate consumption. The materials framed a behavior in a positive or negative way. The positive message discussed health reasons why performing this type of behavior is useful. The negative message discussed the reasons why performing this type of behavior is harmful, yet pleasurable.


The hypothesized relationships were supported across positively and negatively framed neutral behaviors. For positively framed behaviors (i.e., utilitarian), respondents with high (and moderate for fat consumption) levels of internal control, subjective norm was predictive of intention, at lower levels of internal control, attitude was more predictive of intention.

For negatively framed behaviors (i.e., hedonic), respondents with low (and moderate for fat consumption) levels of internal control, affect was significantly predictive of intention. Respondents with high levels of internal control, past behavior significantly influenced intention.


Consistent with past research (e.g., Armitage, et. al., 1999), we found that internal and external control are distinct constructs within the theory of planned behavior. Although external control has been shown to have an independent influence on intention (Armitage, et al. 1999), we focus on internal control because it may be more amenable to change in interventions.

We found a shift from attitude to subjective norm for respondents with low to high levels of internal control for utilitarian behaviors (e.g. sunscreen use and donating blood). For hedonic behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving and consuming fast food), we found a shift from affect to past behavior as a determinant of intention for respondents with low to high levels of internal control.

These findings suggest that intentions to perform behaviors may be influenced by both cognitive variables (attitude and subjective norm) and non-cognitive variables (affect and past behavior) depending on the valence of the behavior. Findings imply that the conceptualization of the theory of planned behavior, whether as an expectancy-value model or as an extended model, is incomplete when; 1) internal and external control are treated as a single construct, 2) a moderating influence of internal control is not incorporated, and 3) behaviors are not categorized based on utilitarian or hedonic valences.


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Blair Kidwell, Virginia Tech
Robert Jewell, Virginia Tech


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29 | 2002

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