The theory of reasoned goal pursuit (TRGP)

A well-known psychological theory is the theory of planned behavior (TPB; Ajzen, 1991, 2012). This theory helps to predict, understand and influence human behavior. Much research has shown the effectiveness of interventions based on the TPB (see, among others, Steinmetz et al., 2016). 

However, a limitation of TPB is that it pays too little attention to the goals of individuals. In order to remove this limitation and thus broaden the applicability of the TPB, Ajzen & Kruglanski (2019) integrate the TPB with a theory about goals, the goal systems theory (GST) in a new article. 

The theory of planned behavior 

The TPB was formulated by Icek Ajzen (1985) as a derivative of the theory of reasoned action (TRA). The theory focused on the question of how intentions to behavior come about. Three factors were considered important determinants of behavioral intentions: attitudes, subjective norms and perceived control over behavior. Below is a brief explanation of those three determinants: 

  1. Attitudes: the expectations about the consequences of the behavior in question. The more positive those expectations, the greater the chance that the intention for the behavior would arise and the greater the chance that the behavior itself would also occur. 
  2. Subjective norm: the degree to which significant others display and approve the behavior in question. The more there is a stronger subjective norm, the greater the chance of the behavioral intention and the behavior. 
  3. Perceived behavioral control: the degree to which you feel that you are capable and have the opportunity to display the behavior. This depends, among other things, on your skills, but also on circumstances such as availability of time, resources and help. This factor was later added to the theory as a moderator. In other words, the degree to which the person experiences perceived control determines how attitudes and subjective norm are related to intentions. 

Integration with goal systems theory 

A limitation of the TPB is that it is only a bottom-up theory that takes behavior as a starting point and does not include the role of goals. But goals are central sources of motivation. In most cases, we will not judge behaviors from a vacuum for their attractiveness or desirability, but from the goals we have. Because the TPB does not explicitly include goals, the theory is especially useful in situations where individuals differ little in the goals they have and where the goals are implicitly assumed. By adding goals to the TPB, the theory can also be useful in situations where individuals have very different goals. 

The goal systems theory (GST, Kruglanski et al., 2002) is a top down theory that takes goals as a starting point. The theory assumes that we all have several goals that can also fluctuate. Due to characteristics of situations, goals can suddenly be activated, so that they strongly influence how we view the situation and how we want to behave. The GST distinguishes between two types of goals:  

  1. Procurement goals are goals we have because we expect them to bring us direct personal benefit.
  2. Approval goals are goals we have because we expect them to get us approval from important individuals or groups. 

Theory of reasoned goal pursuit 

The authors call the combination of the TPB and the GST the theory of reasoned goal pursuit (TRGP). In the figure below I summarize these schematically (this is my simplified but also slightly more extensive representation and a figure in the article by the authors). The figure also shows how consequences of behavior can affect goals and attitudes.