Perceived behavioral control is a concept from within the theory of planned behavior. It refers to a person’s perception of whether they could successfully complete a task or behavior.
We can measure perceived behavioral control by weighing the difficulty of the task against our perceived capabilities.
It is similar to Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy, which refers to a person’s self-belief. However, the phrase perceived behavioral control is specifically used when working with and within the theory of planned behavior.
Perceived Behavioral Control and the Theory of Planned Behavior
The term perceived behavioral control comes from the theory of planned behavior by Icek Ajzen (which branched our of the Theory of Reasoned Action).
The theory of planned behavior predicts future human behavior based on three factors: personal attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control.
Ajzen’s (1991) scholarly definition is provided below:
“Attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms with respect to the behavior, and perceived control over the behavior are usually found to predict behavioral intentions with a high degree of accuracy” (Ajzen, 1991, p.206)
The three key factors that are said to predict human behaviors are:
- Personal attitudes – If we want to predict a person’s future behaviors, we need to look at their personal attitudes. For example, if a person has a positive attitude toward exercising, then they’re more likely to go to the gym.
- Subjective norms – Subjective norm is a social psychological concept that refers to the perceived social pressure to engage or not engage in a particular behavior. If we want to predict a person’s future behavior, we need to look at the social and cultural pressures they feel to do it.
- Perceived behavioral control – If we want to predict a person’s future behavior, we need to look at how much they believe they can control their own behavior and whether they can achieve change through effort.
Other less dominant factors that could be considered in the theory include:
- Behavioral intention – This refers to hoe motivated a person is to perform the task. Even if other factors, like personal attitudes or perceived behavioral control are low, a person may still perform the task if they are fixated on it and highly motivated to complete it.
- Social norms – Unlike subjective norms (above), social norms refer to the norms of our society rather than our perceived pressure to do a task. For example, if someone’s culture glorifies and celebrates soccer, then the person may be more likely to play soccer.
- Perceived power – This refers to the perceived presence of external factors, environmental factors, or other factors that may remove our power to control the end-result, which may reduce our overall perceived behavioral control.
Examples of Perceived Behavioral Control
Perceived Behavioral Control (PBC) refers to the extent to which people believe they are capable of performing a certain action.
Here are 15 examples of people’s perceived behavioral control across various life scenarios:
(Remember that this is just one dimension of the theory of planned behavior. We also need to weigh into the equation personal attitudes and subjective norms.)
1. Healthy Eating: Despite the convenience and temptation of fast food and processed meals, you believe in your ability to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet. This might involve preparing meals at home, choosing healthier options when dining out, or resisting unhealthy snacks. We may weigh subjective norms this into a prediction of whether a person will maintain a healthy diet. For example, if they have a group of friends who they are eating with communally, who are all committed to this diet, then this person may be more inclined to persist.
2. Writing a Book: You have a story to tell, and despite the daunting task of writing a book, you trust in your creativity and discipline to see it through. This might require developing a writing schedule, doing research, seeking constructive feedback, and dealing with writer’s block effectively. We might also weigh personal attitude into the mix here, such as whether a person tends to find typing on a computer boring, which may decrease their likelihood of getting the book done.
3. Rigorous Workout: Despite the intensity and physical demand of a challenging workout regimen, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or marathon training, you trust in your physical endurance to keep up with the routine. Factor into this the fact many people find exercise to be unpleasurable (personal attitude) and many people pull-out of the workout without completing it.
4. Saving Money: Even with a tight budget, you believe that you can set aside a certain amount each month for savings. This might require careful budgeting, cutting back on non-essential expenses, or finding additional sources of income. Whether you’re surrounded by others who highly value fiscal restraint (subjective norm) might also play into this.
5. Academic Achievement: You’re enrolled in a course that’s known to be difficult, but you’re confident in your study skills and intellectual capacity to achieve high grades. This might involve attending extra study sessions, seeking help when needed, or dedicating more time to homework and studying. You meet friends who also study hard (subjective norm), which pushes you over the edge to complete your studies.
6. Navigating a New City: During a vacation in an unfamiliar city, you trust your ability to find your way around, whether that means using a map, a GPS, or simply asking locals for directions. Your personal attitude to asking others for help, which is generally good, may also assist here.
7. Public Presentation: Despite the fear and anxiety associated with public speaking, you feel capable of delivering a successful presentation. This could involve practicing your speech, seeking constructive feedback, or learning calming techniques to manage stage fright.
8. Reducing Carbon Footprint: Despite the convenience of personal vehicles, you believe that you can choose public transportation more often to reduce your environmental impact. This could also involve choosing to walk or cycle for shorter distances. Group norms among your friends, which highly values environmentalism, helps you as well.
9. Cooking a New Recipe: Even though a recipe might seem complicated or involve unfamiliar techniques, you trust in your culinary skills to successfully prepare the dish. Your personal attitude toward cooking, where you find it to be a relaxing activity, also helps us to predict that you’ll probably give this task a go.
10. Daily Meditation: Despite the demands and distractions of a busy schedule, you feel confident in your ability to find time each day for meditation. This might involve waking up earlier, taking breaks during the day, or using a meditation app to stay consistent. Your personal attitude toward meditation and the importance of self-work means it’s highly likely you will continue to meditate daily.
11. Home Repair: Instead of calling a professional, you believe you can handle a home repair project on your own. This could involve researching the problem, buying the necessary tools or materials, and following step-by-step instructions. Your father used to do it, and always told you to do the repairs yourself rather than wasting money on a contractor (subjective norm) compounds the likelihood that you’ll do the repairs yourself.
12. Learning a New Language: Despite the challenges of learning a new language, such as complex grammar rules or unfamiliar phonetics, you trust your linguistic abilities and dedication to become proficient. Your personal attitude toward foreign languages, which intrigue and excite you, mean you’re likely to commit to learning the language over the long term.
13. Adopting New Technology: Even if a new software or technology seems complex, you feel capable of learning and integrating it into your work. This could involve attending training sessions, practicing on your own, or seeking help from colleagues.
14. Cultivating a New Hobby: Despite being a beginner, you believe in your ability to learn and enjoy a new hobby, like painting, gardening, or playing a musical instrument. This might require patience, consistent practice, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
15. Stress Management: Despite working in a high-pressure job, you trust in your ability to manage stress effectively. This could involve practicing mindfulness, maintaining a work-life balance, seeking social support, or finding healthy outlets for stress.
16. Limiting Screen Time: Despite the constant allure of digital devices and social media, you believe in your self-discipline to limit screen time and engage in more face-to-face interactions or outdoor activities. This might involve setting specific “no-screen” times during the day, using apps to track and limit usage, or finding non-digital hobbies to occupy your time.
17. Volunteer Work: Despite your busy schedule, you feel confident in your ability to devote time to volunteer work for a cause you’re passionate about. This could require time management skills, a commitment to the cause, and the ability to work well with others.
18. Learning to Play an Instrument: Even though learning a musical instrument can be challenging, you trust in your musical aptitude and persistence to master it. This may involve regular practice, taking lessons, or even joining a local music group for motivation and support.
19. Starting a Business: Despite the risks and challenges associated with entrepreneurship, you believe in your business acumen and resilience to start and run a successful business. This could involve developing a strong business plan, seeking out investors, managing finances, and dealing with setbacks constructively.
Perceived Behavioral Control vs Self-Efficacy
Perceived Behavioral Control (PBC) and Self-Efficacy are both psychological concepts related to an individual’s belief in their ability to perform a certain behavior, but they refer to slightly different aspects.
- Perceived Behavioral Control, as part of the Theory of Planned Behavior, refers to a person’s perception of their ability to perform a certain behavior and the extent of their control over this behavior. PBC considers both internal factors (like knowledge and skills) and external factors (like resource availability or barriers).
- Self-Efficacy id a concept in Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory. It refers to an individual’s belief in their own ability to succeed in a specific situation or accomplish a task. However, it tends to be more about making an internal, personal judgment of one’s capability, without so much of the focus on external factors.
Overall, both are about a person’s belief in their capability to do something, but PBC also takes into account external factors that could help or hinder the behavior, while self-efficacy is purely about the person’s internal belief in their own abilities.
Perceived behavioral control is one of several factors in the theory of planned behavior that can predict whether you will do a task or commit to a behavior or not. This theory is a useful model, but should not be seen as deterministic – there are multiple factors that affect behaviors in the future, and we can never fully accurately predict future behavior with just one model.
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]