Think Broadly icon

Think Broadly

Most of the theories ranked by this first version of the TheoryPicker focus on internal, individual-level causes of the health-relevant behaviors of normal adults. Sample causes are a person’s attitudes, fears or perceptions about what’s popular with regard to a behavior.

But behavior is also strongly influenced by:

  1. a person’s age, history, personality, or developmental level
  2. mental illness and addiction (resources: American Psychological Association, National Institutes of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  3. environmental facilitators and barriers (e.g., neighborhood resources, workplace safety policies, cultural perspectives,10,16 and stigma) See Theory at a Glance for more information.

Situate the top-ranked theory from TheoryPicker within a more comprehensive theoretical framework (see Theory at a Glance) and conduct a S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Thinking broadly will help you make the most of your resources and “right-size” expectations for program success.

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Think Flexibly

These 6 theories have evolved over time, adding constructs to their original sets. This has resulted in an increasing amount of complexity within the theories, and some overlap between them.

To account for theory evolution, TheoryPicker has 3 modes. Original Mode uses the earliest and often most streamlined version of a theory. Interim Mode adds newer constructs, but weights them less heavily. Current Mode includes all (or most) of the constructs in a given theory and weights them equally.

Original Mode leads to a streamlined focus on a few central behavior change mechanisms. Interim Mode provides a fuller causal map, but weights constructs from the original theory most heavily. Current Mode avoids making an assumption that the original constructs of a theory are its core set. Use all three modes and compare their results.

Even the most elaborate version of any given theory can leave out something that really matters for your behavior change challenge. If so, you may need to supplement TheoryPicker’s top-ranked theory with the missing factor(s), or turn to a theory that includes the factor(s).

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Think Critically

Constructs like “perceived self-efficacy” from Social Cognitive Theory and “perceived behavioral control” from the Theory of Planned Behavior may seem fairly similar. However, definitions of such constructs can differ subtly.

TheoryPicker lumps similar constructs together5,18, but the nuances of their distinctions may be important in your situation. Consult a textbook1, see the PubMed database, NIH Behavioral and Social Science e-source, or the online resources provided here for insight into the definitional distinctions. References can get you started with a literature search.