Expectations are more predictive of behavior than behavioral intentions: evidence from two prospective studies

Ann Behav Med. 2015 Apr;49(2):239-46. doi: 10.1007/s12160-014-9653-4.


Background: Understanding the gap between people's behavioral intentions and their subsequent behavior is a key problem for behavioral scientists, but little attention has been paid to how behavioral intentions are operationalized.

Purpose: Test the distinction between asking people what they intend to do, as opposed to what they expect they will do.

Methods: Two studies were conducted in the domains of alcohol consumption (N = 152) and weight loss (N = 141). Participants completed questionnaires assessing their behavioral intentions, expectations, and self-efficacy at baseline; alcohol consumption/weight were assessed at both baseline and follow-up.

Results: In study 1, expectations were more predictive of alcohol consumption than behavioral intentions, controlling for baseline alcohol consumption and self-efficacy. In study 2, changes in expectations were more predictive of weight loss than changes in behavioral intentions, controlling for baseline weight and self-efficacy.

Conclusion: The findings support a potentially important distinction between behavioral intentions and expectations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight Loss*
  • Young Adult