Understanding Major Theories of Change

Understanding Major Theories of Change
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Introduction - What Is This All About?

Theory of change is an attempt to explain possible logical reasons behind any change that has happened. These theories of change could be

about behavioral changes or social changes. Most of the theories of behavioral change were outlined and published in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the articles published in this regard were theories of reasoned action and planned behavior by Icek Ajzen, social cognitive theory by Albert Bandura, and others. Each of these theories concentrates on different factors that bring about behavioral change in an individual. In most cases, it takes more than one factor to influence behavioral change in an individual.

Image: Photo of Albert Bandura

Self Efficacy

Self-efficacy is perhaps the single most important factor that contributes to behavioral changes as seen by Albert Bandura while explaining major theories of change. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s confidence in his/her own ability to perform a specific task. This helps us to determine the kinds of activities in which people prefer to engage, how much energy will be expended in such activities, and how persistent an individual will be in case of a failure. The higher the self-efficacy, the higher is the likelihood of an individual participating in a specific activity.

Social cognitive theory is one of the major theories of change, of which the most important aspect is self-efficacy. This theory states that environmental, personal, and behavioral elements determine behavioral changes in an individual. Each of these elements also affect each other thus making them all inter-dependent and inter-linked. The theory addresses psychological dynamics that determine behavior and also how they bring about a behavioral change.

One of other major theories of change is the theory of reasoned action. This theory assumes that the individual understands a behavior’s consequences prior to performing a particular behavior. So, the behavior is seen as a function of a person’s intention, that it comprises his/her attitude toward performing a behavior. Attitude, in turn, is determined by his/her beliefs about perceived consequences and a subjective analysis of performing the behavior.

Attribution theory is also one of the major theories of change which explores how individuals attribute causes to specific events and behaviors. It also states that every individual views his/her performance as dependent upon ability, luck, and task difficulty along with the effort that the task needs. Also, influences to such performances can be external or internal. External attributions are about external factors such as weather. Internal attributions are about factors within the person such as his/her presence of mind, lack of intelligence, and so forth. Some major theories of change when it comes to social change are Hegelian theory which states social change is based on interaction of opposing forces.


Such theories of change can be applied in areas of health, education, and criminology. These theories can be used to explain health-related behaviors, develop effective teaching methods, and prevent crimes from happening.


TravelSmart of Victoria, Austraia. Theories and models of behaviour change, at https://www.travelsmart.vic.gov.au/doi/doielect.nsf/2a6bd98dee287482ca256915001cff0c/eac8a984b717095bca256d100017ba50/$FILE/Theories%20and%20models%20of%20behaviour%20change.pdf

Peck, Jonathan. Some theories of social change for future practitioners, Article 107, Institute for Alternative Futures, Tamkung University, at https://www.jfs.tku.edu.tw/14-2/A06.pdf

Robinson, Rusell. Perceptual segregation (abstract) from The Situationist blog of 4/22/08 at https://thesituationist.wordpress.com/2008/04/22/

Marvin Barrett.com. The self improvement blog that makes a difference, at https://www.marvin-barrett.com/self-improvement-blog.html