James Jaccard, PhD, a well-known theorist in applied social science, spoke about theory, program design and evaluation in a lecture November 9 at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work.
Jaccard, a professor at the New York University Silver School of Social Work, is well known for his text “Theory Construction and Model-Building Skills: A Practical Guide for Social Scientists” (2010, with Jacob Jacoby).
He studies and uses behavioral decision theory and communication theory in his work on prevention programs for adolescents. One of the best ways to predict behavior is to “ask them if they’re going to do it,” Jaccard joked. He has found that “people do what they intend to do and do not do what they do not intend to do.”
Factors that influence whether people behave as they intended include the time between intention and behavior, the knowledge and skills the person has to perform the behavior, the extent to which the behavior is dependent on others, forgetfulness, changing one’s mind, acting out of habit and automatic process, and whether the person lied about the intention.
Jaccard has found that there are five classes of behaviors: environmental obstacles and constraints, knowledge and skill sets, cues to actions and reminders, habits and automatic processes, and change of mind over time.
For prevention programs, Jaccard emphasized the need to help people carry out their intentions instead of convincing them to do what they are already open to doing. Often, the reason for not carrying out behaviors is related to external factors, not because they did not intend to do the behavior.
Jaccard used his work with pregnancy prevention programs with teens and their parents as an example of these concepts. He found that teens had a tendency to shape their behavioral beliefs around short-term positive consequences (enjoying sex, feeling more attractive), whereas the parents focused on pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
“And so those are the things we needed to teach parents how to communicate with their kids about, how to put those things in perspective, and that became a major focal point of our program” Jaccard explained.
This program, through focusing on parent/teen communication, was effective in delaying sex over a nine-month period.
The event was sponsored by the Brown School and the Center for Social Development.