When does normative influence matter
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The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) has been widely used to predict a variety of health-related behaviors, from fruit and vegetable consumption, to condom use, to tanning bed and sunscreen use. Although the model is generally well-supported, the subjective norms component is consistently a weak predictor of behavioral intentions. A cross-sectional survey study was conducted to determine under what conditions normative influences worked best to predict sunscreen use intentions, and to test an expanded TPB, with the inclusion of descriptive and injunctive norms as separate normative factors. Participants (N = 320) completed measures of their attitudes, perceived behavioral control (PBC), and behavioral intentions toward regular sunscreen use, as well as demographic information. They also reported on the descriptive and injunctive norms related to sunscreen use for an influential friend and family member, including their levels of relational commitment and social identification to these individuals. Lastly, participants reported on their level of interdependent self-construal. Overall, injunctive norms were found to significantly predict behavioral intentions best when commitment (for friends only) and identification with the referent was high, and when the participant was primarily interdependent in his or her self-construal. Descriptive norms significantly predicted behavioral intentions regardless of levels of commitment or identification with the referent, and served as a better predictor than injunctive norms. Attitudes were also found to be a strong predictor of behavioral intentions, while PBC was not. These results are discussed in terms of their implications for modifying the normative component of the TPB conceptually and operationally, as well as for message design aimed at increasing regular sunscreen use. Limitations of the study and directions for future research are also discussed.