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Am Psychol. 1991 Sep;46(9):931-46.

Social action theory for a public health psychology.

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  • 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21205.


Many illnesses can be prevented or limited by altering personal behavior, and public health planners have turned to psychology for guidance in fostering self-protective activity. A social theory of personal action provides an integrative framework for applying psychology to public health, disclosing gaps in our current understanding of self-regulation, and generating guidelines for improving health promotion at the population level. A social action view emphasizes social interdependence and interaction in personal control of health-endangering behavior and proposes mechanisms by which environmental structures influence cognitive action schemas, self-goals, and problem-solving activities critical to sustained behavioral change. Social action theory clarifies relationships between social and personal empowerment and helps explain stages of self-change.

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