Using meta-analytic path analysis to test theoretical predictions in health behavior: An illustration based on meta-analyses of the theory of planned behavior
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Objective: Synthesizing research on social cognitive theories applied to health behavior is an important step in the development of an evidence base of psychological factors as targets for effective behavioral interventions. However, few meta-analyses of research on social cognitive theories in health contexts have conducted simultaneous tests of theoretically-stipulated pattern effects using path analysis. We argue that conducting path analyses of meta-analytic effects among constructs from social cognitive theories is important to test nomological validity, account for mediation effects, and evaluate unique effects of theory constructs independent of past behavior. We illustrate our points by conducting new analyses of two meta-analyses of a popular theory applied to health behaviors, the theory of planned behavior. Method: We conducted meta-analytic path analyses of the theory in two behavioral contexts (alcohol and dietary behaviors) using data from the primary studies included in the original meta-analyses augmented to include intercorrelations among constructs and relations with past behavior missing from the original analysis. Results: Findings supported the nomological validity of the theory and its hypotheses for both behaviors, confirmed important model processes through mediation analysis, demonstrated the attenuating effect of past behavior on theory relations, and provided estimates of the unique effects of theory constructs independent of past behavior. Conclusions: Our analysis illustrates the importance of conducting a simultaneous test of theory-stipulated effects in meta-analyses of social cognitive theories applied to health behavior. We recommend researchers adopt this analytic procedure when synthesizing evidence across primary tests of social cognitive theories in health.
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