Understanding online safety behaviors: A protection motivation theory perspective

Hsin Yi Sandy Tsai, Mengtian Jiang, Saleem Alhabash, Robert Larose, Nora J. Rifon, Shelia R. Cotten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Scopus citations


Internet users experience a variety of online security threats that require them to enact safety precautions. Protection motivation theory (PMT) provides a theoretical framework for understanding Internet users' security protection that has informed past research. Ongoing research on online safety recommends new motivational factors that are integrated here in a PMT framework for the first time. Using PMT, a cross-sectional survey (N = 988) of Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) users was conducted to examine how classical and new PMT factors predicted security intentions. Coping appraisal variables were the strongest predictors of online safety intentions, especially habit strength, response efficacy, and personal responsibility. Threat severity was also a significant predictor. Incorporating additional factors (i.e., prior experiences, subjective norms, habit strength, perceived security support, and personal responsibility) into the conventional PMT model increased the model's explanatory power by 15%. Findings are discussed in relation to advancing PMT within the context of online security for home computer users.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-150
Number of pages13
JournalComputers and Security
StatePublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dr. Shelia R. Cotten, a sociologist, is a Professor in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University. She studies technology use across the life course, and the social, educational, and health outcomes of using various technologies. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Her work has been recently published in Computers & Education, Social Science & Medicine, Computers in Human Behavior, Journal of Family Issues, Journal of Applied Gerontology, Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, and Information, Communication, and Society. She and Laura Robinson are the co-editors of the Emerald Series in Media and Communication . In 2013, she won the award for Public Sociology from the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association (CITASA).

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1318885 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Computer security
  • Habit strength
  • Online safety
  • Protection motivation theory
  • Response cost

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (all)
  • Law


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