Methodology for analysing perceptions


In order to successfully identify perception derived threats, one must understand which ‘perceptions’ fuel certain behaviours that could potentially be classified as ‘threatening.’ Whereas in academia there is an interchangeable use of the terms perception, and attitudes, a closer look into the field of social psychology shows that these terms refer to different things. However, for the purpose of the methodology developed within WP9, the term perception would in fact be used as a stand-in for the scientific concept of attitudes. The reason is that ‘attitudes’ are the ones who influence thought and behaviour, including in some cases by biasing our judgement and shaping our interpretations of events. The term ‘perceptions’ however puts more emphasis on the process of recognising, observing and discriminating. Thus, when the concept ‘perception’ is employed in the security discourse, i.e. migrants’ perceptions of Europe, what is actually meant are ‘attitudes.’

Theoretical underpinnings of the perception model

The perception model is based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB).  This theory postulates that the intention to perform a certain behaviour can be predicted with a high accuracy from the attitudes towards the behaviour, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Thus, to successfully intervene and change a certain behaviour, one must target one of the three mentioned components; attitudes, subjective norms or perceived behavioural control.

According to the TPB, any action a person takes is guided by three types of considerations: behavioural beliefs (beliefs about the probable consequences of the practised behaviour), normative beliefs (beliefs about the normative expectations of other people), and control beliefs (beliefs about the presence of factors that may enable or obstruct the performance of the behaviour).

Behavioural beliefs normally result in a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward a specific behaviour, normative beliefs result in perceived social pressure or subjective norms, and control beliefs trigger perceived behavioural control. Usually, the greater the favourable behaviour, subjective norm, and perceived control, the stronger the person’s intention to perform the behaviour in question.

When applied in a risk analysis context, the threat is the undesirable behaviour, while the three components of the TPB act as indicators.

Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1991)
  1. Attitudes towards the behaviour – This refers to the degree to which a person has a favourable or unfavourable evaluation of the behaviour of interest. It entails a consideration of the outcomes of performing the behaviour.
  2. Intention – This refers to the motivational factors that influence a given behaviour where the stronger the intention to perform the behaviour, the more likely the behaviour will be performed.
  3. Subjective norms – This refers to the belief about whether most people approve or disapprove of the behaviour. It relates to a person’s beliefs about whether peers and people of importance to the person think he or she should engage in the behaviour.  
  4. Perceived power – This refers to the perceived presence of factors that may facilitate or impede performance of a behaviour. Perceived power contributes to a person’s perceived behavioural control over each of those factors.
  5. Perceived behavioural control – This refers to a person’s perception of the ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour of interest. Perceived behavioural control varies across situations and actions, which results in a person having varying perceptions of behavioural control depending on the situation.

The empirical evidence shows that TPB can predict intentions and behaviours, to a certain extent. Additionally, TPB was applied across different fields and different behaviours, which proves that its application could give satisfying results when applied to a versatile field such as the field of migration.

How to use the Perception Model?

The Perception model is relying on the innovative use of TPB. It starts by identifying behaviours while having in mind the possible limitations of the model. These behaviours could be categorised as possible threats, and allow practitioners to gain knowledge of possible beliefs that form the intention for a person to perform a specific behaviour.  Before performing a specific behaviour, a person is guided by three considerations: behavioural beliefs (beliefs about the probable consequences of the practiced behaviour), normative beliefs (beliefs about the normative expectations of other people), and control beliefs (beliefs about the presence of factors that may enable or obstruct the performance of the behaviour).

The use of the Perception model which relies on TBP allows users to map a set of undesirable behaviours that can be labelled as threats to border security and/or to the well-being of migrants. Each of this behaviour is then linked to a number of behavioural, normative and control beliefs extracted from literature.

By starting either from an identified behaviour or an identified set of beliefs the user can establish a link between the beliefs and the behaviour. This can be used either to predict the probability of a certain behaviour being displayed and/or to better understand the reasons why an individual/community displayed this particular behaviour. However, it is worth noting that the model shouldn’t be used for automated decision-making, especially due to its lack of comprehensiveness and high level of uncertainty (explained in more detail in the section dedicated to its limitations).

Limitations of the model

  1. Uncertainty – The link between beliefs, intention and behaviour is not absolute. The model only indicates correlations between sets of beliefs and behaviour, correlations which can be stronger or weaker depending on the case.
  2. Completeness – The model is incomplete, both in terms of the beliefs it associated with each behaviour
  3. External factors – The model assumes the person has acquired the opportunities and resources to be successful in performing the desired behaviour, regardless of the intention. It does not account for other variables that factor into behavioural intention and motivation, such as fear, threat, mood, or past experience.
  4. Time – The model can only be used to analyse behaviours in a very limited time interval. Intentions and perceived behavioural control must remain stable in the interval between their assessment and observation of the behaviour. Intervening events may produce changes in intentions (e.g. change in beliefs) or in perceptions of behavioural control, with the effect that the original measures of these variables no longer permit accurate prediction of behaviour.
  5. Precision – For the model to function, information on beliefs needs to be very precise. E.g. the model cannot predict attitudes towards authority in general as that is too vague. The user must specify the exact authority he/she means – e.g. the Maltese police.

Example of the application using this model – Identity

The model starts from a documented behaviour, such as refusal to be identified/lying about one’s identity which is defined as a threat to both the state and migrants.

Framing refusal to be identified/lying about one’s identity as a threat

  • The importance of identity management in migration procedures has increased significantly in recent years in light of the rise in the number of applications for international protection and of current heightened security challenges. The ability to unequivocally establish the identity of a third-country national is of key importance in all migration processes.
  • The importance of identity establishment for the outcome of the application depends on the type of procedure. While a valid proof of identity is crucial for a positive decision in legal migration procedures, many (Member) States also grant international protection if identity cannot be (fully) established. In return procedures, the importance of an established identity generally depends on the requirements of the (presumed) country of origin.
  • Identity is established using EU-wide information management systems, which often store biographic and biometric data of third-country nationals. In addition to travel and identity documents, EU Ms use other means to support the process of identity establishments, such as cooperation between competent authorities on a national, bilateral and European level (e.g. shared databases etc.)

Challenges for authorities

  • Most (Member) States reported that applicants for international protection are often not able to provide official travel and/or identity documents, and even if these are provided, a further challenge lies in determining whether these are genuine. In return procedures, and challenges stem from a lack of cooperation from third-country nationals and difficulties in cooperating efficiently with authorities in the (presumed) third country of origin and exchanging biometric information with them.

Analysis Methodology

  • A belief is an expectation (or subjective probability) that a behaviour (e.g. binge drinking) possesses a specific attribute (e.g. is fun) and evaluation refers to the subjective value of this attribute (e.g. having fun is good). Attitudes are predicted from the summed products of beliefs and evaluations;
  • If all factors, internal to the individual as well as external, that determine a given behaviour are known, then the behaviour can be predicted to the limit of measurement error. So long as this set of factors remains unchanged, the behaviour also remains stable over time;
  • The perception analysis should be carried out using the following steps: (a) identify individual/community displaying the behaviour of interest (e.g. including gender/culture/age/level of education);
  • Explore the types of beliefs linked to that particular behaviour (e.g. considering the characteristics of the target);
  • If the analysis process starts from the belief, then the process needs to be reversed. In other words, once, a particular narrative/information is detected, the analysts can employ the perception model to identify the beliefs that are linked to that narrative. Once the beliefs are identified the model offers information on the type of behaviour one can expect from someone holding such beliefs (e.g. this is also in accordance with the characteristics of the target);
  • For the model to be effective, it would require analysts to (in)validate links based on their observations;

Another important element to consider is the perceived behavioural control. In many situations perceived behavioural control may not be particularly realistic. This is likely to be the case when the individual has relatively little information about the behaviour, when requirements or available resources have changed, or when new and un-familiar elements have entered into the situation.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, v50, pp. 179-221.

Migration-Related Risks Caused by Misconceptions of Opportunities and Requirement

MIRROR has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation action program under grant agreement No 832921.

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